Music ‘archaeologists’ recover gem recordings

From Israel to France, old songs unearthed sound new again.

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What once was old is new again, as seen by a flood of vintage reissues. (Photo: Mediagram/Shutterstock)

On April 9, 1860, Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville recorded an anonymous woman singing the French folksong “Au Clair de la Lune.” The performance, transcribed as squiggly lines on smoke-blackened paper by Martinville’s patented ‘phonautograph,’ may be history’s first music recording. Since then there’s been one hundred and fifty-five years of recorded sound and, despite the already common feeling that the Internet has just too much music for any one human to hear, much of it doesn’t exist in the digital realm at all.

There are thousands upon thousands of LPs and tapes and even phonograph cylinders archived in private collections, uncatalogued library archives, and sometimes just sitting in a music shop located on the boulevard off a Mediterranean market. That last part is where crate diggers like Fortuna Records comes in. Alongside more famous reissue labels like Smithsonian’s Folkways label, the UK’s Finders Keepers, and the new Canary Records of Baltimore, Fortuna Records hunts for rare records lost to time – releases that have never been hosted on Spotify, or sold on iTunes. Specifically, the Tel Aviv-based label specializes in forgotten psychedelic gems from Israel and around the Mediterranean.

Perhaps no album characterizes Fortuna’s aesthetic interests more than their 2013 reissue of a now-forgotten debut from a young Israeli teen star in from the city of Jaffa in the 1970’s. Quickly dismissed and forgotten after its release, Grazia has a sound way ahead of its time. The self-titled album mixes Turkish wedding music with disco grooves and Moog synth sounds. Listeners in the ’70s might not have known what to make of it, but when Fortuna found it they immediately knew they had a gem.

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Grazia Peretz, a psych-folk singer, was a young Israeli teen star way ahead of her time. (Photo: Fortuna Records)

“It was the sound of Jaffa in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” Fortuna explains. “Lots of taverns, restaurants and bars were playing live music. The sea trade was a lot more active at the time, so there was a real Mediterranean vibe back then. Greek and Turkish sounds were very strong.”

Zack Bar, founder of Fortuna, explained what he looks for and and how he finds it. “We are archaeologists. We dig not only the sounds but the whole story around it,” he told From The Grapevine. “Spending days at shops, markets, record dealers.”

Fortuna aren’t the only reissue labels on the hunt for rare and exotic older albums with neat stories. Here are four other recent reissues from this year alone that highlight the range of styles to be excavated from history and rediscovered.

This unique release came out of the French Cameroonian community of 1977. Recorded in Paris, it features the vocal stylings of the eponymous seven-year-old boy, Francis. This funky soukous and psych LP was produced by his father and contains some of ’70s Paris’ wildest artists including synths by Michel Morose and Toto Guillaume on guitar. “Ravissante Baby” is a hypnotic blast from history packed with groovy tropical beats and the inimitable lyrics and vocals of seven-year-old Francis.

The Tempos were originally formed in 1946 in Accra, Ghana to play army dances for European soldiers stationed in West Africa. In 1947 E.T. Mensah joined them and turned them into the African powerhouse band playing a mixture of the bluesy highlife popular in Ghana and Nigeria at the time (most famously popularized by Fela Kuti), big band club horns and rhythms, and the beautiful acoustic folk sounds of palm wine. Primarily known to Western audiences through other regional and genre compilations, this 69 (!) track anthology puts together the world’s most extensive Mensah collection. The operative question becomes, do you really need this bounty of E.T. Mensah recordings? The best of these tracks, like “The Tree and the Monkey,” and “Daavi Loloto” appear on other collections, but for sheer breadth you can’t do better than this artifact that highlights a prolific but relatively unknown band.

You can read more of this article by Mordechai Shinefield at the From The Grapevine website

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