26 February 2021
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it is another month packed with newly digitised collections being added to the EAP website. The three latest projects to go online include:
- Manuscripts of the Lanten community in northern Laos [EAP791]
- Documents at the Jaffna Bishop's House, Sri Lanka [EAP981]
- Documentary heritage of traditional Protestant communities in Bulgaria [EAP1145]
Led by Professor Dr Josephus Platenkamp and Joseba Estevez, the EAP791 project team digitised 768 manuscripts owned by private collectors within the Lanten community in northern Laos.
Members of the Lanten community migrated from the Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces of China into Laos and Vietnam following the social, political and economic upheavals during the last century of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912).
Lanten (also known as Lao Huay and Yao Mun) are classified as one of the 39 ‘ethnic minorities’ of northern Laos that are officially acknowledged by the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.
Written in Classical Chinese supplemented with lexemes from Lanten language, these manuscripts mediate the transfer across the generations of the religious knowledge and verbal and non-verbal expertise enabling ritual experts to communicate with the Deities of the Lanten pantheon. To that end the manuscripts contain instructions for rituals of healing, marriage, death, ordination, and exorcism, specifying the sacrificial procedures and the Deities involved.
This major project followed on from pilot project EAP700. Led by Dr Appasamy Murugaiyan, the EAP981 team digitised the remaining rare documents kept under the guardianship of the Jaffna Bishop House in Sri Lanka.
The digitised material covers the period between 1775 and 1948.
The range of material digitised includes handwritten bound registers, personal memoirs, chronicles, account books, correspondence, registers of marriage, baptism, birth and death, newspaper clippings, pastoral letters, biographies of the local bishops, and some religious books.
The material also covers a wide range of languages, including French, English, Tamil, Latin, Portuguese, Sinhalese, and Dutch.
This pilot project, led by Dr Magdalena Slavkova, produced a survey of 52 collections of material relating to Protestant communities in Bulgaria.
These collections contain a wide variety of content types including photographs, notebooks, correspondence, books, wedding and baptism certificates, religious booklets, newspaper clippings, and postcards.
In addition to the survey, the EAP1145 project team, which also included Dr Mila Maeva, Dr Yelis Erolova, and Dr Plamena Stoyanova, digitised a sample of 69 files from these collections.
24 September 2018
Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting preliminary applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 12 noon 19 November 2018 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.
The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. The Programme awards grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise it, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The Programme has funded over 350 projects in 90 countries world-wide and has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals.
There three main types of grant:
- Pilot projects investigate the potential for and/or feasibility of a major grant. A pilot can also be a small digitisation project. They should last for no more than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
- Major projects gather and copy material. This type of grant may also relocate the material to a more secure location/institution within the country. These projects usually last 12 months, or up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £60,000.
- Area grants will be awarded for larger scale projects. They are similar to a major grant, but larger in scale and ambition. Applicants must demonstrate an outstanding track record of archival preservation work and be associated with an institution that has the capacity to facilitate a large-scale project. The EAP will only award a maximum of two area grants in each funding round. They can last for up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £150,000.
A further type of grant will be introduced in 2019:
- Rapid-response grants can be used to safeguard an archive which is in immediate and severe danger. These grants are intended for the most urgent situations where a delay in the decision process could result in extensive damage to the material. These grants are not subject to the time restrictions of the yearly EAP funding cycle and can be applied for at any time. They must last for less than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
If you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
12 February 2018
World Radio Day has been held annually on 13th February since 2012 following its proclamation by the UNESCO Conference. The following year the United Nations General Assembly formally endorsed this proclamation and adopted it as an official ‘International Day’ to be celebrated on the anniversary of the establishment of United Nations Radio in 1946.
It is celebrated as a way of showing the continuing importance of radio around the world. The UN Secretary General António Guterres, speaking in the build-up to World Radio Day 2018 states,
“Radio reaches the widest audience in the world! In an era of dramatic advances in communications, radio retains its power to entertain, educate, inform and inspire. It can unite and empower communities and give voice to the marginalized” 1
Whilst the Endangered Archives Programme is more widely known for digitising vulnerable collections of manuscripts, books, newspapers and other written or visual based mediums, we have also funded a number of audio digitisation projects. Several of these are available to listen to now on BL Sounds, including two important collections of digitised radio archives from Iran and Micronesia. For this post celebrating World Radio Day we thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight these two collections and feature a few of the recordings from the thousands that are available for you to listen to freely.
