THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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13 posts categorized "Africa"

12 April 2018

Classical music in Nairobi

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By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

20180318_163526Levi Wataka and the Nairobi Orchestra

I recently gave a public lecture at the British Library titled Classic Treasures from the Sound Archive and the following day left for Kenya to repeat it in Nairobi.  I had been invited to become involved in a number of musical activities by Richard and Julia Moss.  As members and organisers of the Nairobi Orchestra, they have been responsible, almost single-handedly, in promoting classical music in Kenya for more than fifty years.  Their efforts were rewarded in 2010 when they both received an MBE ‘for services to classical music in Kenya’ and Richard published a book of recollections - Quavers near the Equator.  Now, many young Kenyans have the opportunity to study music at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music or with private teachers, and can audition for a place in the Nairobi Orchestra.  The Orchestra is non-professional, comprised of amateur musicians who all have day jobs but give their time on Wednesdays and Saturdays for rehearsals.

On my first evening I was invited to attend the Women’s Day Concert where an all-female orchestra were joined by soloists for some vocal extracts including an aria from Shirley Thompson’s operatic trilogy Spirit Songs.  The evening was presented by Wandiri Karimi, Director of the Kenya Conservatoire of Music who, from the stage, was kind enough to thank me for attending.

20180308_193810Celebrating Women in Music concert at Nairobi Theatre

At the first rehearsal I attended of the Nairobi Orchestra I coached them on the background to the main work they were preparing for the second half of their concerts the following week - the Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky.  A complex work demanding orchestral playing of a high standard, I was pleased that the response was very positive.

IMG_0326Coaching the Nairobi Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

Another invitation was to be a jury member of the Young Music Competition at Kenton College, an annual event directed by Francis Oludhe now in its twenty-second year.  There were some very promising young players of all instruments and the Nairobi School Band gave a rousing performance of a march by Sousa at the end.

20180311_173619Jury: Dan Abissi, Njane Mugambi, Jonathan Summers, Grace Muriithi, Ken Mwiti, Alexandra Stapells, Eugene Muthui

One of the most rewarding experiences I had during my time in Nairobi was a piano accompaniment workshop I gave to seventeen students at All Saints Cathedral.  They wanted to learn more about the art of accompaniment and I was fortunate to have tenor soloist Anthony Mwangi to accompany and demonstrate for the students.  He is an impressive and talented tenor who sang a Brahms song in German and a setting of a John Masefield poem by John Ireland.

20180312_181226Piano accompaniment workshop at All Saints Church

Unfortunately, the rainy season came early and we had three inches of rain in one day resulting in the cancellation of a class I was to give in conducting and composition due to the roads being flooded!

IMG-20180315-WA0000Flooding in Nairobi

I was also fortunate to attend a performance in English of Rossini’s Barber of Seville with piano accompaniment.  Figaro was played by Caleb Wachira, Music Director at the Strathmore School, and most of the cast were very accomplished providing a humorous and enjoyable afternoon.

The Nairobi Orchestra gave their concerts at the Kenya National Theatre on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.  The first half of the concert was conducted by James Laight, Director of Music at Peponi School.  Pianist Cordelia Williams came from England to perform Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini by Rachmaninov while the orchestra commenced with the orchestral arrangement of Debussy’s Petite Suite

20180317_193243Cordelia Williams (piano) with the Nairobi Orchestra and James Laight conducting

170318 RachmaninovEDIT

The second half was conducted by Levi Wataka, who received his BMus from Kenyatta University and who is Assistant Director of Music and teacher of sport at Peponi House Preparatory School.  Levi’s passion is conducting and he visits England each year to attend a summer school to further his knowledge and experience.  We had some fascinating discussions together on the work he conducted at the concert – Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 mentioned above.  Both performances were sold out and attracted an appreciative and attentive audience.

In addition to all my musical pursuits, in my capacity as curator I was offered some 78rpm discs by Peter Paterson, a neighbour whose grandparents had emigrated from Germany.  I selected what the Library did not have and brought them back with me including a disc of Massenet from a set of two of which the Library only had the first disc. 

Columbia D 11008

Mr Moss donated some rare late 1940s Kenyan recordings on the Jambo label.  The Library only has ten of these discs which I acquired way back in 2005 from the collection of Ernie Bayly. 

Jambo

For Wildlife curator, Cheryl Tipp I recorded some of the birds including the ibis, robin chat, red chested cuckoo and cisticola although I was unable to secure a recording of the tree hyrax, a sort of giant guinea pig, which often screamed during the night.

