“Lamma Bada Yatathanna” – Hear The Penn Arab Music Ensemble Trio’s 78

The last two years have been full of change. So many things to adapt to and decisions to make about how to proceed, how The 78 Project can contribute something new. Since the excitement of our movie tour, we have taken time to be quiet and patient. But while we’ve been regrouping, our travels have continued. We’ve had fascinating opportunities to cut records and connect with performers, generations of students and faculty and new audiences at fun and inspiring events.

One such trip was to The University of Pennsylvania to record with the Penn Arab Music Ensemble Trio: Hanna Khoury, Hafez Kotain, and Kinan Abou-afach. We were all there to speak to and record for the wonderfully engaged students of the Recording Music: Theory & Methods course.

The trio chose “Lamma Bada Yatathanna”, an ancient muwashshah, for their first side. The haunting melody rendered on Hanna’s violin felt like an invitation to follow the song through it’s long history. And as the Presto’s needle neared the center of the acetate, an urgency overtook the performance as well. After, Hanna said that when they perform “Lamma Bada Yatathanna”, they usually up the tempo near the end. But the fact that 3 minutes were fast approaching might also have had something to do with it.

“El Helwa Di” is a song by the renowned Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish. His music embodies both the traditional and the groundbreaking of his time, which makes this the perfect choice for The Penn Arab Music Ensemble Trio’s flipside, a recording that fuses past and present together in a moment.

Recorded November 16, 2016 at The University of Pennsylvania Department of Music.

Special thanks to Eugene Lew for inviting us. It’s been our honor to meet so many current and future documentarians, musicologists and recording engineers.

The 78 Project Movie available on iTunes

The 78 Project Movie is available today to rent or own on iTunes!

This is the acclaimed feature length movie of our road trip across America to cut 78rpm records with musicians in their homes and hometowns on a 1930’s Presto. Includes 19 extraordinary never-before-seen musical performances, is packed with fascinating and fun historical info, and comes with over 30 minutes of bonus materials.

Rent or purchase the movie in the iTunes store and watch on all your devices.

We’re thrilled to be working with the wonderful folks at

on this exciting iTunes and DVD release.

The 78 Project Movie is the perfect road trip movie to take with you to watch during your holiday travel or to give as a gift. Download The 78 Project Movie on iTunes now for your phone, tablet and laptop (although unfortunately not on your Presto!) And get the all-region DVD through Kino Lorber and our website.

Celebrating 5 Years of The 78 Project – “Roses While I’m Living”

We always feel fortunate that The 78 Project has brought us together with old friends and new. And so it was – 5 years ago this month – that a gathering of friends listened on as The Mynabirds cut a 78 in a Brooklyn backyard.

First posted Jan. 2, 2012:
Episode #3: The Mynabirds “Roses While I’m Living”

It seems like we started another life when we started The 78 Project. One filled with humbling challenges we couldn’t have ever imagined we’d face (a few swipes of a paintbrush and a tiny needle are all that stand between failure and success?) but also overflowing with momentum and awe.

And so it is fitting that The Mynabirds‘ episode should come first in the new year, 2012. The shoot was a celebration of our first week of filming for The 78 Project, and the spirit of the night was one of joy and gratitude. We gathered friends together in Brooklyn for a backyard party, dragged the piano outside and, after dark, The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn sang for us. Her song, Dock Boggs’ “Roses While I’m Living,” is about appreciating life while we live it and appreciating those we love while they are around to receive it.

We wish you a Happy New Year with joy and gratitude! We hope 2012 brings you excitement and comfort in equal measure. And we hope to see you in person, perhaps record you, but definitely share with you the indescribable beauty of sound captured the old fashioned way. 

With deepest appreciation,
The 78 Project

Celebrating 5 Years of The 78 Project – “I Got Mine”

The date was the 5th of September, 2012. We were in Memphis, grateful to be able to cut one last 78 before the journey home.

First posted Dec. 12, 2012:
Episode #13: Sid Selvidge & Steve Selvidge “I Got Mine”

A beautiful afternoon filled with end-of-summer sunlight hid the rainstorm that was on the horizon. Our week in Memphis had been full of surprises, and our last day there was no different.

Sid walked in first, and his son Steve followed with their guitars.  While we set up, father and son filled the room with stories of Memphis past and present.  Sid can tell tales of Tennessee music for days, and you’d never want to miss one minute.  He’s been there for it, and not only can he tell it, he can play it for you, too.