This eclectic collection of sound recordings from Micronesia were digitised with the help of the Micronesian Seminar (MicSem), a research-pastoral institute founded by the Catholic Church in 1972. The project team were made aware of hundreds of audio tapes sitting on the shelves of government radio stations throughout the region that were in danger of being lost. These tapes contained a rich and diverse collection of recordings played on local radio from the 1950s right up until the early 21st century. Many had already been lost or destroyed, some through theft and others damaged in natural disasters. These low-lying islands are regularly threatened by typhoons and some are already seeing the consequences of climate change. Many of the islands have already lost land mass due to erosion caused by rising sea levels, some are likely to disappear completely within the coming decades, and others have even been lost altogether within living memory. The threat of typhoons, rising sea levels and the usual factors that endanger vulnerable archives – poor storage conditions, theft, pests, humidity, decay and degradation of the original medium, etc. – uniquely placed these radio archives in need of preservation.
The project mainly digitised recordings from government radio stations in Majuro, Marshall Islands; Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap, Federated States of Micronesia; and Koror, Palau. The project team also digitised recordings from a number of private radio stations, including V6AJ on Kosrae, and some from former Palau national congress Senator Alfonso Diaz’s private radio station (WWFM). Other sources for recordings include private individuals and the Liebenzel Mission and Catholic Church media studio in Chuuk.
The recordings feature a wide variety of musical styles and chart the evolution of music in the region, with recordings ranging from traditional music, religious chants and hymns, to acoustic rock and reggae songs. Given the importance music has on the islands, these recordings can give some context into the cultural evolution of these island societies.
Over 7000 recordings available to listen to here.
Abdolvahab Shahidi with accompanying musicians © Golha Project
The Golha radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio between 1956 and 1979 and consist of a mixture of musical pieces, poetry, and literary commentary. They were the brainchild of Davoud Pirnia, a one-time Assistant Prime Minister who harboured a deep love for Persian culture and its rich literary and musical traditions, and who devoted himself to producing the Golha programmes upon his retirement from political life in 1956. The foremost literary, academic and musical talents of his day offered Mr. Pirnia their collaboration and support, and many of the greatest Iranian vocalists of the twentieth century saw their careers launched on these radio programmes. The programmes constitute an unrivalled encyclopaedia of classical Persian music and poetry. Over 250 poets were introduced to the general public at the time of these broadcasts and they helped to reintroduce and preserve Persian classical music and poetry.
Prior to the digitisation of the Golha radio programmes, these recordings were previously inaccessible to students and scholars of Persian poetry and music. The original tapes were scattered between a number of different archives and private collections with no single archive containing all recordings. The Iranian government withheld access to their archives of music broadcast before the 1979 Islamic revolution, especially those which feature female voices (which all of the Golha programmes contain). Because of the regime's ideological stance to this type of music in particular, it was unlikely they would have committed the resources needed to preserve these recordings. Thanks to the hard work of the EAP088 project team, this important collection of recordings is now saved and freely available both on BL Sounds and the Golha website.
The first of these series of programmes, Golha-yi Javidan (Immortal Flowers of Song and Verse), began its broadcast on March 21 1956 and it concluded, as did all further episodes, with
“This has been an immortal flower from the peerless rose garden of Persia Literature, a flower that shall never perish. Good night”
(In ham goli bud javidan az golzar-e bi-hamta-ye adab-e Iran, goli ke hargez namirad. Shab khosh!).2
1296 recordings available to listen to here.
2 LEWISOHN, J., ‘Flowers of Persian Song and Music: Davud Pirnia and the Genesis of the Golha Programs’, Journal of Persianate Studies (2008) 1, 79-101
Robert Miles, EAP Cataloguer
13 November 2017
I am sure that I am not the only one who, every-so-often, talks about work over the dinner table. The reason for my excitement was because of the new EAP website that, for the first time, allows for keyword searches and also offers the ability to zoom into the images to really capture the finer details that were lost before. To illustrate what the new platform can offer, I chose the word ‘bagpipe’, to see what could be unearthed. My husband, who plays several types, suddenly lost all interest in his meal, which became colder and colder as he scrolled through the 1940s photographs of Bulgarian bagpipes (gaida) that had appeared on the computer screen.
