A superb collection of the music of immigrants from the Ottoman world: Armenians, Turks, Jews, Greeks, Kurds, Assyrians, Roma... New York was home to this vigorous diaspora and their music clung to the walls of cafes in places like Little Syria (Now Tribeca), sold on 78 rpm, and played live with great power. The music ranges from primitive (in the sense of `first', `original', not incompetent) folk recordings to famous hits such as `Miserlou' (later done electric by surf master Dick Dale, himself of Levantine heritage). Some tracks are utterly fierce, blistering hollers, raucous dance music for late-night hashish and wine parties (such as M. Douzjian). Other cuts (like those by the peerless Marika Papagika) are haunting, lilting, mournful.
The set is divided into three disks: the earliest known recordings (1916 and on), the bustling middle period which ended at the Great Depression, and finally the records and songs that these great artists and their audiences brought with them from Anatolia, the Balkans, and the Middle East. The compiler provides a fascinating and beautiful short commentary at the end, closing with an analogy to a scene to another art masterpiece: Hitchcock's `Vertigo.'
In collecting these glittering sides, Nagoski does not nostalgically return to a romanticized past, but rather makes these old records erupt into the present, a method similar to that of Walter Benjamin in literature or Chris Marker in film. Ordinary history would have us believe that life is divided into an unreachable past, an impossible-to-grasp present, and a vague and dark future. These records shatter this simplistic picture. It is as if they have waited in their own present to be present again. In a way, they were never lost: the influence of Ottoman-American music is apparent in blues, jazz, and pop music. This collection salutes the well known and the anonymous: several of the greatest cuts were recorded nameless or under nom de plume, such as the incredible `Pehlivan Havasi' on disc 3. These masters have contributed to our music sometimes silently, sometimes collaboratively, moving at all angles around the audible tone.
Mr. Nagoski has made a great thing here. He does not collect records, in the sense of a horde, but gathers them in order that their music may play off of each other, completing a little-known map ignored by the listless mainstream. Or better, a rhizome where songs and voices criss-cross, pollinate, and echo each to each, alone and apart, with racket, perfection, chaos, sublime order.
Order this immediately. Order three and give them to friends. If you have no friends, order four and make some.