Category Archives: ethno


I’ve been pretty much nuts about Greek music for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been collecting it on various genres and formats since the early 1960s. Yesterday Dust To Digital’s new Greek Rhapsody arrived and I’ve been enjoying a deep dive into instrumental stuff rescued from 78 RPM obscurity. Tony Klein’s accompanying book is full of things I knew something and nothing about. $35 well spent.

Here’s a SoundCloud example from the link above:

Klein provides 10 fascinating pages tracing the story of the musician ‘A. Kostis’ (“in all probability Konstandinos Bezos”)

Mapping Afghan Ethnicities

I have a long-running fascination with spatial distribution of, well, pretty much anything and everything. One of the slipperiest things to map is ethnic identity, but that hasn’t deterred legions of cartographers (though in fact the cartographers are mostly hired help, assisting anthropologists, demographers, census-takers, colonial masters, the military…). One of my favorite examples of the pitfalls of ethnic mapping is George Peter Murdock’s effort to define the territories of peoples in Africa:

[adapted from Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History (1959)]
Pretty much everything is wrong with this map, starting with the very notion of a clear boundary (a line) to define where a “tribe” (ooooh, hateful word…) starts and stops (ethnic plurality and complex interdigitation is much more common than ethnic homogeneity, for all sorts of very good and highly location-specific reasons). At best, one might say that ethnicities have foci (perhaps hearths would be a better characterization) and force-fields that (seem to) emanate from a sort-of cultural identity centroid… but then there’s the problem of defining an ethnicity (does a person get only ONE?) and comprehending what its earmarks and contents might be (just what is “culture” anyway? –a problem that vexes anthropologists permanently). Sort of a long runup to a pointer to Ghost of Alexander’s “Fun with Ethnic Maps”, which showcases 7 versions of the ethnic territories of Afghanistan. The message here isn’t that one shouldn’t attempt to map slippery concepts, but rather that any map is a starting point for discussion and elaboration, and not an authority, and especially not a permanent authority. Pretty much any phenomenon worth mapping is likely to squirm around over time, and we’re just beginning to have the wherewithal to construct and distribute dynamic maps. Fascinating times, these.


Good Old Serendipity (in the form of the 11 Sept 2007 iteration of WFMU’s Antique Phonograph program) brought me to Rosetta and Vivian Duncan, and some googlement ensued:

Wikipedia article
Midnight Place article
I’m Sailing On a Sunbeam (1929, via YouTube)
…and Mean Cicero Blues from Jeff Cohen’s delirious Vitaphone Varieties blog

What caught the Old Ear was this preposterous song:

The Argentines, the Portuguese, and the Greeks (1923 –there’s a slightly different version linked via Jeff Cohen). My not-quite-complete transcription:

Columbus discovered America in 1492
Then came the English, and the French, the Scotchman, and the Jew
Then came the Dutch and the Irishman to help the country grow
And still they keep on coming, and now everywhere you go
There’s the Argentines, and the Portuguese, the Armenians, and the Greeks
One sells you papers, the other shines the shoes
The other takes the whiskers off your cheeks
And when you ride again on a subway train
Notice who has all the seats
They’re all held by the Argentines, and the Portuguese, and the Greeks

Now there’s a little flat where you lay your hat
Has a history I’ll explain
The ….. is a …., the hobo is a Coon, the elevator fellow is a Dane
But who is the gent that collects the rent at the end of these four weeks?
That is all done by the Argentines, and the Portuguese, and the Greeks

There’s the Oldsmobile, and the Hupmobile, and the Cadillac and the Ford
Now these are the motors that you and I can own, the kind most anybody can afford
But the Cunninghams and the Mercurys and the Rolls Royce racing …
They’re all owned by the Argentines, and the Portuguese, and the Greeks

Now there’s the Argentines, and the Portuguese, the Armenians, and the Greeks
They don’t know the language, they don’t know the laws
Yet they vote in the country of the free
And the funny thing when we start to sing “My country ’tis of thee”
None of us know the words but the Argentines, and the Portuguese, and the Greeks

There’s the Argentines, and the Portuguese, the Armenians, and the Greeks
When we’re departed, our souls will soar up in the heavenly seats
At the Golden Gates, where the angels wait, we’ll be asking there for seats
And they’ll all be reserved by the Argentines, and the Portuguese, and the Greeks

Make of it what you will…

Of wogs and Calais

I have a long fascination with cultural identities, among them the essence of Englishness and the peculiarities of New Englanders (e.g., this from Donald Junkins), so I was delighted to find this quotation in a Language Log posting on Word rage outside the Anglosphere? (emphasis added):

The English aren’t people who strive for greatness, they’re driven to it by a flaming irritation. It was anger that built the Industrial Age, which forged expeditions of discovery. It was the need for self-control that found an outlet in cataloguing, litigating and ordering the natural world. It was the blind fury with imprecise and stubborn inanimate objects that created generations of engineers and inventors. The anger at sin and unfairness that forged their particular earth-bound, pedantic spirituality and their puce-faced, finger-jabbing, spittle-flecked politics. …
Anger has driven the English to achievement and greatness in a bewildering pantheon of disciplines. At the core of that anger is the knowledge that they could go absolutely berserk with an axe if they didn’t bind themselves with all sorts of restraints, of manners, embarrassment and awkwardness and garden sheds.
(AA Gill, in The Times, 30 Oct 2005)