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7 posts categorized "Africa"

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)

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

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.”

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17 April 2017

Recording of the week: Akabira for flute ensemble

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This week's selection comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Manager and Curator of Europeana Music.

This song, "Akabira", was recorded by Klaus Wachsmann in Kasule, Uganda, in 1954. Nshegu is the name given to an ensemble of flute players: the five members of the ensemble (pictured) each play an end-blown, composite cone-flute with a single note (some flutes have more than one note). By playing in a particular order, the nshegu players are able to create a vibrant, complex web of sound. 

Akabira for flute ensemble


Toro flute set  kasule  uganda  July 1954

Toro Flute Set, Kasule, Uganda, 6 July 1954

This is just one of over 1500 of Wachsmann's recordings which are available on British Library Sounds.

Follow @tommilesz, @BL_WorldTrad and @EuropeanaMusic for all the latest news.

28 February 2017

Stanley Glasser: South African music recordings

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Mr Rummutla's dipila [lamellaphone] researched and photographed by Stanley and Elizabeth Glasser in Limpopo province, South Africa, 1975

Stanley (‘Spike’) Glasser (b. 28 February 1926) is a South African-born composer and academic. He has been based primarily in London since the 1950s. One of his many major achievements, and one he is perhaps best known for, is his role as music director of the South African jazz musical, King Kong. With music primarily written by Todd Matshikiza – Stanley composed some of the songs – and played by the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi, the all-black cast and band first performed the show in South Africa in 1959. It was moved to the Prince’s Theatre in London’s West End, where it opened on the 23rd February 1961. Many of the cast never returned to South Africa after the run, starting an exodus of musicians who became instrumental in raising international awareness of the injustices of the apartheid system.

Stanley is also well known for his pioneering contributions to the development of the music department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he spent most of his working life having become head of department in 1969 and Dean of Humanities in the 1980s. During his time there he was responsible for the creation of the electronic studios (named after him and in collaboration with fellow composer, Hugh Davies).

His compositional and academic activities were underpinned by his life-long love and connection with South African indigenous music. Introduced to local Zulu music as a teenager by the family’s much-loved housekeeper, Shikelela, Stanley spent time as a young man working with Hugh Tracey at the African Music Society (started in 1948 and still in existence under the International Library of African Music). Hugh and his son Andrew (ILAM’s director from 1977 to 2005) guided Stanley to making an ethnomusicological field trip to what is now Limpopo province in the northern-most region of the country, to study the music of the Pedi people.

Stanley was particularly interested in a kind of lamellaphone the Pedi played called the dipila. He was right to be – the instrument was not much known outside the area. It had not been recorded or studied. The 18 reel to reel tapes he recorded on his first field trip in 1975, with the help of his wife, Elizabeth, remain some of the only recordings of this instrument in existence.

RAMMUTLA DIPILAFingering for Mr Rammutla's dipila. [Drawn by Elizabeth in a field notebook.]

Perhaps more intriguing than the dipila, however, was Stanley’s introduction to the haripa an autoharp played by a Mr Mohali Ramathlo. Mr Ramathlo’s 45-stringed, zither-like instrument had 25 carved wooden puppets attached to it with a piece of wire. “Standing, he sings a song and while playing the haripa he moves the instrument around thus making the puppets dance with disturbing realism”, wrote Stanley in a paper for the International Folk Music Council conference at Goldsmiths in 1976.

Scan0001Mr Mohali Ramathlo and his haripa with puppets

The pentatonic tunings of both the dipila and the haripa come from the lenaka pipes. These were made from bits of curtain rod or other industrial piping and were normally of 10 to 37cms in length. Each player played a single note together making up the melody. In Stanley’s recordings there were 9 pipe parts, doubled up, with 4 drums.

Scan0003Pedi lenaka pipe dancers at Tzaneen

Listen to Pedi lenaka pipe dancers from C1671 original tape 14

Stanley and Elizabeth’s second field trip took them to study Xhosa music in the Transkei, now in Eastern Cape Province, in 1981/2. There they recorded 8 reel to reel tapes with a variety of performances and instruments including Christian church hymns and young men’s circumcision rituals; indigenous instruments such as the uhadi and isitolotolo musical bows and indigenous music played on guitars and concertinas.

