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A Moveable Musical Feast: New Music Appreciation Talking Books!

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Have you ever wondered what music sounds like in Zimbabwe, Colombia, or Hawaii? Well, prepare your ears for a global journey of sonic discovery! This week the NLS Music Section is taking you around the world in sound. In today’s blog post, we want to share some of the incredible musical voyages that await you in our collection of Music Appreciation talking books.

Photograph of two members of the band Mokoomba playing the guitar while another member sings during their performance.
Mokoomba performs during a Homegrown Concert at the Library of Congress. Photograph by Shawn Miller, Library of Congress. April 15, 2019.

In recent months, the NLS Music Section has been fortunate to work with our colleagues here at the Library of Congress in the American Folklife Center, Music Division, and Hispanic Division to add superb new content to our Music Appreciation talking book collection. As a result of this collaboration, our Music Appreciation collection now offers coverage of many more regions and cultures around the world.

In these talking books, you’ll hear live performances that musicians gave when they visited the Library of Congress to share their talent and traditions. You’ll also hear fascinating interviews with the musicians that provide insight into where their music comes from and the role it plays in their lives and communities.

Photograph of Ethel Raim singing.
Ethel Raim sings with the An-Sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble, playing traditional Yiddish song and Klezmer music at the Library of Congress. Photograph by Shealah Craighead/Library of Congress, June 25, 2013.

Formatted for your listening enjoyment as talking books, they are available to borrow either on digital cartridge or as convenient downloads from BARD. Please contact the Music Section to borrow talking books on digital cartridge. Call us at 1-800-424-8567, or e-mail us at [email protected].

Below we list a small selection of our new Music Appreciation talking books: musical treasures from five continents that you can uncover from the comfort of home–or your smartphone. You might just discover new music that’s in your own backyard!

Ledward Kaapana–Hawaiian Music (DBM04304): Transport yourself to Hawaii with the music of Ledward Kaapana. Kaapana is a master of the two leading string instruments in Hawaii: the Hawaiian ukulele and ki ho’alu, the slack key guitar, a fingerstyle guitar art form that originated in Hawaii. This talent, combined with his vocal skills in the baritone and leo ki’eki’e (falsetto) range, have made him a legendary performer. He was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2011. In the oral history interview, Kaapana talks about his upbringing, his musical family, as well as the slack-key style of guitar playing.

Conversation with Roy & PJ Hirabayashi of San Jose Taiko (DBM04303): NEA Heritage Award Fellows Roy Hirabayashi (co-founder) and PJ Hirabayashi (artistic director emeriti) of the ensemble San Jose Taiko were featured in a discussion and demonstration of taiko, the Japanese drum. San Jose Taiko was founded in 1973 in San Jose, California, by young people searching to convey their experiences as third-generation Japanese Americans (Sansei) inspired by traditional Japanese drumming. Roy and PJ Hirabayashi discuss the education of young people in San Jose Japantown in the art of taiko; the background of their families and community; and demonstrate choreography and compositions they have created for San Jose Taiko.

Soumya Chakraverty plays the sarod in concert at the Library of Congress.
Soumya Chakraverty playing the sarod during a Homegrown Concert at the Library of Congress. Photograph by Shawn Miller, Library of Congress. May 6, 2016.

Soumya Chakraverty & Devapriya Nayak–Traditional Hindustani Music from Virginia (DBM04324): Take a deep dive into North Indian Hindustani classical music with a concert and oral history by Soumya Chakraverty on sarod and by Devapriya Nayak (Debu) on tabla. The sarod is a fretless stringed instrument with a skin head like a banjo and an extended air chamber under the fingerboard. The tabla is the best known classical percussion instrument of India and the Middle East, consisting of a pair of hand drums capable of a wide variety of sounds. Both musicians are masters of their craft and highly sought-after in performance.

