Endangered Archives

EAP468: To preserve Indian recordings on 'Odeon' label shellac discs

Dr Suresh Chandvankar, Independent Researcher
2011 award - Major project
£8,800 for 12 months

Archival partner: National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai

VIEW FILES FROM THIS PROJECT

Project Overview

'Odeon' label shellac discs were issued in India during 1912-1938. The company produced over 2,000 titles of north and south Indian music. About 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived and are with private collectors. These are endangered and need to be rescued and preserved. Songs from the discs will be digitised and audio files will be stored on hard drives in high resolution uncompressed wav format. The record labels, sleeves, catalogues and publicity material will also be scanned to obtain digital scan images. This treasure of audio and visual material will thus be preserved for posterity.

The material to be preserved represents various musical genres recorded on breakable shellac discs during 1912-38. These discs are the only surviving copies. Many forms of music recorded on them are now not played or sung. Most of the recordings represent the musical tradition of over two hundred years. Students of music, practising musicians and researchers can draw heavily from the preserved material. The textual material is also useful for students and academics studying culture, history and biographies of the artists.

Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India in two phases: during 1912-16; and during 1932-38. During the first phase, Odeon's first Indian recordings were made in late 1906 on a grand tour that took the engineers from Calcutta to Benares, then on to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Bombay and finally back to Calcutta. In all, they recorded some 700 titles, which were duly shipped back to Berlin for processing and manufacture in what was then the established worldwide pattern. Disc records manufactured and pressed in Germany were shipped back to India by 1908. Gramophone records were the only mode of public and family entertainment in that period. Because of the diversity of language and cultural taste, Odeon's engineers recorded a great deal of regional music for local consumption. In a time before film music swept regional variations away, Odeon's activities allowed Indians to listen to the music that would otherwise have been irretrievable. Very few disc records from this period have survived. Some of the famous recording artists were Mr Murad Ali, Mr Dhurandhar and Mr Walavalkar.

In the second phase, the Odeon disc manufacturing company operated during 1932-38. Its operations were mainly from Mumbai and Madras and the company produced over 2,000 titles in north and south Indian music. At this time, radio and film songs had just entered the entertainment era. Disc manufacturing and distribution activity continued until the outbreak of World War II. Because of the embargo imposed on German goods, the company had to wind up their business in India, leaving behind hundreds of titles. The musical genre recorded on these discs include drama songs, speeches, folk music, classical music, drama sets, skits and plays, vocal and instrumental music. The records are in ten and twelve inch diameter format.

Today, most of theremaining discs are with private collectors all over India. It is estimated that about 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived. Over two hundred artists have made recordings on this label. Some of the most popular recording artists from North India of this period are: Bai Sunderabai of Poona, Bal Gandharva, Khansaheb Abdul Karim Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Heerabai Barodekar, Kamlabai Barodekar, Sureshbabu Mane, G. M. Londhe, Bai Azambai of Kolhapur. Most of the Odeon artists were amateurs and have been forgotten in modern times. Their recordings are invaluable and need to be preserved.

As these discs are in private hands, the collections are endangered as the collections will be scrapped and destroyed, once the collector is no more. No commercial company has any interest in reissuing most of these discs on compact disc (CD) or store in digital format, since it has no commercial potential. Thus, the invaluable music on these discs is endangered and needs to be rescued.

This project will digitise the audio recordings from all the available Odeon label shellac discs. The recordings from over 600, 78 rpm shellac discs will be digitised and stored on hard drives in high resolution uncompressed file formats. Record labels and record sleeves will also be scanned to obtain digital scan images. Copies will be deposited with institutions throughout India and with the British Library. This treasure of audio and visual material will be preserved for posterity and will be a invaluable reference work and resource material for several generations.

Project Outcome

Listen online to 1,404 recordings

The project succeeded in digitising 704 shellac records (1,408 songs) and 17 record catalogues. This created 1,408 audio files (.wav), 1,408 metadata files (.xml), and 1,566 scanned images of record labels and catalogues (.tiff). Copies of the digital collection have been deposited with the National Centre of Performing Arts, the National Film Archives, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Sangeet Natak Akademy, and the British Library.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP468/1 Odeon record label catalogues and advertisements 1932-1941

The catalogue is available here