Scan0005Umphumo [circumcision] celebration at Qhaka village. Those covered in the blankets are emerging from days of isolation during the circumcision rites.

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Kostini’ [concertina] player at Qhaka village for Umphumo celebration [circumcision]

 

Stanley’s collection of recordings, selected photos and notes are housed at the British Library with the reference C1671.

 

Find out more about the work of the British Library's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.

09 January 2017

Recording of the week: Ad man's dream

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Our first Recording of the Week for 2017 comes from Tony Harris, Preservation Audio Engineer.

There's a really lovely, lazy, summery feel  to "Are nor want for be" by the Famous Scrubbs and his Band. The infectious little ditty really should have been in an insurance ad by now!

Are not want for be_Famous Scrubbs and his Band

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The Decca West Africa yellow label series, issued on shellac disc between circa 1948-1958, provides a major resource for the study of contemporary African music. Visit Decca West Africa Recordings to listen to more recordings from the series.

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

26 October 2015

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song

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The album cover for Fela Kuti’s ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’, artwork courtesy of Lemi Ghariokwu, 1977
The album cover for Fela Kuti’s ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’, artwork courtesy of Lemi Ghariokwu, 1977

The British Library's major autumn exhibition, West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, is now open to the public. It's an exciting show that brings to life, in full colour and sound, the intellectual traditions of literature, music and art from across 17 countries, referencing 1000 years of history right up to the present day, from this dynamic and hugely inspirational region of the world. 

Here, in honour of the 10th anniversary of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage are a few audio tracks from the exhibition for you to listen to.

The first section of the exhibition is called 'Building states'. We explore how stories and symbols within a long literary and oral heritage co-exist, still exist, and how they have been used to forge histories and form the basis of communities and political entities. Music, symbols and words form the backbone of the Asante Empire, in modern-day Ghana, and are of vital importance to the exercise of royal power. Musical instruments - such as drums and trumpets - are part of the king's official regalia. They are used during a variety of royal functions, reciting proverbs and poetry and conveying messages. The atumpan drums are central. The official player is responsible for sending the king's messages across the kingdom, He also plays welcome statements and eulogies, and recites praises and ayan (drum poetry) before and during ceremonies and rituals.

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Kofi Jatto performing phrases of text on the Asante atumpan drums in Ghana in 1921. It was taken by the anthropologist Robert Sutherland Rattray

Listen to Atumpan 'talking drums' recorded by Robert Sutherland Rattray, 1921

The 'Spirit' section of the exhibition explores the centrality of words and communication of meaning in religious practice in West Africa. We look at some of the many and varied 'indigenous belief systems', Islam and Christianity. Christian missionaries arrived in West Africa in large numbers during the 19th century. They believed it was essential for West Africans to be able to read the Bible in their own languages and some of their early converts, such as the Nigerian-born linguist, scholar and Anglican bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c.1807-1891), was the first to translate the Book of Romans, from the New Testament, into Yoruba, published in 1850.

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Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, 1867

Music has always been an integral part of religious practice in West Africa. Christian missionaries taught music along Western lines, often suppressing indigenous musical practices. By the turn of the 20th century, African Christians were translating and composing their own hymns in their own languages. Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti, a Nigerian Anglican priest (and, incidentally, grandfather of the famous Nigerian protest singer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti) was among the first.

Here he sings 'Jesu olugbala ni mo f'ori fun e' (I give myself to Jesus the Saviour) in Yoruba, with piano accompaniment.  Zonophone 3394, recorded in 1922. 

Listen to JJ Ransome-Kuti hymn in Yoruba

Our section called 'Crossings' explains how the pen became a weapon against the slave trade, introducing the leading writers of African heritage in 18th-century Britain. The section also delves into cultural continuities - how religion, customs such as carnival, and music became acts of resistance and how they continue to circulate within the 'cultural Atlantic' and beyond. 

The exhibition highlights a West African lute, the akonting, of the Jola people from The Gambia. With a round soundboard and a movable bridge, the akonting is similar in structure and playing style to the early minstrel banjo in the United States. 