Rahim AlHaj Trio: Middle Eastern Music from New Mexico (DBM04302): Rahim AlHaj, performer and composer, was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and began playing the oud (Arabic lute) at age nine. Early on, it was evident that he had a remarkable talent for playing the oud. Rahim has performed around the globe and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor for traditional arts in the United States. You’ll also hear Sourena Sefati playing the santour (a hammered dulcimer) and Issa Malluf playing various percussion instruments common in Arabic, Middle Eastern, and North African musical genres.

An-sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble (DBM04300): Affiliated with the New York-based Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the members of the An-sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble are four leading performers and researchers of Yiddish music who present a diverse program of rare Yiddish folksongs and exciting klezmer instrumentals collected through field and archival research. The ensemble also performs original music rooted in the tradition, and in doing so keeps the flame of Yiddish culture alive.

The three women who comprise the NOKA trio sing together in concert.
The NOKA Trio (l-r: Cathy Petrissans, Andrea Bidart, and Begoña Echeverría) present traditional and contemporary Basque vocal music from California and Spain as part of the American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series, July 6, 2016. Photograph by Shawn Miller, Library of Congress.

NOKA Trio–Basque Song and Music from California (DBM4325): NOKA is a trio composed of the daughters and granddaughters of Basque immigrants who grew up together in Chino, California. They are members of the Chino Basque club and were raised speaking and singing in Basque. They specialize in songs about Basque culture, gender, and identity, with a particular interest in songs that use Noka, a familiar form of address historically used in speaking to a girl or woman in whom one had konfiantza or trust. Two well-known singers from the Basque Country join NOKA for this concert. Informed by life experiences and academic research, NOKA’s concerts are intended to entertain but also to educate their audiences.

Mokoomba–Afro-Fusion Music from Zimbabwe (DBM04306): Mokoomba is a six-piece band from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. They perform music celebrating their Zimbabwean culture and traditions interpreted for modern audiences, using several languages, including Tonga, Shona, Luvala, Ndebele, and English. They describe their music as a fusion of traditional music with local, regional and international influences to achieve “a sound that is danceable, sweet, and emotionally engaging.” Facing the challenges of social division in Zimbabwe, they strive to perform music that brings diverse peoples together. Victoria Falls is both the name of the town and of the spectacular falls on the great Zambesi River. The band members chose the name Mokoomba, a Tonga word that signifies great respect for the river.

Libaya Baba–Garifuna Music & Dance from California & New York (DBM4301): Libaya Baba means “Grandfather’s Grandchildren.” The group consists of three siblings and their cousin. Their first influence came from their grandfather and other master drummers of Dangriga, Belize. After migrating to Los Angeles, CA, in the late 1970s, they felt the need to preserve their indigenous Garifuna culture, which has both Caribbean and West African elements. Libaya Baba has retained the traditional format of call and response in songs to uphold the memory of their ancestors. Their music is accompanied by a pair of Sisira (maracas), one Primero (small wooden snare drum), two Segundas (mid-size and large wooden bass drums) conch and turtle shells. The genres of music they play include Hungu-hungu, Paranda, Punta, Kuliou, Wanaragua, Hupi Malad, Warini, Gunjei, “Two for Shilling,” Chumba and Charikanari.

Two members of Grupo Rebolú play drums during the band's concert.
Morris Cañate and Erica “Kika” Parra of Grupo Rebolú play drums during their Homegrown Concert at the Library of Congress. Photograph by Stephen Winick, Library of Congress. August 8, 2018.

Grupo Rebolú–Afro-Colombian Music from New York (Concert & Interview) (DBM04323): Grupo Rebolú is an Afro-Colombian musical ensemble that includes some of the finest Colombian musicians in the United States. The group was created by Ronald Polo (a vocalist, composer, and player of the native Colombian flute known as a gaita), Morris Cañate (a master traditional drummer), and Johanna Castañeda (a vocalist and percussionist) to promote the rich musical traditions of their heritage: the African descendants of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. They believe these folkloric traditions should continually evolve over time and incorporate the musical ideas and creativity of new generations of musicians.

Gabriel Muñoz plays the Puerto Rican cuatro in concert at the Library of Congress.
Gabriel Muñoz plays the Puerto Rican cuatro in a Homegrown Concert at the Library of Congress. Photograph by Stephen Winick for the American Folklife Center. September 22, 2016.