All photographs copyright Jonathan Summers

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19 March 2018

Recording of the week: South African gumboot guitar

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

I was studying Zulu street guitarists in Durban in 1984 when I met Blanket Mkhize, a guitarist from Glebelands male hostel in Umlazi township on the outskirts of the city. Blanket had a fascinating playing technique using the back of a comb to 'bow' the strings. He was, I believe, trying to use his guitar as a violin as well. For Blanket was also a gumboot player. Gumboot is a spectacular dance style performed by a team of men who, clad in heavy gumboots (very thick wellingtons), stamp, slap, clap and kick their heels in perfect synchronisation. And in gumboot you include, when you can get hold of one, a violin. Together with my fellow student, Carol Muller, we joined Blanket's gumboot team and spent a wonderful year rehearsing and performing with the team. What a privilege! Blanket was the dance leader and so often gave the guitar accompaniment duties to his friend, Albert Manothisa Nene. Albert is a refined dancer and a real virtuoso on guitar. Albert lived in the same area of the hostel as Blanket. One day he sat down with Blanket's cassette ghettoblaster and recorded himself playing gumboot guitar. The recording is full of tape hiss, clunks and thumps, and half way through Albert stopped the machine to check how much tape he had left. Here are two excerpts from this session, the first in a contemplative finger-picking style, the second with a more up-tempo ukuvamba (lit. vamping) strumming style.

Gumboot guitar

Blanket Mkhize (with whistle and tassles) and Albert Nene (right, with guitar). Glebeland male hostel, Umlazi township, Durban, South Africa, 1984. Photo: Janet Topp Fargion

Gumboot guitar

The full recording - over 25 minutes in all - and others of gumboot guitarists can be heard on Gumboot guitar: Zulu street guitar music from South Africa (Topic Records TSCD923). The entire collection is housed in the British Library with the reference C724: Janet Topp Fargion Collection.

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05 February 2018

Recording of the week: Dongo lamellophone and fireside chatting

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This week's selection comes from Isobel Clouter, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Here is an intimate recording made by one of our long time field recordists John Brearley. Travelling with his own violin to encourage a two-way flow of ideas, as suggested by anthropologist Alan Barnard, John Brearley sought out players of musical instruments and people who could perform healing dances and songs throughout Botswana, with positive results. John amassed a large and varied collection of music and interviews which illustrate the relationships he formed with the musicians that he recorded. The sound of the dongo (lamellophone) is but one part of a beautiful recording of the musician G/ashe G/ishe and his family chatting by the fireside.

Dongo (lamellophone) and fireside chatting (BL reference C65/60)

Dongo_lamellophone of Gashe Gishe (Photo by John Brearley)

Dongo (lamellophone) of G/ashe G/ishe

John Brearley continues to record in Botswana. His collection is an ongoing work that began with his first trip to Botswana in July 1982 to investigate and record traditional music, and to observe to what extent the influence of radio and recorded music had interrupted the use of traditional instruments. In particular he wanted to hear the music of the Basarwa. (The countries in southern Africa use different names to refer to Bushmen populations. In Botswana the term employed most often is Basarwa). Over 1000 recordings from John Brearley's collection can be explored on British Library Sounds.

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01 January 2018

Recording of the week: Ethiopian Michael Jackson?

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

This song was recorded in 1991 by ethnomusicologist Lesley Larkum at the Green Hotel, Mek'ele (Mekelle) in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. It represents one of those wonderful moments of ethnographic fieldwork when you come across something, not necessarily related to the focus of your work, but nevertheless captivating. It's times like those you are thankful for a sound recording device! Lesley was conducting research on Tigrinyan music during revolution. She had heard these two children singing in a bar a couple of nights beforehand and had asked them to return so she could record them. Sadly there's no photograph of them but as I listen, in my mind's eye I see a couple of youngsters with the voices, rhythm and exuberance of a young Michael Jackson.

Children singing at the Green Hotel (C600/15)

Green hotel 2nd

The Lesley Larkum collection of Ethiopian field recordings can be consulted at the British Library.

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25 December 2017

Recording of the week: a Christmas story

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This week's selection comes from Stephen Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary & Creative Recordings. 

This seasonal offering comes from our African Writers Club collection and was recorded on 7 November 1966 in London on a Revox F36 tape machine. 'No Room at Solitaire' is a dramatization by Cosmo Pieterse of a short story by Richard Rive. It updates the nativity tale to Christmas Eve in northern Transvaal (now Limpopo), South Africa, in the era of apartheid. Contains strong language.

A Christmas story (C134/98)

Entabeni---Limpopo

Entabeni - Limpopo, South Africa by FyreMael via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

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28 August 2017

Recording of the week: bringing Batwa voices back to life in Uganda

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Dr Peter Cooke has been researching music in Uganda since the 1960s. In 1968 he was in the Kisoro area in western Uganda where he recorded a few songs performed by members of the Batwa community. The recordings now form part of his collection at the British Library (BL reference: C23) and can be listened to on the British Library Sounds website.