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Akonting made by Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta, 2015

Listen to 'Aleenum' (My brother_sister) song for Akonting by Daniel Jatta, 2015

Our 'Speaking out' section looks at how West Africans used tools, sometimes brought by the colonial powers, to resist colonialism and how they continue to use words (political speeches, newspapers, political novels and poetry), symbols (on cloths, flags and buses), and music to raise social issues and fight injustices. This section features a room dedicated to Fela Anikulapo Kuti and demonstrates his use of music in 'speaking out' against the Nigerian government of the day with clips from Finding Fela, a film by Alex Gibney (2014).

Post-independent West Africa saw an outpouring of creativity in literature and art. The final section of the exhibition, 'Story Now' illustrates the many ways in which stories are remembered, told, created and recreated - from pamphlets and books, to visual art, to popular Nollywood films, radio dramas and works written with new digital forms. 

Chinua Achebe (1930 - 2013) was one of the greatest African writers of the 20th century. He was author of the famous novel Things fall apart (1958) as well as many other works of fiction and non-fiction. This praise song for Achebe, was composed and performed in 2014 by Professor Akachi Ezeigbo of the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

Listen to Achebe Praise Song

Cloth-chinua-achebe-west-africa-british-library

For more on 'West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song' go to our exhibition web pages. See also co-curator Marion Wallace's piece on the British Library's Asian and African studies blog. An accompanying book by Gus Casely-Hayford, Janet Topp Fargion and Marion Wallace is available in our bookshop.

Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme

Follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad 

23 October 2015

Africa Writes vox pops: What’s new about West African Literature?

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Africa Writes blog

Africa Writes vox pops is a new collection of 32 video interviews made at the Africa Writes festival 4-5 June, 2015. See BL reference C1705.

Africa Writes is an annual literature and book festival organized by the Royal African Society in partnership with the British Library. 

The interviews were filmed by the British Library in collaboration with Afrikult to produce a short film now on show at the British Library's new exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song co-curated by Marion Wallace and Janet Topp Fargion.

The collection comprises the raw unedited footage of 32 five-to-ten minute interviews, including set-ups, tests for focus, cutaway shots etc. Highlights can be viewed in the exhibition. The videos capture Africa Writes’ international audience of readers discussing contemporary trends in West African literature.

Participants were asked what is new and exciting about West African literature; how West African literature has changed since Chinua Achebe’s generation of writers; how West African literature connects with people's experiences in Africa and the diaspora today; what role do women play in West African literature; and how could West African literature be described in just three words. The results of the final question are expressed in the word cloud shown below.

Wordle 3__

The interviewees agreed unanimously that West African literature has contributed to their lives by helping them to shape their identities and to make sense of their experiences of migration, diaspora and transculturation. Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie topped the list of recommended authors.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is seen as great empowerer of women and an inspiration for the young. Women are considered more prominent in West African literature than ever, not just as characters, but as writers too.

The value of this collection goes beyond the subject of West African literature, delving into what literature means, how it resonates with its readers and how it has helped Africans to reclaim their own history and to engage with the diaspora.

Several interviewees touched on how social media helps to connect writers, publishers and audiences, making African literature more visible and internationally accessible.

The digital space has also helped to circumvent restrictions on publishing in languages besides the hegemonic English and French, providing opportunities to authors who write in West African languages. Furthermore it has expanded the possibilities for online publishing in general and for multilingual and multimedia e-publications such as the Valentine's Day Anthology 2015  of short stories, published by Ankara Press, which includes audio readings by the authors and can be downloaded for free.

When asked what would they like to see more of in the future interviewees' thematic concerns were heterogeneous, including topics and genres such as queer, different gender dynamics and disability stories, thrillers, crime fiction, romance, pop culture, traditional stories, science fiction and non-fiction.

If you haven't read much West African literature and don't know where to start this vox pops collection will set you up. And if you were already into West African literature it will probably help you to expand your reading list until the next Africa Writes festival in 2016. 

A big thanks to the 33 interviewees and Afrikult members: Zaahida Nalumoso, Henry Brefo and Marcelle Akita. And please come to the exhibition which is on until 16 February 2015.