In what can only be described as a project of astonishing ambition, reissue specialist Honest Jon’s Records have dived headlong into the collection of some 150,000 78rpm records stored at the EMI archive in Hayes in order to compile a series of albums which will feature seldom heard and completely forgotten music from all over the world. The first fruit of this project is Living Is Hard: West African Music in Britain 1927-1929 which features music recorded in Britain for export to the fledgeling markets of Empire-era West Africa, particularly Nigeria. The accompanying essay is fascinating enough even before you hear any of the music which, judging from the streamed snippets on the website, has a sound quality as good as any of the more well-known records of the era. The music is raw, and a little alien sounding to modern European ears, although it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to jump from something like “Asin Asin Part 2” by the Kumasi Trio to modern West African music, or from Harry W E Quashie’s “Anadwofa” to its contemporary American equivalents by the likes of Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt and Willie McTell.
Next up will be Give Me Your Love: Songs Of The Brokenhearted — Baghdad, 1925-1929. This promises to be a fascinating and important series. I have to admit I’m more than a little jealous of the people who are going through this Aladdin’s Cave of goodies. Lucky buggers.