Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on May 29th 2007 1:00PM by Steve Hochman
On that latter front comes a true Arhoolie find in 'Tamburitza!' -- a two-CD set of music, recorded between 1910 and 1950, and hailing to a large extent from the exotic climes of Manhattan and Chicago. In truth, the music on 'Tamburitza!' is Serbo-Croat in origin, though most of the recordings compiled by Strachwitz on this set (jaunty tunes that very much justify the exclamation point in the title) were made in the vibrant immigrant communities of early 20th-century America. Here are lively polkas and kolos, processionals, tales of romantic joy and woe, odes to wine and nostalgic casts back across the Atlantic by the likes of Dusan Jovanovic & His Tamburitza Orchestra "Orao," the Skertich Brothers Tamburitza Orchestra and Joca Mimika.
As with reissues of old 78s from Irish-American and Jewish-American communities, among others, these recordings offer a portrait of a time of great change, of a world making a transition from ancient to modern, of cultures mixing like never before. Of course, the cultures in question here were already pretty well mixed. In detailed liner notes, Rick March (who heard many of these recordings as a child in the Detroit home of his Aunt Agnes -- a host of the Motor City's 'Croatian Radio Hour' from 1939 to 1952 -- and Uncle Nick) chronicles the braided genetics of the music of the village tamburitzas. Even the ensembles' eponymous instrument, the tamburitza itself, was a Balkan adaptation of such long-necked lutes as the saz and the baglama, which were introduced to the region by invading Ottomans in the 14th century. "The music captured on the 78rpm discs originated in the cultural cauldron of southeastern Europe," March writes. "The cultures of the region and their interrelations are amazingly complex. There is a blend of the heritage of the Illyrians and Greeks with that of the Slavs from the northeast, Hungarians originally from central Asia, Western European influences from Italy and Austria, and strong Middle Eastern influences brought to the Balkans by the Ottoman Turks."
And even within that, there were deep divides, as indicated by the very fact that this music was labeled "Serbo-Croat," a not-always harmonious alignment, as modern European history has often tragically attested. But there was also a great spectrum of how the blends took shape -- each region, each village having a sound of its own. To some extent, both the ability to preserve and share the music on recordings and the establishment of the communities in U.S. cities served to crystallize and formalize the styles somewhat -- just as photography brought a formality to appearance. To that extent, the music mirrors the formality of the photos that accompany 'Tamburitza!' -- straitlaced, sober, purposeful poses. On the other hand, many of these recordings transcend that posture and instead bubble with the life left behind in Europe -- the weddings, feast days and other celebrations that, as in most cultures, provided the setting for music-making. Overall, much of this is probably closest to Greek rembetika (itself a stew of Mediterranean sounds), though strains of the Roma (Gypsy) music often associated with Hungary as well as the more polite Austrian parlor folk are readily identifiable.
But then there's the magic that happened when Old World met New World. Some of it is in the skits and set pieces that are akin to many of the products of Yiddish theater. The real revelations, though, are in two tracks featuring Youngstown, Ohio-based Dave Zupkovich. Like, say, American Klezmer pioneer Dave Tarras, the mustachioed bandleader readily straddled two cultures and even travels beyond. How else can one explain the version of none other than the ubiquitous 19th-century Spanish pop song 'La Paloma' he did in the '40s with Martin Kapugi and the Balkan Tamburitza Orchestra? But that's nothing next to a '50s Zupkovich recording in which some American jazz musicians joined in on a riotous, swingin' 'Hey Tambu-Re-Bop' -- yes, a reworking of Lionel Hampton's 'Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop.' Timeless.