Thursday, September 12, 2013

O.A.1926 Revisited

Oscar Alemán taught himself to play the cavaquinho - a four string Brazilian ukulele - as a young orphan in Santos, SP, where he in 1924 met and teamed with the Brazilian guitarist Gastón Bueno Lobo in a duo named Les Loups that had success late 1920s in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and further in Europe after joining the Harry Fleming company as part of a touring show. Les Loups were billed as hawaiian guitarists and excelled in a repertoire of tangos, waltzes, fox-trots and other light entertainment styles popular of the time.In Buenos Aires Les Loups were recorded by the Victor record company, and the 16 sides issued on 78 rpm shellac discs are proof of a talented duo.The set-up of these recordings has GB Lobo playing lead voice on the hawaiian lap steel guitar, while Alemán provides elaborate accompaniment on the conventional six string guitar, however, one tune - the B-side of the duo's first released 78 rpm disc - has GB Lobo playing the cavaquinho in his own waltz composition, "Criollita", leaving the lap steel out in this specific recording. This is the only time a cavaquinho is heard in the recordings by Les Loups, unfortunately Alemán's initial feature on this instrument, his own composition "O.A. 1926", was not recorded as a part of the released discs by Les Loups. There may be several reasons for this, one of them likely to be  that this ragtime inspired tune did not fit in with the repertoire expected by the Victor staff, another reason could be that GB Lobo as head of the duo did not want to expose Alemán as a soloist. Whatever the explanation, it's a fact that Alemán did not record his "O.A. 1926" until 1972 when the tune finally was cut as a solo piece in the session for the Redondel label that was issued on the Alemán '72 album. This version has been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted below

According to several sources, in his later career Alemán always had his cavaquinho with him in his live stage shows and played his "O.A. 1926" as a solo piece as part of the show. Some unissued Argentine recordings of his live-performance of this tune have been saved, here's the best and most elaborte arrangement from a radio broadcast c. 1955

The "O.A.1926" was recorded as a magnificient solo piece for ukulele by the Dutch string wizard, Ton Van Bergeyk, in 1976 for the Kicking Mule label titled 'Anno 1926', his version is close to the inserted, broadcasted take by Alemán himself. If you look up other versions of the tune at YouTube, you'll discover other versions by uke-players, one of best and most swinging is by a Japanese uke-wizard, Mario Takada, in a solo performance inserted below

Mario Takada is a member of the Sweet Hollywaiians string quartet from Osaka, Japan, specializing in 1920s and 1930s Hawaiian, swing, calypso, Italian instrumentals etc. and having released four CDs since 2008. A website introducing more info about this fabulousd ensemble is available here - and the recordings are available from Amazon or/and CDBaby.

Just recently the Sweet Hollywaiians has released a new short CD solely devoted to ukulele tunes, Magic Ukulele Waltz - containing most enjoyable playing and great tunes. The CD has an ensemble-version of "O.A. 1926" and a great version of GB Lobo's waltz "Criollita" plus five more excellently executed tunes.

The CD should be available for purchase soon, however, if you are in the mood for live uke-playing with the Sweet Hollywaiins, you can get started here