They settled in to pick and slide through a mischievous version of “I Got Mine,” two styles of playing that spin on the same axis.  And when the story was told and the song finished, we heard two generations echo “It’s a record.”

Our deepest thanks to Ward Archer. For so many things!

Celebrating 5 Years of The 78 Project – “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”

On our first Southern Journey to make The 78 Project Movie, the 4th of September, 2012 found us in a Como, Mississippi chapel, where the Reverend John Wilkins cut a timeless 78 acetate disk.

First posted Sept. 10, 2012:
Red Ants and Rainstorms, Fathers and Sons: The 78 Project in Memphis

Tropical rainstorms were turning the streets of Memphis into rivers, but inside the Hi Tone we were safe and sound, tucked in and battened down to make an acetate with John Paul Keith. We thought for sure some of the raging rain would make it onto John Paul’s rendition of “The Knoxville Girl,” but when we played it back, it was as pure and sweet and clear as a brutal murder song can be, a testament to John Paul’s skills as a singer and a scholar of music.

Driving around Memphis, we saw the effects of Hurricane Isaac in downed trees and sodden grass, but everyone seemed in great spirits.  It was a holiday weekend, and everyone was manning a BBQ and humming a tune, in their element as Memphians.  Our host for the week was our dear friend Ward of Archer Records, and he showed us infinite generosity, trading us his breakfast table (we turned it into our base of Memphis operations) for a couple mornings worth of Stumptown and some good conversation.

We were eager to see Luther Dickinson in his home state of Mississippi, after having such a wonderful time recording with him and his Memphis supergroup The Wandering in New York back in May.  He led us down to Hernando, to the DeSoto County Museum to make a recording on the porch in the shimmery heat of the afternoon. Luther played a mean streak through “Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues” and the floorboards creaked to his time.  You can’t tell a bluesman not to stomp his foot, however, and that’s all we’ll say about that for now.

Tuesday was a marathon day with three recordings planned.  We faced it bravely, rising early to take over St. Mary’s Cathedral for the morning with Star & Micey with Jeremy Stanfill.  The vaulted ceilings of a spectacular church showed the Presto more reverb than it had encountered in it’s wildest tube dreams (do Prestos dream of reverb-filled rooms?) and Josh, Nick, Geoff and Jeremy melted their voices together in lovely harmony.

The afternoon brought us back to Mississippi, this time to Hunter’s Chapel in Como.  The chapel is filled with the history of Mississippi music – Mississippi Fred McDowell and Othar Turner both attended and McDowell recorded there in 1964 – and the Reverend John Wilkins lives that musical legacy with his gospel blues singing and his devotion to the people of his church.  We had been told that the Reverend plays the hill country blues in the way of his father, the renowned singing Reverend Robert Wilkins.  And when we heard him, we saw that it was breathtakingly true.  He invited us in and made us feel at home in his chapel, then played for us “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” and “Jesus Will Fix It.” His rich voice and skilled finger-picking cast a transcendent spell over the room, and when he heard his record played back, his father’s voice echoed out from the lacquer.

WATCH: Reverend John Wilkins performs “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”

We promised to return for a Sunday service, and bid Reverend Wilkins farewell.  Red ants from the Mississippi ground stowed away in our shoes as we drove back for Memphis.  We had one more record to make that day.

Scott Bomar had invited us to join him and members of his band The Bo-Keys with Percy Wiggins at Molly Fontaine.  Six musicians was the largest group we’d ever attempted to work around one mic, but we were excited for the challenge.  Drums, upright bass, trumpet, sax, electric guitar and Percy’s powerful voice all found a space in a single groove, and afterwards we felt sure that the band’s version of “Deep River” would become the definitive one.

We couldn’t have wished for a more wonderful recording to make on our final day in Memphis.  Wednesday afternoon we had a visit from Sid Selvidge and his son Steve Selvidge.  They brought their guitars out and Sid unpacked some fascinating and laugh-out-loud stories from his lifelong search for songs and his great appreciation of his fellow musicians. He also unpacked a jaunty performance of the Frank Stokes song “I Got Mine.”  Sid recently found his voice had deepened, and he was very interested to hear it recorded on 78.  Every ounce of what makes him a folk scene hero was there in the record, and there was no denying that the family musical bonds between Sid and Steve are as strong as a double-wound steel string, their playing danced and joined together in joyful, rascally song.