Gabriel Muñoz & Melodias Borinqueñas–Puerto Rican Folk Music from New Jersey (DBM04310): Using their unique sounds, Gabriel Muñoz & Melodias Borinqueñas hope to introduce Puerto Rican folk music to many people around the world, and also to provide a nostalgic experience to Puerto Ricans living away from their homeland. On his 15th birthday, Gabriel Muñoz received his first cuatro (a traditional Puerto Rican stringed instrument similar to the mandolin), which he says changed his life forever. He then began honing his skills on the instrument through constant practice and immersing himself in the cuatro and in Puerto Rican music. He sought advice and wisdom from other cuatro players, including the well-known master Alvin Medina, in order to perfect his craft. You’ll also hear the congas, bongos, and guiro.

Lone Piñon–Acoustic Conjunto from Northern New Mexico (DBM04345): Lone Piñon is an acoustic conjunto band from Northern New Mexico whose music celebrates the diversity and integrity of their region’s cultural roots. Using violins, accordion, quinta huapangera, bajo sexto, guitarrón, tololoche, and vocals in Spanish, English, Nahuatl, and P’urépecha, the group has revived and updated the Chicano stringband style that once flourished in New Mexico, bringing a devoted musicianship to Northern New Mexican polkas and chotes, virtuosic Mexican huapango and son calentano, and classic borderlands conjunto. The musicians of Lone Piñon learned from elder musicians, who instilled in them a respect for continuity and an example of the radicalism, creativity, and cross-cultural solidarity that has always informed folk music.

Five members of Lakota John and Kin perform on guitar, harmonica, and percussion in concert.
Lakota John and Kin perform on the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. Front Row: Tanya Elk Locklear, Layla Locklear, Lakota John Locklear, Sweet Papa John Locklear. Back row: Joseph Miller. Photograph by Stephen Winick, American Folklife Center. August 7, 2019.

Lakota John & Kin Conversation and Concert–Slide Guitar Blues from North Carolina (DBM04287): Lakota John and Kin includes young musician Lakota John Locklear and members of his family who belong to the Lakota/Tuscarora and Lumbee Nations of South Dakota and North Carolina. Lakota John looks to have Native Americans recognized for their long overlooked but important contributions to the blues tradition. Lakota John blends traditional styles of the Delta and Piedmont acoustic blues with bottleneck slide guitar, and he continues to learn alongside the elder blues masters, carrying on the traditional sounds of the acoustic Piedmont blues as well as electric blues guitar styles. Native Americans have made an often overlooked but deep contribution to the blues tradition; Charlie Patton, Scrapper Blackwell, Jesse Ed Davis, Elizabeth Cotton, Jimi Hendrix and many other blues artists claimed Indian heritage. This makes Lakota John just the latest in a long tradition of Native American blues musicians.

Vishtèn–Acadian Music from Prince Edward Island (DBM04344): Vishtèn is a Canadian trio that performs both traditional and original Acadian music with rock energy. Their “neo-traditional” compositions blend updated versions of French and Celtic genres. Located off the north coast of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island is home to a small but thriving Francophone Acadian community with a rich tradition of song and instrumental music. Nearby, the even smaller archipelago of the Magdalen Islands (les Îles de la Madeleine) is predominantly Francophone, recognized for its distinctive French dialect, songs and unique fiddling style. All three members of Vishtèn were raised in homes in which traditional music, percussive dance and kitchen parties were part of everyday life. Together, they pay homage to their traditions and to the historic and strong musical connections between their two island Acadian communities.

*Please note that all descriptions of the talking books listed above were adapted from the Library of Congress Online Catalog or other materials produced by the American Folklife Center.


  1. Bravo! It is delightful to finally see a fresh exploration into the AFC’s long-running Coolidge concert series. There have been so many rich performances over the years and to have them contextualized for NLS readers is a real treat. Truly a glorious collaboration…and a global celebration.

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