Some Caged Birds Singing: Six Boys in Trouble

Discovered this via the fine blog Waxidermy and then scuttled around the net til I got myself a (digital) copy. It’s a Smithsonian Folkways 1959 recording called Street and Gangland Rhythms: Beats and Improvisations By Six Boys in Trouble.

It’s a deeply racist artifact, I have to mention; for starters, the recordist is credited fully and the boys are credited nowhere. The liner notes (available if you get  your download from the Folkways site, and not if you get it via emusic) discuss the boys in some anthropological depth (“These rhythm sessions are similar to jam sessions and each one has a “kind of leader” who communicates his directions by glances, nods, or an occasional grunt or kick…”) while granting them no humanity. Their ages are given, their economic status, but no names or descriptions of personality.

The recordings are made in a “residential training school” for kids in trouble with the law, the kids being enticed to participate by the thrill of being recorded. It’s pretty common practice by the Folkways of the time  (who put out all sorts of world music field recordings as the music of “primitives”), pretty disgusting by our standards, and in either case, an insult to the boys. Whoever you were, on behalf of white arseholes all over, Thanks and sorry. You’re owed some royalties.

Nevertheless: the music is fine, fine fine. They boys have great voices and improvise excellent dramatic recountings of their exploits and challenges. They tell the story of a Gang Fight, shoe shining stories, and this witty and well-crafted story about wanting to leave the residential school:

I Want Some Food

They do songs as well – some scat-style wordless rhymes, purely rhythmic jams, and a take on the Drifters’ Money Honey.

It’s a great record, and for all its sins, I’m glad it exists. You can get it, as mentioned, at Folkways, or eMusic, or as a torrent somewhere. I wouldn’t sweat the stealing – the artist is never getting paid here.

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1 Response to “Some Caged Birds Singing: Six Boys in Trouble”


  1. 1 Dickinson Headlice October 12, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Right in Brother!! These boys deserve real credit.. getting heavily sampled these days

    Good review


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