What I hadn’t expected was my own newly found interest in Bulgarian pipes and desire to learn more.
The gaida is made from goatskin that is placed in salt for several days and then reversed so that the fur is on the inside, which apparently helps prevent the build-up of moisture as the musician blows into the instrument. The hindquarters are removed and sewn up, the two front leg holes are used for the blow pipe (duhalo) - to inflate the bag, and for the drone (ruchilo), which is the longest pipe made of three sections providing a continuous and harmonious note to accompany the melody, played on the chanter (gaidanitsa). This has seven holes and is connected to the neck opening. Both drone and chanter contain single cane reeds.
EAP103/1/3/9/28 Parts of a bagpipe (l-r) chanter with bead decoration, drone pipe, blow pipe
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bagpipes were traditionally played by men to while away the time in the rural countryside taking care of their herds. Boys were expected to learn by ear and then go off and practise during the long working day. However, Maria Stoyanova, who fell in love with the gaida, was the first professional female player and has become one of the country’s most gifted instrumentalists. She started by sneakily playing her father’s pipes while no one was around to hear.
To be a good player you need to have gaidarski prŭsti or ‘bagpiper’s fingers’. This refers to the ornamentation that flourishes the melody and provides individuality to a folk tune.
Although the bagpipe has its roots in rural life, the website word search also brought up studio photographs of people in traditional dress and holding a bagpipe. I am not convinced that either of these two sitters can actually play the instrument. In the first example the sitter does not know where to place his hands and the second sitter, may have just been nervous of the camera but, to me, he seems to be holding the instrument with quite a bit of trepidation.
EAP103/1/2/1/55 A studio photograph
EAP103/1/3/2/137 A studio photograph
It is the sequence of photographs in a maker’s workshop that I fell in love with. You see the interior of the room, with piles of wood blanks waiting to be made into dones, finished bagpipes waiting to be sold, and the maker at his bench. A row of notched wooden sticks seem to indicate where the seven finger holes should be placed. But it is the last photograph in the series, which is just so wonderful – the maker just having played his newly finished instrument. The face is somewhat blurred and I would like to believe this is because the photographer has a slightly shaky hand after hearing the beautiful sound, but what hasn’t been lost is the pride on the maker’s face.
EAP103/1/3/5/92 Inside a maker's workshop
EAP103/1/3/5/90 Working at his hand-driven lathe
EAP103/1/3/5/96 (detail) Finger hole marking templates
EAP103/1/3/5/95 The finished instrument
There are two types of gaida. The smaller, slightly higher pitched instrument (djura) performs a slow melancholic song, without an obvious beat, known as bavna pesen, often played at a wedding, when the bride’s family hands over their daughter to the groom. In complete contrast it can also play upbeat dance tunes called horo for weddings and other festivals. The second type of instrument is larger (known as a kaba) and originates from the Rhodope mountains. There is even an orchestra made up of 100 kaba gaida, and when I listened to them on the internet, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I have a feeling that I know where we will be spending our next summer holiday...
But do have a play on the new website for yourself and see what the keyword search will uncover for you.
Rice, T. (2004) Music in Bulgaria: Experiencing music, expressing culture Oxford; New York, Oxford University Press
Rice T. (2011) "Evaluating Artistry on the Bulgarian Bagpipe" in Ethnomusicological encounters with music and musicians: essays in honor of Robert Garfias Surrey, England: Burlington VT Ashgate Publishing
Video of a televised concert of 333 bagpipe players - old and young, boys and girls
05 May 2016
In April six collections were made available through the EAP website and BL Sounds. The variety of subjects, locations, and types of record really highlight the broad range of projects that the Endangered Archives Programme is involved in.
EAP190: Digitising archival material pertaining to 'Young India' label gramophone records
The project digitised gramophone records, disc labels, record catalogues and publicity material from ‘The National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company Ltd. Bombay’, which issued records under the ‘Young India’ label between 1935-1955. The company produced over 10,000 titles on 78-rpm, 10 inch diameter shellac discs with two songs per disc. The recordings of film, popular, classical and folk music, as well as educational material were issued mainly from amateur or up-and-coming artists. They feature music from different regions of India, sung in many different languages. The recordings have never been reissued on audio tape or CD and are therefore now available for many people to listen to for the first time. We have already received some great feedback about this collection, including one person who recalled his music teacher many years ago telling the students about Young India and how he used to be a tabla player for the label and regular D V Paluskar accompanist. He was delighted to find that he could now hear the actual music that his teacher talked about all those years ago. Hopefully, with this collection now available for anyone to listen to worldwide, many more people will discover or rediscover the recordings from the Young India label.