In 1991, the Batwa in Uganda were evicted from their historic homelands and their presence in the country was decimated. In 2006-7 Christopher Kidd, then an anthropology PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow who had been working amongst the Batwa communities, took the Cooke recordings back and played them to local colleagues at the offices of the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda. On hearing them, one of the staff members was able to identify his own grandfather, a man called Kiyovu, as the sole performer of these two songs. Furthermore, he reported that Kiyovu’s only surviving son, Jeremiah Bunjagare, was still living in the area although he had been relocated, as part of a development project, to Gitebe beside Echuya Forest.

Dr Kidd went to Gitebe and played the recordings to Jeremiah. He immediately picked out his father's voice and was visibly emotional at hearing his father after all these years. With much pride he explained that the man they were listening to was a man who sat beside kings [Kiyovu was indeed a performer for Mwami Rubugiri, the king of Rwanda]. Later he danced to show his thanks for bringing his father back into his life. Dr Kidd reported: "Listening to these recordings was a time when Jeremiah and other Batwa remembered not their powerlessness but a time in which they ‘sat beside kings’ and were respected as a people and a culture."

Urwasabahizi_Innanga zither song performed by Kiyovu

Jeremiah Bunjagare listening to recording of his father from 1968 - Photo Chris Kidd 2007Jeremiah Bunjagare listening to recording of his father from 1968 - Photo Chris Kidd 2007

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26 June 2017

Recording of the week: Himba women’s songs from Namibia

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

This is an ‘ondjongo’ song sung by a group of Himba women, recorded in 1998 by French ethnomusicologist Emmanuelle Olivier (BL reference C1709). The recording was made within the French-Namibian project "Living Music and Dance of Namibia" (1998-2000) directed by Minette Mans (University of Namibia), Emmanuelle Olivier (CNRS, France) and Hervé Rivière (CNRS, France).

Ondjongo song sung by Himba women

Himba 1998 girls with headphones and hairstyles

The Himba, from the northern part of Namibia, very close to the border with Angola, are well known for their elaborate hairstyles, using copious amounts of lush, orange ochre – which helps to protect them from the scorching sun. Hair cutting ceremonies are significant markers of life cycle events, being performed, for example, for naming ceremonies or in celebrations connected with girls’ first menstruation and marriage.

(Photo: Emmanuelle Olivier, 1990)

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08 May 2017

Recording of the week: Parental warning

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This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Ethnomusicologist Bryony Harris (née Pearson) spent 2002 doing field work in Uganda to record the drumming styles of the Busoga and Buganda as part of research for her dissertation "Towards a notation for African dance drumming, focusing on the Baganda and Basoga of Uganda". The recording featured this week [collection C1079] was part of that research and in a recent e-mail exchange, she gave us some more insight into its making –

“This is such a rich layering of instruments and textures. It was a very humbling experience to attempt to learn something of the history, tradition and drumming technique in a snapshot of time. I arrived with my western preconceptions, a 20 year old English girl trained in western music, but completely out of my depth with the complexities of this traditional music.

Bryony Harris_Uganda

This recording is of the Kalalu village 'Balongo' group of musicians. Kalalu is a very rural village, a bumpy bicycle ride from Jinja in Busoga, where some of the children were fascinated / scared of my white skin. They were very welcoming but keen to be paid for their expertise – and rightly so, in hindsight. As it was something I hadn't really budgeted for however, we got the group to play together for my recording by arranging to produce a cassette for them. The market for cassettes was still going strong in 2002 Uganda as they were cheap to produce and buy. We took photographs of them in their blue t-shirt uniform and they decided on their best songs.”

According to the catalogue entry, based on the recordist’s notes, the song warns parents of the dangers of cursing their children stating they will be affected and face trouble in the future. For such a serious warning, it is a joyful song featuring the following instruments: endere (flutes), ndingidi (string fiddle), nkwanzi (panpipes), embaire (small xylophone), ensaasi (flat metal shaker), endumi (small drum), engabe (long drum), tamenaibuga / irongo drum.

Abazaire Abatukolima - 'Parents Cursing their Children'

Upon re-listening to the recording, Bryony reflected –

“The quality of the song is judged by the lyrics and the singer - the competence of the musicians is taken for granted. I think I did move around with my microphone a little during the recording, as you can hear different instruments stronger at different points. Thoughts that return to me on listening to it again: Firstly - where is the beat? The need to focus on the shaker to hear it - but then the drums always put me off when they enter! I was trying to focus my learning on the drums, but they were so different to any West African rhythms I'd played previously. Seeing the drums signal the dancers to change their amazing rapid hip movements. Where does the cycle of notes start? How do they know where to come in? The phenomenal speed of the interlocking xylophone, where different patterns spring out at you the more you listen. The cyclical nature of the melody and the variety in texture and colour. This music, which is made of fairly simple, repetitive parts is elusive. The more you listen the more there is to hear.”

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.