Various ‎– Music Of The World's Peoples, Volume Two

Folkways Records ‎– FE 4505, Ethnic Folkways Library ‎– FE 4505
2 × Vinyl, LP, Box



Includes 12-page descriptive notes insert, covering the entire series of Ethnic Folkways Library "Music Of The World's Peoples" volumes, FE 4504, FE 4505, FE, 4506, FE 4507, FE 4508.


Every people in the world has music, and music is a strong part of the life of most peoples. In a vast majority of cases, this music is not read from notes, but played or sung "by ear". Such is the music of which this series deals. Some of it, as in the case of many oriental musics, belongs to a highly cultivated, old, and carefully-wrought system, and its tradition is meticulously preserved by precise aural training. In other cases, the tradition is maintained in a more carefree manner; but there is a well-recognized tradition and style in all of it. Whether there is specific training or not, folk singers and players pick up the elements of such tradition and style by ear. In most cases these musicians perform music which is already well-known to their people -- they learn particular songs and dances from their parents as children, or from good older performers in their locality. Old songs are sometimes changed a bit, so music, less often in tradition cultivated musics of the Oriental peoples. Completely new tunes are seldom born -- a "new" tune will have elements of known older ones in it as a rule; snatches of melody, rhythm, and in some cases chords unconsciously remembered from general musical experience.
There is much more interplay between cultivated music and folk music than is usually realized. Just as "classical" music frequently strengthens itself by drawing on folk sources, folk musicians utilize musical materials heard in surrounding written-down music. Chords have been discovered from hearing European cultivated music and are used in many parts of the world; the scales and modes of the Byzantine culture are used in folk music wherever these scales and modes are preserved in nearby churches, and so forth.
Styles of performance differ widely among different peoples. Ways of singing that please one people may disturb others (the average Chinese has as much trouble understanding our singing as we do hi), but there is often much resemblance in actual musical material. One of the oldest known tunes in the world -- "Peach Blossom", from China, -- is fundamentally the same as "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've See", a Negro song; but the styles of singing are so different that this is more noticable than the tune resemblances.
Subtleties of pitch and rhythm are often impossible to notate, so that written-down versions, although they may remind one of the original, do not do more than to suggest the living reality. It is necessary to hear people sing and play their own music to gain its real feeling.
The world's music is a lateral history, for music in every stage of development exists somewhere today. There are still primitive tribes whose culture has not gone beyond that of peoples of ten thousand years ago; their music is very like that which must have existed then, as far as this can be reconstructed. There are other tribes, sometimes called primitive, whose culture is extraordinary and diversified. This shows in their music. Tribes of Central Africa, for example, use a great variety of scales and tonal patterns, and their control of simultaneous rhythms is not exceeded by any other people. Many oriental musical cultures are highly complex and sophisticated. Some of them exceed Western practice in certain respects; for example, the ragas of India form the world's most highly organized melodic and scale system, and the same people's tala system is an orderly study of countless rhythmic forms. The earliest writing on music in ancient China recommended a simplification from 56 tones to a mere 24 (quarter-tones). This was later (about 300 B.C.) changed, in China to the 12 tones which form the basis of the Western scale. The earlier microtones exist now in the form of sliding tones in Chinese opera-dramas. Large orchestras -- from 500 to 900 players -- existed in China in the T'ang Dynasty (about 700 to 900 A.D.) Large choruses -- up to 50,000 strong -- were known in ancient Hebrew culture. The sort of instruments used in the T'ang Dynasty orchestras, exquisitely constructed, are used all over the Orient today. The kind of melody sung by ancient choruses (such as the Hebrew) is sung today throughout the Near East.
Chords and harmony have been the special point of development of Western musical culture; and while folk-tunes, as sung by farmers and mountaineers the world over, used to be sung as melodies alone, today the use of chords to accompany tunes has spread widely. Guitars, banjos, lutes, harmonicas, accordians, etc. or their equivalents are found nearly undisturbed, these instruments play a "ground" tone -- a steady under-lying tone like the drone of a bagpipe. Later there may be two or more such ground tones (as in Scottish warpipes) and sill later, major and minor chords will be picked up by ear and played, at first with no changes, later with only one change, and still later with a growing number of chord shifts. Where folk-players come into contact with commercial popular music -- as over the radio -- the more modern seventh, ninth, and chromatic chords may creep in; but so far, this is quite rare among non-notereaders.
The music of some peoples of the world will sound extremely strange on first hearing. Yet all of this music contains richly rewarding values. That which may seem raucous at first may come to sound beautiful on further hearing; and at the very least, it will be found to be full of meaning and feeling. There is no better way to know a people than to enter with them into their musical life.
Commercial popular music and Western fine-art music are quite obviously a part of music of the world's peoples. It can be assumed, however, that examples of these musics may be heard elsewhere, and the present series is limited to music sung and played without benefit of written-down notes. It might be possible to organize the material by races, by styles, by history, or by geography; no such types of organization are attempted here. There is presented instead a sampling of widely contrasted musics from many levels of culture and many parts of the world. It is a series which may be started by never ended. The world is full of different peoples, each with many sorts of music. And even as one listens to examples of all of these musics, changes are going on, and all over the world new hybrids are being formed through acculturation. At no time before has there ever been so much intercommunication between peoples; this can be observed musically in the form of ever-changing new mixtures of chords, tunes, rhythms, and styles.