Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

12 posts categorized "Music"

24 December 2015

Tun Tun: a Venezuelan Christmas carol

Aguinaldo is a popular type of Christmas song sung in many Latin American countries at this time of year, thought to have derived from the villancicos imported from the Iberian Peninsula during the second half of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the most celebrated composer of villancicos is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, whose words were set to music by Antonio de Salazar in the late 17th century. Although villancicos often made reference to secular themes, they were encouraged – or at least tolerated – by the Church hierarchy as far as they were seen as useful tool in the drive to convert the native populations to Catholicism.

As the popularity of villancicos declined from the 19th century onwards, aguinaldo – a much more folk-inflected art form – began to take their place. Today, aguinaldo are performed by people in groups called parrandas, who wander from door-to-door sharing their songs in much the same way as carollers do in the UK. This wonderful recording of an aguinaldo from Venezuela is a far cry from the baroque villancicos of the 17th century, though it does illustrate how the form mixes the sacred with the everyday, as we hear the celebration of the birth of Christ played out as an commentary on neighbourly relations.

Listen to Tun Tun (performed by Federico Reyna and family)

As far as we have been able to identify, this recording of Tun Tun was performed by Federico Reyna and his family for a BBC radio programme entitled Folk Music of Venezuela. It was broadcast on the Third Programme on 2 September 1962, and introduced by A.L. Lloyd, with production by Douglas Cleverdon.

Like many good folk-songs Tun Tun is a self-satirising comment on the form itself. In the song the parranderos pay a visit to their neighbour to share their goodwill, though he becomes increasingly exasperated and eventually demands to be left alone: “Que el diablo se los lleve a mí dejenme en paz!”

Folk songs of the Americas

The recording is part of the A.L. Lloyd collection, which contains material collected by the folklorist throughout his life. Lloyd also edited Folk Songs of the Americas (shelfmark: HUS 789.202242), a great resource for those interested in folk-music from across the continent.

More sound recordings from the British Library’s collections can heard at BL Sounds.

– Laurence Byrne

03 May 2012

The Best Jackets this Side of The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Sadies.  Photo: R. Bowdler.

It's been a good ten days for Americana in London.  Last week, we had the lachrymose but mercurial alt-country singer Ryan Adams playing his acoustic set at the London Palladium (and apologizing to anyone who expected to see the Wizard of Oz musical which is running on that stage); the first Sundance London festival was running at the former Millennium Dome - and there was a showing of the 90% indie comedy/10% 1980s SF tribute film, Safety Not Guaranteed supported by the U.S. Embassy; and last night, the Jazz Cafe hosted a gig from the Canadian band, The Sadies.

The Sadies' Good brothers display their guitar skills at the Jazz Cafe, May, 2012.

The Sadies serve up a pleasantly sour and addictive mix of country, garage rock, psychedelia and surf, tearing their way through American traditional music, offering murder ballads, instrumentals, and virtuoso musicianship.  They also have neat line in psychedelic suits, in the fashion of the Flying Burrito Brothers (as seen on the cover of The Gilded Palace of Sin album).  As such they are a something of a tribute to a tribute, a visit to an idea.

Dallas Good and his suit. Photo: E. Gee.

Pop and rock, of course, feeds on itself, but there's also something that reminded me of American Studies, at least as it's practiced in the UK (and seemed to appeal also to the audience at the Jazz Cafe).  Jackson Turner's Frontier may be long gone, if it ever existed, but the desire to escape somewhere vast, other and often strange may account for some of the attractions of studying, visiting, imagining and writing about the USA, from the Colonial Period to the Harlem Renaissance, the borders of Mexico to the constructs of Las Vegas and Disneyland.  This year's Eccles Centre for American Studies plenary lecturer, Professor Peter Coates, touched on this during some comments during his talk 'Red and Gray: Toward a Natural History of Anti-Americanism in Britain'.  He mentioned his sense of personal shock at finding himself researching at Kew in The National Archives.  He never wanted to go to Kew.  He wanted to beyond, away, escaping provincial, narrower concerns.

The Sadies (with Andre Williams) are represented in the collections by 'Pardon Me (I've Got Someone to Kill)' from the Red Dirt album.  Those wanting to plan their own scholarly escapes, perhaps with an MA thesis, may want to start with Grant Alden, No Depression: an introduction to alternative country music (Dowling Press, 1998) [YK.2009.a.7499) and a run of No Depression (Seattle), issues from 1998-2008 at ZD.9.b.752.



03 March 2012

3 March 1931: O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner 9kb

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner. New York: Geib & Co., 1817. H.1860.ww.(38)

During the night of 3 September 1814, while on a mission approved by U.S. President Monroe, Francis Scott Key witnessed the massive British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. As dawn broke Key was astounded to see the American flag still flying. To commemorate this stunning victory he immediately wrote a 4-stanza poem entitled "Defence of Fort McHenry". Recognising that the poem perfectly fit the popular British drinking song "Anacreon in Heaven", Key's brother-in-law had the poem published and it soon began gaining popularity as "The Star-Spangled Banner". On 3 March 1931, nearly 120 years after it was first penned, it became the national anthem of the United States. This edition, published in New York in 1817, is one of the earliest examples of American sheet music held by the British Library.

From the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library online exhibition, Singing the Dream.

Read more about the Star-Spangled Banner on the Library of Congress's Treasures pages, and we've also briefly posted on the origins of the tune here.


15 March 2011

Commonwealth Listening: aka, the Queen Mother’s record collection

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Canada Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Library and Archives Canada 

The Guardian has published a fun piece for audiophiles (and pretty much everyone else) today regarding the Queen Mother’s record collection. What grabbed my attention was the inclusion of Wilf Carter (the Canadian Country and Western singer), the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra (the Trinidadian calypso steel band) and a general Commonwealth presence.

Given the fondness the Queen Mother expressed for Canada and the times she spent in the Caribbean we should not be surprised to find this affected her musical taste and collection. Apparently, it was visits to Jamaica which resulted in the Queen Mother developing a taste for Ska, illustrating this point quite neatly. Personally, I would love to know what the Queen Mother thought of some of the musical ‘heirs’ to the above, such as Canada’s Stan Rogers or the Ska influenced No Doubt. I suspect, however, the record collection will provide few clues to this.

If you want to find out more about the Royal family the British Library collections are a great resource, as suggested by my previous post on King Edward VIII. In parallel, the British Library Sound Archive provides a rich resource for music from across the globe, as well as interesting oral histories about the spoken word and music in the Caribbean. Needless to say, our monographs on this subject would be well worth a look too. 


Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs