Archive for November, 2008


Introduction to Pygmy yodels

30 November 2008

This remarkable race of Congo dwarfs has been driven by negroid cannibals into their last refuge, the sombre, swampy tropic forest, but there they have proved unconquerable. Recently they ambushed the Zandé spearmen and, invisible themselves, slew their foes with poisoned arrows, such as they are here shown using. They are magnificent hunters, and gather round their best archer. They become friends with folk who treat them fairly. (from The Secret Museum of Mankind)

Maybe you know it, maybe you don’t: one of the characteristics of the songs of the Pygmies, the forest people of Central Africa, is yodel and vocal polyphony. The subject is vast and there are a lot of things to be said. After Jimmie Rodgers and his coversongs, I would like to introduce a new serie about Pygmy music, then and now, traditional and contemporary and all the influences it had on jazz, rock and other styles.

It will be an historical / geographical approach: who were the field recorders (a subject I’m really interested in), where did they record, what was their influence on other people. Saying this, I think I should begin with Colin Turnbull, who inspired Simha Arom to make recordings. But there are older recordings and I could begin with that too… There are lots of things to write about I could dedicate a whole blog to Pygmy yodels !

Pygmies can be classified into different groups but it isn’t very clear to me because the Wikipedia page says one thing and books say other things. But important ethnies are the Aka in the Central African Republic and in DR Congo, the Ba-Benzele from the Central African Republic, the Baka from Cameroon, Gabon and DR Congo, the Mbuti (with different sub-groups) from the Ituri forest in DR Congo, the Twa from Rwanda (essentially). They speak languages that are belonging to different families. What is common to them, besides their small stature (even if that is not really true anymore today because of interbreeding), is that they live from gathering and hunting in the equatorial forest. Today they are approximately 200 thousand but the deforestation is a danger for their traditional way of living and they are forced to sedentarize and live as farmers.

To complete this post, here is one of the first recordings of Pygmies. The Efe Pygmies (from the Mbuti group in the Ituri Forest) were recorded on wax cylinder by Armand Hutereau between 1909 and 1912. He was sent in Northern Belgian Congo by the Belgian governement to describe the ethnic people of the region. These cylinders are the oldest recordings of pygmy music for all Central Africa. Even if the quality of the sound is not very good, you can hear the yodels and vocal polyphony.

Chants de danse des Efe (from Archives 1910-1960 MRAC)


Secret society of yodelers

23 November 2008
Here’s a message from Bart Plantenga. Go buy his book and cd !
This blog wouldn’t be the same without it. My life wouldn’t be the same without it. My boyfriend’s life wouldn’t be the same without it. My friends life wouldn’t be the same without it. Even the life of the ones who have been traumatised by yodel in their youth !
And maybe we should create this “Secret society of yodelers” with a nice membership card and all !

Yodel Howl Holler

The time has come to explain what I’m up to and how you as yodelers or yodel fans can help.

I’ve embarked on book 2 YODEL IN HIFI [University of Wisconsin Press, 2010] and thanks to the many yodelers who responded to my questionnaire the book is well on its way.

There are also 3 yodel-related CDs:

Black & Blue Yodelin’: Black yodelers worldwide including Mike Johnson, Leon Thomas, Sly Stone, Minny Ripperton, Trio Bow, Zap Mama …

Avant le Voix: Human Experiments with the Yodel: Avant garde vocalists who use yodel techniques.

Olga Rewound: 12 modern musicians & producers remix the yodel songs of Dutch yodeler Olga Lowina.

The long-term plan: a magnificently unconventional & engaging documentary called DRIVE-BY YODELING and will be made [if we find the funding] with filmmaker Mark Boswell.

It has come to my attention that my book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: THE SECRET HISTORY OF YODELING AROUND THE WORLD [US] [Europe, etc] continues to sell at a steady and modestly admirable pace. But certainly nothing to make publishers sweaty in the palms about.

I’ve heard from reliable sources that World Music Network, the producer of the CD ROUGH GUIDE TO YODEL, which I put together and includes some of you, is being dropped from the catalog due to poor sales.  If we’re interested in seeing the above projects succeed we need to have an effect on the only aspect of entertainment and art that matters to many of these people: sales.

We need to prove yodeling = interesting, intriguing, compelling and fascinating entertainment = sales. This will allow these projects to see the light of day…

How can we best send a message, our vote? By purchasing and encouraging others to purchase the above 2 products [and your own of course; I will certainly return the favor by mentioning them in my various projects].

Looking for holiday gifts? Then consider buying a couple of copies of YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO and ROUGH GUIDE TO YODEL via Amazon [US] [Europe, etc], other online service or your local book/music store for friends and family and/or encourage others to do the same. Keep ROUGH GUIDE in circulation, force YODEL-AY into a second printing. Make it easier for these 5 forthcoming projects to happen…

Thanks for yodeling and participating,

bart  plantenga

playlists: bart•wreck



Do they yodel in Canada ?: Wilf Carter (Montana Slim)

16 November 2008

It’s quite obvious you can find yodel in Canada, being so close to the USA. So here is a post about Wilf Carter, also known as “Montana Slim” in the USA.

He was born in 1904 in Port Hilford (Nova Scotia) but moved to Calgary (Alberta) to work as a trail rider in the Canadian Rockies, becoming an authentic cowboy and seizing every occasion to sing. That’s where he developped his own style of yodeling (echo yodel or three-in-one, with heavy studio echo effects). His first encounter with yodel was years before while seeing a travelling Swiss performer who made him want to sing, even if it wasn’t exactly what his father (a baptist minister) wanted from him. Here’s what he says about it: “I yodeled upstairs and downstairs, in the parlor and in the apple orchard. Dad couldn’t stop me, though he wore out a dozen slippers on the seat of my pants.” (cited in Bart Plantenga’s book, Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: the Secret History of Yodeling Around the World, p.194)

He began recording in 1933 for the Canadian office of RCA Victor who was looking for somebody who could maybe have the same succes as Jimmie Rodgers in the USA. Wilf Carter’s yodeling wasn’t directly inspired by Rodgers, it was closer to the Swiss style. He became very popular, appearing on radio shows in Canada and the USA, touring with his own show, and recording more than 500 songs for different labels (RCA, Decca, Apex and Starday), his last being in 1988. He made one last tour in 1991, at age 86. He died a few years later in 1996. His simple style of singing and playing guitar have always attracted the listeners and the sentimental and naive music, the sunny optimism is a reflection of the singer himself.

His first recorded song, My Swiss moonlight lullaby, was written during his trail rider days and had unique and wild yodeling. From 1934 is Little old log shack I always call my home, a typical Carter song, glorifying the happy cowboy life, with all the clichés: howling coyotes, moonlit nights, singing birds, horses and sweethearts.

It wasn’t until 1952 that he recorded the first yodel he’d heard, Sleep, little one, sleep.

From the Decca sessions in 1954 are this two yodel songs: My mountain high yodel song and The Alpine milkman. He is accompanied by a eight-men band including Chet Atkins. In 1956, he recorded Silver Bell Yodel, a quite traditional song but with echo in the yodel while The yodelin’ song is a bit more rock’n’roll, as an attempt to modernise a bit his style.

From 1969 is a cover of a Jimmie Rodgers song, Cowhand’s last ride.

My Swiss moonlight lullaby

Little old log shack I always call my home

Sleep, little one, sleep

My mountain high yodel song

The Alpine milkman

Silver Bell Yodel

The yodelin’ song

Cowhand’s last ride

For his discography, one label, as usual: Bear Family.


The yodelling pickle

9 November 2008

A quick post this week: surfing on the internet, I found the Yodelling Pickle, a totally stupid and unecessary object, but that inspired some people to make youtube clips. And yes ! It yodels !


They cover Jimmie Rodgers !: Blue Yodel No.II

3 November 2008

I’m a bit late this week because I spent the last days in Seville, but her I am.

After the innumerable covers of the Blue Yodel No.I, this post will be very poor in songs: I only found two other versions of Blue Yodel No.II.

The first version was recorded in March 1937 by the Rhythm Wreckers, a blues group distinguished by the presence of the vocalist, Whitey McPherson, who was 14-15 years old at the time of the recording. I first thought it was a woman singing the song ! He had an amazing voice and was influenced by Emmett Miller and Jimmie Rodgers, so it is not a suprise he sang this song.

The picture comes from a post about the group on Western Swing on 78. Whitey McPherson sits in the middle of the front row, with white shirt and white cowboy hat.

Lefty Frizzell, the honky tonk star, recorded different songs of Jimmie Rodgers in June 1951. Blue Yodel No.II is one of them but he didn’t yodel on it. He really liked playing these songs and made another session in 1953.

The Rhythm Wreckers – Blue Yodel #2 (My lovin’ gal Lucille) (found on this or this cd)

Lefty Frizzell – Blue Yodel #2 (on the Bear Family box)