EAP468: To preserve Indian recordings on 'Odeon' label shellac discs
This project digitised shellac discs, record labels and associated ephemera from the Odeon record label. Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India between 1912-1938. The company produced over 2,000 titles of north and south Indian music. About 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived and are with private collectors
Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India in two phases: during 1912-16; and during 1932-38. During the first phase, Odeon's first Indian recordings were made in late 1906 on a grand tour that took the engineers from Calcutta to Benares, then on to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Bombay and finally back to Calcutta. In all, they recorded some 700 titles, which were duly shipped back to Berlin for processing and manufacture in what was then the established worldwide pattern. Disc records manufactured and pressed in Germany were shipped back to India by 1908. Gramophone records were the only mode of public and family entertainment in that period. Because of the diversity of language and cultural taste, Odeon's engineers recorded a great deal of regional music for local consumption. In a time before film music swept regional variations away, Odeon's activities allowed Indians to listen to the music that would otherwise have been irretrievable. Very few disc records from this period have survived.
In the second phase, the Odeon disc manufacturing company operated during 1932-38. Its operations were mainly from Mumbai and Madras and the company produced over 2,000 titles in north and south Indian music. At this time, radio and film songs had just entered the entertainment era. Disc manufacturing and distribution activity continued until the outbreak of World War II. Because of the embargo imposed on German goods, the company had to wind up their business in India, leaving behind hundreds of titles. The musical genre recorded on these discs include drama songs, speeches, folk music, classical music, drama sets, skits and plays, vocal and instrumental music.
This project digitised a wide variety of documents related to the administration of the Cercle de Kaya colonial district. They are of interest to a wide range of historical study fields: population, politics, economy, development, customary law. These documents provide an insight into the local intricacies of the administration, politics, economy and social life of the district.
The material in Kaya though was at risk of neglect, physical deterioration and destruction. The documents were stacked on shelves and on the floor in a shed behind the administrative buildings, exposed to dust and moisture and at the mercy of rats, termites and mildew. More recent documents continued to be piled haphazardly on top of the old colonial ones. These colonial archives that for decades had been piled up in a shed in the former colonial district capital, Kaya, were packed up and transported to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou. At the CNA, the documents were thoroughly dusted and subsequently sorted, selected and subjected to an initial analysis. The documents were sorted into 4,200 files, with an average of 20 documents per file. Of these, about 40% were from the period 1919-1960 and eligible for digitisation.
Unfortunately, very little metadata was provided with this collection so file descriptions and titles are very limited. If you would like to volunteer your time to making this collection a more usable resource, please get in touch with us.
This project made an inventory of the historical, notarial and judicial collections held in Caloto’s alcaldía (town hall), Colombia, and digitised a sample of the most valuable and damaged documents.
First founded in 1543, Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto) was the administrative capital of a wide region northeast of Popayán that included Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. By the 1940s this rural region had not yet experienced industrialisation, yet many of Caloto Viejo’s towns had become autonomous districts. Now only the head of a small municipality, Caloto still houses the pre-modern documents of Caloto Viejo.
Caloto Viejo’s documents are crucial for Afro-Colombian history. Caloto and adjacent regions of the Cauca constituted the nineteenth century heartland of slavery, with Julio Arboleda’s massive Japio estate in Caloto the towering symbol of landholding power. The archives of Caloto are important for tracing the wider history of elites, native Americans, and Africans, and essential for salvaging the local history of important Afro-Colombian towns such as Puerto Tejada or the scholarly unknown maroon community of Caricacé with unique linguistic traditions, whose documentary history exists only in the endangered collections of Caloto.
This project digitised surviving Deed books for Saint Vincent from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The Eastern Caribbean Court House, St Vincent, holds numerous historic manuscript documents connected with the colonial administration of the island. The earliest records date from 1763, when Saint Vincent was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, until 1838, the date when Apprenticeship for slaves ended in the British Caribbean and slave emancipation was fully implemented in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1834.
