THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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15 posts categorized "Africa"

20 July 2018

Mrs Boulton and the woodland warbler

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Have you ever noticed how some animals are named after people? Hume's Partridge. Lady Amherst's Pheasant. Waller's Starling. I come across this quite a lot when cataloguing new collections and have often wondered who these people were.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that these species were named after the naturalists who discovered them. Now, there are no rules that say you can't name a new species after yourself, however it's generally regarded as bad form in most taxonomic circles. Helps keep the egos in check etc.  It's perfectly acceptable to name a species after somebody else though. Most names are given as a declaration of admiration or love, however a few have been chosen out of spite. What better way to insult a critic or a rival than by naming a disagreeable specimen after them? Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, was the king of the nomenclature slap down. Mess with Linnaeus and you could be sure that a smelly weed or a boring nettle would soon bear your name.

In this particular example we're going to look at Mrs Boulton's Woodland Warbler, Seicercus laurae. Now more commonly referred to as Laura's Woodland Warbler, this little songbird can be found in the dry forests and swamps of central Africa. The species was discovered in 1931 by the American ornithologist W. Rudyerd Boulton (1901-1983) who specialised in the avifauna of Africa. While assistant curator of birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Boulton made several research trips to Africa accompanied by his first wife, the ethnomusicologist Laura Crayton Boulton (1899-1980). It was with Laura that he discovered this previously unknown warbler which he named in her honour.

Laura's Woodland Warbler, recorded at Mount Namba, Angola by Michael Mills (BL ref 163291) 

The Boultons continued to explore the ornithological and musical treasures of Africa until the mid 1930s when their marriage began to fall apart. The couple finally divorced in 1938 and, though Laura continued in the field of ethnomusicology, Rudyerd's professional life took an entirely different turn. In 1942 he joined the African branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the US intelligence agency formed during World War Two, where his knowledge of the landscape, people and politics of central African countries was put to good use. In the same year he married his second wife, the socialite, poet and psychic Inez Cunningham Stark. Though mainly based out of Washington DC, Boulton was heavily involved with operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, most notably the procurement of uranium ore for the Manhattan Project.

At the end of WWII, Boulton continued working in intelligence for several years, including a stint with the CIA, until, apparently at least, turning his back on espionage in 1958. A year later he created the charitable Atlantica Foundation with his third wife, the wealthy widow Louise Rehm. The remit of this foundation was broad but ambitious, aiming to establish and support research into zoology, ecology, fine arts and parapsychology. The couple based their operation out of Zimbabwe and were by all accounts generous supporters of research and education in the area until their deaths in 1974 (Louise) and 1983 (Rudyerd).

But what of the woman who inspired the name of our woodland warbler? Laura Boulton became a renowned field recordist, filmmaker and collector of traditional musical instruments from around the world. During her life she embarked on almost 30 recording expeditions throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and North America, amassing tens of thousands of sound recordings, photos, films, books and instruments. She experienced first hand advancements in recording technology, beginning her career with an Edison phonograph before progressing to a disc cutting machine and eventually a portable reel to reel recorder. Her legacy can be found in various institutions across the United States, from the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University to the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. 

Boulton LP  One of Boulton's published collections of ethnographic field recordings (BL Shelfmark 1LP0247765)

When beginning my research I never imagined that two such colourful characters would be behind the name of this rather inconspicuous little warbler. Two years after the discovery of Laura's Woodland Warbler, Rudyerd was himself taxonomically immortalised by the American herpetologist Karl Patterson Schmidt, who named a new species of Namib day gecko, Rhoptropus boultoni, in his honour. And in case you're wondering, Schmidt must have liked Rudyerd. Rhoptropus boultoni is a pretty cute gecko.

Follow @CherylTipp for all the latest wildlife news. 

18 June 2018

Recording of the week: Dennis Brutus

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

In this archive recording from the African Writers Club collection, South African poet and anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus reads the introductory poem from his debut volume Sirens Knuckles Boots. At the time of the book's publication - in Nigeria in 1963 - its author was in prison on Robben Island. The reading is extracted from an interview with Brutus on his poetic work, conducted by Cosmo Pieterse and recorded 5 October 1966. 

Listen to Dennis Brutus reading from 'Sirens Knuckles Boots'

Dennis-Brutus-book-cover

The African Writers Club collection comprises over 250 hours of radio programmes recorded in the 1960s at the Transcription Centre, London, under its Director Dennis Duerden. The collection features interviews, readings and literary and current affairs discussions, and includes contributions by many of the leading African writers and artists of the time.

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

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

For all the Classical news follow @BL_Classical

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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