Rare Arabic 78 rpm records enter the public domain

Public Domain Day isn’t just about famous works being published – this year, Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Hemingway’s The sun also rises were the best known – but the archives that suddenly open when a potential copyright argument bypasses its expiration date.

For example, Harvard’s Loeb Music Library has just released a selection from its collection of 600 78-rpm volumes of Arabic and Arab-American music from the early 20th century. The library’s collection spans approximately from 1903 to the 1950s and is not only a record of the aesthetics and times of the Nahdah era (the Arab Renaissance), but also serves as a history of the still young music industry. Among the RCA, Columbia and Victor labels, you will also find many independent (and bootleg!) labels.

The Harvard website notes:

Arabic record labels, such as Baidaphon and Cairophon, are just a few of many other American (Columbia, Victor), European (Odeon, Orfeon) and Arab-American (Al-Chark, Alamphon) companies that have recorded and published these Arab notables. voice. Songs and performers from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Al-Maghrib exemplify the rich tradition of Arabic musical forms, namely the art of al-mawwāl (vocal improvisation) , qaṣīdah (sung poems), muwashshaḥ (Andalusian sung poetry), ṭaqṭūqah (pop songs) and taqsīm (instrumental improvisation. Religious songs are also an important part of the Arabic musical tradition. The collection includes the Quranic recitation of Al-shaykh Ṭāhā Al-Fashnī and a rare record of a woman reciting Wadūdah Al-Minyalawī alongside Christian hymns by Father Gigis ʻAzīz Al-Jizzīnī.

A selection of recordings is available here for online listening and downloading, using the Aviary platform.

This is all due to the Music Modernization Act of 2018, whose public domain release dates differ by a few years from print and film. According to Citizen DJ, a site we told you about several years ago, “all sound recordings released before January 1, 1923 entered the public domain on January 1, 2022.”

The trick is of course to have access to all these recordings. The Library of Congress maintains a site called The National Jukebox, with access to thousands of 78 rpm records from the Victor and Columbia labels. This allows you to listen but not download.

The Association for Recorded Sound Collections also has a page noting “Ten Notable Pre-1923 Recordings”, which benefits from its preservation. It features important early works like Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” one of the most popular “race records” (ie, vocal blues sung by black performers) of 1920; “Vesti La Giubba” by Enrico Caruso, which features the tenor at the height of his career; and Vess L. Ossman’s recording of Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” which helped popularize the composer. Also see our recent article: Over 400,000 Sound Recordings Made Before 1923 Have Entered the Public Domain.

Related content:

What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2022: The Sun Also Rises, Winnie the Pooh, Buster Keaton Comedies and More

Discover the oud, the “king of all instruments” whose origins date back to ancient Persia 3500 years ago

The Great Gatsby is now in the public domain and there’s a new graphic novel

Ted Mills is a freelance arts writer who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmillsand/or watch his films here.

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