The Deed books include important material for researchers. After 1763, Saint Vincent was drawn into the orbit of slavery in the British Empire. Its sugar plantation sector expanded rapidly after that date and the island became (along with other Windward Islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Tobago) a new, expanding frontier for British slavery. The Deed books, compiled in the offices of the island’s Colonial Secretary and the Registrar, proved a comprehensive record of all land and property transactions carried out during the seventy-five years when slave plantations were the main type of investment and employment on the island. The Deed books are large bound volumes that are available for every year in the period from 1763 to 1838. The land and property details recorded in these records provide the names of investors, along with their occupation and residence, and precise financial details, either in sterling or in the island’s currency. The information on investors includes whites and free blacks, men and women, and absentee residents (in other West Indian Islands or in Britain) as well as those living in Saint Vincent. The financial information is wide-ranging. Credit transactions are included. Mortgages, annuities, loans and bonds are all specified, with the names of the parties involved. The Deed books contain much material on slave sales between individuals connected with Saint Vincent and they also have information on slave manumissions. Where sugar plantations are identified in these records, the numbers, and sometimes the valuations, of slaves are given. This is particularly useful for researchers for the period from 1763 to 1815 because it was not until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that slave registration was commonly carried out throughout the British Caribbean.
The Buchen are performers of specialist rituals, travelling actors, healers and exorcists, and disciples of the 14th/15th century Tibetan ‘crazy saint’ Tangtong Gyalpo. They reside in the culturally Tibetan Pin Valley in North India and are most famous for performing an elaborate exorcism ritual called the ‘Ceremony of Breaking the Stone’.
Buchen enact dramatisations of popular folk-tales, Buddhist morality plays which illustrate principles of karma and ideas of impermanence and are frequently enlivened with comedy. Buchen spread the teachings of Buddha through entertainment. These performances are related to the Tibetan Opera and to a tradition of lay religious performers called lama manipa, who retell the life stories of Tibetan saints whilst pointing out key scenes on narrative painted cloth scrolls (thangkas) with a metal pointer. Buchen theatrical performances contain a similar manipa-like introduction.
This project digitised or took images of a variety of texts, paintings and objects associated with these traditions, including images of masks, clothing, instruments and objects used in performances; thangkas; handwritten decorated and unbound Tibetan books (pecha).
18 February 2015
Documents, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable collections around the globe. If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost. In the past, efforts to preserve these collections and make them available for scholarly interpretation often meant removing them to the safety of western libraries. Though well intentioned, these actions frequently had unintended consequences. Preserved and available to scholars, the materials became inaccessible to the communities whose history they captured. This had a twofold effect: it impaired the communities’ ability to write their own history and at the same time, by detaching documents from original context, led to the loss of an important layer of historical information.
EAP039 Buddhist manuscripts from the library of the remote Gangtey monastery in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan © Dr Karma Phuntsho
The Endangered Archives Programme uses digitisation to preserve records and to make them freely accessible to all, without removing original materials from their custodians. Whenever possible the projects help the keepers to secure the survival of the original documents. Because the materials are often too fragile to be handled on a regular basis, the digital surrogates frequently provide the only point of access not only for scholars worldwide, but also for local readers. By making digital records available to all, the programme ensures that the history they capture is open to wide audiences, multiple perspectives and diverse interpretations.
EAP334 Locating and digitising manuscripts in Wolof Ajami script, written by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 © Dr Fallou Ngom
The “From Dust to Digital” volume, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme, showcases the historical importance and research potential of the digitised collections. The open access online version of the book is designed to ensure that not only the primary sources, but also the research they have inspired, are freely available to all. The book brings together 19 articles from the 244 projects that the programme has supported since its inception. We asked the authors to focus on the digitised collections, but gave them complete freedom in choosing specific questions they wanted to explore. The intention was to ensure that the volume illustrates a wide range of research that the EAP collections make possible.
The chapters discuss inscriptions in Libya; manuscripts in India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali; archival records in Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Senegal, Palestine; photographic collections in Argentina, India, Russia and Cameroon; and sound recordings from Guinea, Iran and the Russian Federation. The articles tackle the fundamental problems of transcribing and translating – sometimes for the very first time – languages that have nearly fallen silent. They investigate historical transmission of texts and explore the processes underlying collection formation. They bring to light unknown events and cast new light on historical phenomena. They provide vivid insights into local and even personal histories.
