Thursday, June 28, 2012
After today, I'll be taking a brief hiatus from this blog and coming back as soon as I can with some really fresh material. For now, here are some cumbias and assorted other songs from an early 80's Fuentes compilation. Mostly not essential listening, but there are a couple of standouts.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Another collection of radio broadcasts today, this time covering a bit of local history. The record documents the live coverage of the devastating San Fernando earthquake by KGIL, a local news radio station. The San Fernando earthquake was a major earthquake in Southern California's recent history, one that ultimately registered at a magnitude of 6.6 (the report on the record says 6.5.) In a spoken introduction, a representative of the station prefaces the record by describing that February 9th as "the single most historic day in the history of the San Fernando Valley, a day of tragedy and death, a day of passion and concern, and day that will remain fresh in the minds of everyone who experienced it for countless years to come. And far into the future, people in the Valley will ask each other, 'where were you when the earthquake struck?'" The thing I found most striking about these broadcasts was not really the information as much as how it was delivered. The newsmen reported with a sense of gravity that does not reflect the destructive force of the earthquake alone but also the fact that was radio was one of the only widely accessible sources of vital information. With the cell phones and internet connectivity we enjoy today, the radio is just one of many possible channels for information. On that day in 1971, if an emergency announcement about contaminated water or a lost child had to go out, the radio was the best way to spread the word, especially when power outages meant that TV was not an option for many valley residents. KGIL was most certainly aware of this, as evidenced by the self-congratulatory note they included in the jacket explaining how this record is not just a historical document of that day but also a clear example of the preparedness and professionalism that makes KGIL the radio station of the San Fernando Valley.
These broadcasts feature the voices of guests, newscasters in the studio and those driving around the affected areas. They deliver official feeds, reports on what they've seen and heard, and candid reflections on the human condition. The reports are full of destruction but also stories of cooperation, goodwill, and hope in times of tragedy. One reporter talks about giving a ride to a volunteer rescue worker who was hitchhiking home to his family after a night shift. A reporter on the second side lauds the way citizens look past everyday differences, namely race, and help one another. And throughout the record, reporters happily give updates on the Lower Van Norman Dam, which threatened to break but was brought under control as its 440,000,000 gallons of water were drained. At one point, a newscaster even interrupts the earthquake coverage to celebrate the safe return of the Apollo 14, which had just visited the site on the moon that the Apollo 13 had failed to reach. The record also contains practical information like an alert about where Red Cross shelters had been established, a call for physicians to report to a badly damaged veterans' hospital, and the warning that "the police have said that they will not think twice about shooting people that are attempting to loot." You even get a hint of valley culture and architecture as one reporter at the beginning of the second side laments rampant destruction in and around the "beautiful mall area", strewn with the shards of shattered plate glass windows.
See if you can catch the famous sample on Side 1. And for those of you with experience driving around Los Angeles, you might recognize the image on the cover as the view of the valley from the 405 North just passed the Mulholland Bridge.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Today's pick is the only soundtrack on this blog so far besides the very first post. The movie is Pathar Ke Sanam, a Bollywood movie from 1967. It's a light romantic drama complete with a love triangle and tensions that emerge over a dark past but are reconciled in the end. From what I can tell the soundtrack might be the best part, buy you can read more about it here can decide for yourself. The musical directors are the duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal, a force in Bollywood who composed the music for over 600 films according to wikipedia. Both faced poverty as children and learned early on to earn money by performing, Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar on the mandolin and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma on the violin. They met at a music academy for children and worked together as they practiced and networked. When Laxmikant was 10 years old, he met the famous singer Lata Mangeskar, who appears on this album and on others of the duo's soundtracks for years and years. She approached him the first time he played because she was so taken with the abilities he had managed to cultivate at such a young age. Pyarelal sometimes practiced with members of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra and apparently knew Zubin Mehta, the conductor for life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and former conductor of the LA Philharmonic for 16 years.
The singers on this album include not only the decorated Mukesh, but also Mohammed Rafi and sisters Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar. These three are among the most celebrated playback singers in the history of Bollywood. The role of a playback singer is to record the songs that actors and actresses lip sync to as they perform the film's musical passages. I have an audio sample available from soundcloud but in the interest of giving you the full experience, I've also embedded a video clip of the song Mehboob Mere. Keep in mind that these songs often became hits in their own rites and these musical sequences, especially more recent dance sequences, are one of a film's major draws among theater-going audiences.
Asha Bhosle has been featured on over 1000 soundtracks and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist in music history. She is also accomplished in a wide variety of South Asian genres, everything from qawwal to pop. Her sister is also immensely successful and talented by any measure, and was actually well established as one of the leading female playback singers before Asha had been fully welcomed into that circle. Internationally, Bhosle is the best known figure in Bollywood music. Lata Mangeshkar has received the Bharat Ratna, the most prestigious civilian honor in India. She started learning Hindustani classical music early and had to work diligently at the beginning of her career to eliminate her accent when speaking Hindi/ Urdu, the absolutely dominant language of Bollywood films at the time. She relied heavily on her classical training and many of her film songs from the early period of her career are based on ragas.
Mohammed Rafi has sung on thousands of film songs, a partial list of which you can find here, and also performs in an illustrious range of other genres. He notably studied Hindustani classical singing under the widely renowned Ustad Bade Ghulan Ali Khan and the great Abdul Wahid Khan, cofounder of the Kirana Gharana. This is the school that trained musical visionaries including Pandit Pran Nath, who spread the music in the West, Ram Narayan, and sarangi virtuoso Ustad Hafizullah Khan whose album Khalifa Kirana Gharana on La Monte Young's label is among the best Indian albums I own.
The production of these soundtracks must have been streamlined in order that the same relatively small group of people could cut so many great albums. To imagine these artists churning out beautiful music like this over and over, often together, is very inspiring.