I do feel like I’ve tempted fate too long, shying away from the prewar revenants that I love so much, so this mix sits squarely between 1916 and, ok, a little post-war, 1950. E Mama Ea is a mix dedicated to the fact that while “female musicians” is emphatically not a genre, the dexterity, tremor, and occasional audacity of the metaphoric and actual female voice is always, emphatically, worth celebrating.
As is my wont, these songs are mostly American, gospel, blues, and game song-centric. “Rolled and Tumbled” is Rose Hemphill’s rendition of a well-worn delta blues later popularized by fellow Mississippi resident Muddy Waters, recorded here in 1959 by Alan Lomax in the same session that first captured the voice of Mississippi Fred McDowell. The penultimate track, a prewar white gospel number also recorded by Alan Lomax and named, here, “The Airplane Ride”—“The Heavenly Aeroplane” elsewhere—is a wonky paen to God and technology that calls out to the Nugrape Twins’ even wonkier “There’s A City Built Of Mansions,” an ode to the difficulty of thinking through largesse without thinking through capitalism.
And then, the opposite, A.C. Forehand and the delightfully-named Blind Mamie Forehand’s “Honey In The Rock,” sotto voce with triangle. Washboard classic “Worried Jailhouse Blues,” from the voice who immortalized “Some Cold, Rainey Day,” the great Bertha “Chippie” Hill. The robust and quite honestly, kinda sonically phallic talking tuba call-and-response, Sharlie English’s “Tuba Lawdy Blues.” The sweet soft hand-game song, “Little Girl, Little Girl,” recorded here in 1936. Parchman Farm inmate Mary James’ foot-stomping invective, “Make The Devil Leave Me Alone,” backed by a chorus of prisoners in 1939 and collected by the unduly obscure Rosetta Reitz on her Rosetta Records label roughly forty years later.
I’m pleasantly surprised at how intimately these songs sing together, Cleoma Breaux’s Cajun rendering of “When You Wish Upon A Star:” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” recorded thirteen years before Disney was to release Cinderella, out of Lata Mageshkar and Saraswati Rane’s performance of “Jab Dil Ko Satawe Gham,” which I pulled directly from Sargam, an Indian film from the year 1950. We hear from hot jazz bandleader Thelma Terry (and her Playboys!) two songs after the Turkish “Soyledi Yok Yok,” sung by Neriman Altindag (with both released on separate albums by the deeply hip label Dust-to-Digital). I mined the Ethiopiques archive for Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrau’s “Homesickness,” and Florida Atlantic University’s amazing Judaica Sound Archives 78-rpm Sound Collection for turn of the century New York Metropolitan Opera singer Sophie Braslau’s “I Love You Truly.” And still, at the beginning, the piercing “Light In The Valley,” by ladies L. Reed and T.A. Duncans, followed by the perplexing and lovely “E Mama Ea.”
“E Mama Ea” was recorded by Mme. Riviere’s Hawaiians to a 78 rpm disc before the year 1948. Because a prewar Hawaiian music discography doesn’t seem to exist, I can’t find the year of the recording, the label, or the location. I do know that it was first picked up in 1981 by the now-obscure Folklyric imprint, then again by Portland-local Mississippi Records for “I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore” in 2007. Less obscure—though not by much— than the recording details is Madame Riviere, a French woman who formed a band with Hawaiian steel guitarist Tau Moe and his wife, Rose, when she was sent to study in still French-colonized Tahiti in the 1920s. “Ea,” from what I can tell, is multiply-signifying, political at heart: Hawaiian sovereignty, but also breath, respiration, spirit, and rising up, becoming erect and powerful. I wonder if Mme Riviere, a colonizer whose face is lost to us, knew it?