EAP526 The priests of May Wäyni monastery with their manuscripts, Ethiopia © Professor Michael Gervers
Many of the contributions stress the importance of the original context for our understanding of the materials. The physical location of inscriptions within a landscape; the ceremonies preceding a reading of a manuscript; the place that a manuscript or a photograph holds within a larger collection, are all important for our interpretation of these documents. Without them we can only see a part of the story.
Most of the sources discussed here were not previously subjects of scholarly attention. We hope that this publication will open new debates and inspire scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme. We also hope that open access to both the primary sources and to the articles in the “From Dust to Digital” volume will encourage future authors to make their research freely available to all.
Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy, H.E. Mr. Sayakane Sisouvong and the 3rd Secretary, Mr Moungkhoun Chansavath at the book launch held at the Library on the 17th February 2015.
Dr Maja Kominko
Cultural Grants Manager at Arcadia and the editor for the publication “From Dust to Digital”
20 March 2014
Today is Persian New Year known as Nowruz. It celebrates the first day of spring and so to mark
the occasion we have another guest blog, this time from Jane Lewisohn who was
the grant holder for EAP088, a project about Persian poetry and music.
The Golha (‘Flowers of Persian Song and Music’) radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio for 23 years from 1956 through 1979, comprising approximately 850 hours of programmes made up of literary commentary with the declamation of poetry, which was sung with musical accompaniment interspersed with solo musical pieces. The programmes were the brainchild of Davoud Pirnia, a one-time Assistant Prime Minister, enthusiastic patriot and scholar who harboured a deep love for Persian culture and its rich literary and musical traditions. He retired from political life in 1956, for the next eleven years he devoted himself tirelessly to producing of the Golha programmes. The foremost literary, academic and musical talents of his day offered Mr. Pirnia their collaboration and support. The greatest Iranian vocalists of the twentieth century saw their careers launched on these radio programmes. Besides having such a rich pool of talent at his fingertips, Mr Pirnia had the support of the Director of the Iranian National Radio (1950–1960s), Nusrato’llah Mu‘niyan who transformed the radio from a commercial advertising platform for entertainers and a parking place for relatives of political elites into a respected and influential vehicle for the preservation and promotion of Persian culture. The Golha programmes became exemplars of excellence in the sphere of music literature, setting standards that are still looked up to in Iran today, referred to by scholars and musicians as an encyclopaedia of Persian music and poetry. Most of the great ballads and songs in modern Persian literature were commissioned specifically for these programmes.
Mr. Pirnia produced five different categories of programme: ‘Perennial Flowers’ (Golha-yi javidan, up to 157), ‘Particoloured Flowers’ (Golha -yi rangarang, 481), ‘A Green’ (Barg-i sabz, 312), ‘A Single Rose’ (Yik shakh-i gol, 465), ‘Desert Flowers’ (Golha-yi ṣaḥra’i, 64), each featuring choice selections from the lyrics of the great classical, and contemporary Persian poets, combining song, declamation with musical accompaniment, learned commentary and Persian folk music.
The Golha marked a watershed in Persian culture. Heretofore, due to the conservative socio-religious bias, serious music had been practised behind closed doors. Where performed in public spaces, performers were branded as street minstrels. Due to the high literary and musical quality of these programmes, public perception of music and musicians in Iran shifted and its participants became referred to—for the first time—as maestros, virtuosos, divas and adepts of a fine art, no longer inhabiting the lowest rung of the social ladder.
The Golha programmes were so popular that people organized their schedules around listening to the broadcasts. The Golha programmes also evoked a neo-classical revival in Persian song and verse of the late Qajar period which were re-interpreted and performed by modern musicians and vocalists, and likewise promoted Persian vernacular music that was carefully researched, recorded, and broadcast, thus helping to preserve both the vernacular and classical traditions of Persian music and poetry which were under threat from influences outside and within Iran that wished to modernize the society.
The most important effect of the Golha programmes on Iranian society, (illiteracy was 85% in the 1950s –1960s), was that they accustomed people to hearing good poetry and good music, re-introducing over 560 Persian poets from the ancients to the moderns, thus reinvigorating interest in classical Persian literature. The Divans of poets never properly edited and published before suddenly became in high demand!
When Pirnia retired 1967, several other musicians, scholars and poets, succeeded him. In 1972, Hushang Ibtihaj, a well-known modern Persian poet, took responsibility for the programmes, changing their name, consolidating all the various types of ‘flowers’ into one programme called ‘Fresh Flowers’ (Golha-yi tazeh, 201). Ebtehaj patronized the revival of interest in Persian music of the Qajar period (1794-1925); as a partial result of Ebtehaj’s vision, a movement to preserve and cultivate the traditions of Persian urban art music is still alive and flourishing in present-day Iran.