Earlier in the week, to record with Luther, we’d taken the scenic route down through North Mississippi. Afterwards we’d felt so full of the place that we decided to continue on south for a while before heading back up to Memphis.  So as the sun set, we hit the road for Clarksdale, getting there as night fell in a fluttering cloud of insects and ghosts.  We visited the Crossroads, as you must, and drove into the deep darkness of the unpaved roads around the city to find a drink and some more history.  We returned to Memphis late in the night, coated in humidity and dotted with insect roadkill and possessed with a feeling that time had compressed to bring the past and future together at once. It summed up our time there in a nutshell, as Memphis and the region around it is a place that defies time.

Leaving Memphis wasn’t easy after the generosity the place had shown us, but we needed to make tracks for home.  As we crossed Tennessee, long spidery blasts of lightning crossed the sky and rain plowed down on us.  We felt honored that the state went to such great lengths to keep us inside it’s borders. But the cement and 6-lanes between us and home were calling, and we were excited to get back to start playing these amazing records and films for you.

Celebrating 5 Years of The 78 Project – “Omie Wise”

Determined to record this modern update of a centuries-old tale darkly told,  September 2 of 2011 found us in the tiny back room of a Brooklyn saloon.

First posted Nov. 24, 2011:
Episode #2 of The 78 Project: The Reverend John DeLore & Kara Suzanne “Omie Wise”

The 78 Project: The Reverend John DeLore and Kara Suzanne “Omie Wise”

The tragic tale of Omie Wise has traveled the generations for more than two hundred years. Murdered rather than married by her beloved and thrown into a river, Omie is a warning to beware the wolf in disguise. In the back of a cozy local saloon in Brooklyn, the afternoon light worked its way through the window and The Reverend John DeLore and Kara Suzanne settled in to recount the chilling tale of Omie Wise’s murder. But true to the folk tradition, the duo added their own personal spin to the story.

Buy the music on iTunes.

The Flipside: The Reverend John DeLore and Kara Suzanne “Wounded Knee”

Kara and John had another tale to tell once Omie was conjured and put to rest. And their mesmerizing voices and guitars had the assembled historians and barkeeps transfixed. So we flipped the record, and they sang The Reverend’s own beautiful song “Wounded Knee” for a new feature of The 78 Project called The Flipside.

Special thanks to the High Horse Saloon and Salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for their generosity.

Celebrating 5 Years of The 78 Project

5 years isn’t such a long time in the nearly 80-year lifespan of our trusty Presto recorder. For us too, September 1st of 2011 seems like it was just yesterday, a brutally hot summer afternoon when we first set up the Presto and our cameras in the Children’s Garden of The Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  We couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time that it would be the first step on a journey that has since taken us across the country and back a few times, and connected The 78 Project to audiences and listeners around the globe. It’s been 5 years of life changing experiences, and we’re grateful for all of it.

Please join us as we spend the next weeks celebrating beautiful performances by some of the amazing artists we’ve been fortunate to work with. And please also stay tuned for some exciting news ahead.

First posted Nov. 8, 2011:
Episode #1 of The 78 Project – Dawn Landes “The Brown Girl”

The 78 Project: Dawn Landes “The Brown Girl”

Under the sweltering late-summer sun, a small crew of filmmakers and audio historians capture Dawn Landes as she sings “The Brown Girl”. Cicadas drone, buses huff to a stop, bees hover lazily, sunflowers loom, and as the acetate spins, a song is carefully carved into its surface.

An age old and brutal choice: to marry for love or money? In the first side of Dawn Landes’ haunting 78, “The Brown Girl,” the noble Thomas chooses a plain brown girl with a dowry over his beautiful but land-less true love Ellender. Story songs like this one – which travelled from Scotland to the Appalachians over three hundred years – were the primetime dramas of the pre-television era. So the verses swiftly build into an epic, bloody tale with a twist. You can stream Side A of Dawn’s acetate here.

Buy the music on iTunes.

Special thanks to The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the farmers of the Children’s Garden who kindly harvested around us.

Star & Micey – “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

On a warm morning in Memphis, during our Southern Road Trip, we met Star & Micey in St. Mary’s Cathedral. They started the day with this sweet and haunting version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, and as the days warm up and we start this summer, we’re excited to share it with you.

We think about this performance often, the beauty of the sound and the setting, the way loneliness can be soothed by singing. So it was a joy to include it in the bonus materials included with The 78 Project Movie. And to share even more of this immense journey with you.

Star & Micey – “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
Shot on the road in Memphis, TN September 4, 2012

Thank you again to the city of Memphis and all of our dear friends there.

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