I bought a big stack of Arab music 78rpm records at the Old Airport Souk in Jeddah, KSA. The store was the type of dusty junk emporium that I love the most because usually there’s a big stack of records in the back and the storeowner has no idea what they are or what they may be worth.
The junk emporium in Jeddah was no different. It was a long shop in an old travel agency; ‘railroad style’ as they call it in New York, long and narrow, like a Pullman car. It sat across from the abandoned airport, on a traffic circle on which was mounted a fitting centerpiece: an orange Beechcraft Model 18 plane, its belly embedded in concrete, pointing toward the sky.
The junk store had no sign and no name: its location was indicated by two men sitting in broken down club chairs, smoking and watching the evening traffic pulsing by the front entrance. There was no door, just a roll-down gate that was locked during the day—the building, indeed the entire block, looked abandoned in the noonday sun when I had tried it before.
Past the rusting swords and display cases filled with dusty jewelry and other trinkets, at the back of the shop, I found the stacks of vinyl. Unfortunately it was mostly Western pop but I did find some badly worn 45rpms of Arabic music. The proprietor, a monkey-faced man in checked polyester, thin and weathered like one of his desert treasures come to life, spouted several times ‘music Araby! music Araby!’ In bad guidebook Arabic I indicated that, yes it was music Araby that I was after, and did he have any more?
He led me back through the narrow show through a half sized door in the back wall (I had to duck low) into a storeroom lit by a single bulb that hung straight and naked from the low ceiling. The floor was covered with mouse dropping, the air felt dry and toxic, but there on the floor, beside mounds of decaying newspaper and prayer books and rodent gnawed postcards of the Ka’aba, was a cardboard box of 78rpm records.
They had soaked at some point—perhaps while sitting in that very spot—and the sides of several were caked with a thin coating of mud. Many were cracked or ‘bit’, that is half-moon shaped chunks were missing from the outer edge, like bites from a cookie, a typical hazard with brittle 78s. I pulled out all the intact specimens and we made our way to the front counter.
Now there certainly cannot be that many white men in the Hijaz who venture into the old quarter alone after dark just to dig around in filthy junk stores looking for 78rpm records. The proprietor knew he had a collector at his mercy. We went through the stack, dirty platter by dirty platter, and negotiated the price of each item—like we were at the diamond counter at Tiffany’s. In the end he stung me for twice what I wanted to pay, but after we agreed a price, he very kindly not only rinsed then gently patted dry each record, but carefully wrapped each one in newspaper. Then he relieved me of the better part of my cash roll. Surely I paid his rent for the month—assuming he pays rent.
Each platter was worth the price but there were
three four from Yemen on a label called Aden Crown Records that for me at least were the most revelatory. The music of the Red Sea, the mingling of African drums with melodies plucked on Mediterranean stringed instruments, the chanting quality of the vocals taken from the call to prayer, is most vivid on these albums.
The label itself is somewhat mysterious and I can find no information about it online, at least not in English. As you can see from the videos, there were both black and blue labels. The stickers say ‘British made’ but the music was most likely recorded in Aden, which was a British-held port at the time.
If any one knows anything about Aden Crown Records, please let me know.
In the meantime, enjoy this amazing music. Here are the
three four records as they appear on my youtube page:
[correction] Just realized that I had the contents of a fourth Aden Crown Record with me here in Indonesia so was able to upload that video as well. The album sticker is very well preserved on this one, too, so all the text is visible.