The 2007 Savannahphone compilation Awon Ojise Olorun: Popular Music in Yorubaland 1931-1952 has been an interesting piece of musical history for me since my interest in field recordings of non-Western music piqued this summer. As the title suggests, the compilation doesn’t contain traditional songs recorded for ethnographic purposes, but rather compiles the songs that were produced for popular consumption in the Yorubaland region in the years 1931 to 1952. Yorubaland is a region comprising parts of the modern states of Nigeria, Benin and Togo which experienced a golden age from 1100 to 1700 CE, centering on the imperial city of Ife, where a famed style of naturalistic bronze and terracotta sculpture developed. In the 1700s the centre of power shifted to Oyo, and after a series of devastating civil wars, the region was colonized by the British. As such, the music drawn on for this compilation comes from the British Library.
Though the compilation initially caught my eye due to my interest in African history and music this summer, the years that the compilation covers is what has held my interest. Given my predilection for the pre-war and post-war blues and country-western music of artists ranging (temporally and stylistically) from Charley Patton to Hank Williams, this compilation provides a compelling touchstone for the musical world outside America during the same period. Perhaps one of the greatest commonalities between these two groups of musicians was the struggle to collapse traditional forms into the three-minute slices of commercially viable music necessitated by the 78 rpm record format. One need only listen to the seven-minute long opuses recorded by Son House for the Library of Congress for evidence of these difficulties.
Regardless, for your enjoyment, two slices of music both released in 1941, nearly a world apart that somehow manage to evoke themselves as spiritual cousins with their matching plucked lead guitar lines. 1941 is an important year to connect these two regions, as 1941 saw the United States enter a war that was precipitated by imperial jealousies and ambitions, an imperial legacy that made the Yorubaland recordings possible.
Akanbi Wright, “Everybody Like Saturday Night”
Ernest Tubb, “Walking the Floor Over You”