The “Golha Project” began in early 2005 with a pilot project supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the British Institute of Persian Studies and the Department of Music at SOAS to see if was possible to collect, archive and digitalise the Golha programmes. Following the success of the pilot project, over the next two years, with the support of the Department of Music at SOAS and British Library Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), assisted by many generous private and institutional collectors in Iran, France, Germany, Canada and the United States, all the Golha programmes were collected. In July 2007, a digital copy of the complete Golha archive was deposited in the British Library’s World Sound Archive.
In 2008, the second phase of the Golha project was launched, supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the British Academy, the Parsa Foundation, British Institute of Persian Studies and the Department of Music at SOAS. To construct a searchable, relational database for the Golha programmes which includes bio-bibliographical data on the performers and authors, photographs, musical notation of the songs and transcriptions of the poetry. The database is searchable through a purpose-built website allowing one to search it by programme name, number, singer of the avaz and tarana, song writer, poet of the avaz, first line of the song or poem sung, name of the song, instrument, musician, composer, name of poet whose poetry is sung or declaimed, poetic genre, dastgah or avaz and gusha of the music performed, etc.
The searchable relational database for this important archive, has become a unique cultural resource for students and lovers of Persian culture and a teaching tool for Persian music and Persian literature in many Universities in Europe and North America, was launched in August 2012, with the support of Iran Heritage Foundation, and is available Completely free for all to access at. www.golha.co.uk.
Since 2005, many other archives and important collections have been collected by or donated to the Golha project, including folk recordings, private recordings and additional archives of radio programmes, comprising thousands of hours of twentieth-century Persian music. Some of these resources have already been digitalised, but over 1000 reel and cassette recordings still need to be digitalised, archived, indexed and included in the Golha database. It is our hope that in its future phases, the Golha Project will find the support it needs to make this intangible cultural heritage of Iran freely available to all there by the revealing the important role Iran’s cultural heritage has played in shaping world culture.
For more information on the Golha project please refer to
Jane Lewisohn director of the Golha Project
Research associate Music Department SOAS, University of London
12 June 2013
It is with great pleasure that we have Dr Graeme Counsel as our guest blogger this month. Graeme has worked tirelessly to digitise music from Guinea. Do read this fascinating account of his time there and how the Syliphone Label came to be formed.
My three EAP projects focused on the archiving of the music of the Republic of Guinea. In 1958 Guinea embarrassed France by voting “Non” to an offer of autonomy in a confederation of states and instead chose complete independence. Under the Presidency of the young and charismatic Sékou Touré (1958-1984), Guinea was one of the leading proponents of pan-Africanism and the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union).
Sékou Touré saw the development of a national identity as key to the progress of his nation. The development of culture was thus central to his government, and Sékou Touré took control of music production in Guinea through a broad cultural policy called “authenticité”. Under the policy, all private orchestras were disbanded, with the government creating new state-sponsored orchestras in each of Guinea’s 35 prefectures. The musicians of the orchestras were instructed to modernise their local musical traditions via the new Western instruments which were a feature of their groups. The government bought them their musical instruments, paid them a wage, and created national arts festivals in which their groups performed. Under authenticité all foreign music was banned from the radio, and here the government filled the gap by building a state of the art recording studio and creating its own recording label, Syliphone. The music of Syliphone was recorded on magnetic tape at the studios of Radio Télévision Guinée (RTG). Some of the music was released as 33.3 rpm and 45rpm vinyl discs; all of it was broadcast by the RTG on one of the largest radio transmitters in West Africa. Sékou Touré sent his orchestras and ensembles on tours throughout the region and continent, where they were a sensation. The result of all of these efforts and the authenticité policy was a remarkable period of creativity which saw Guinean musicians as pioneers in the creation of African popular music. Guinean music had become the voice of a new Africa.
Radiodiffusion Télévision Guinée (RTG) offices in Boulbinet
My first EAP project was to reconstruct the entire Syliphone catalogue of 750 songs released on 160 vinyl discs. The government’s own archive of this collection had been destroyed in the counter-coup of 1985, when jet planes bombed the national broadcaster, home of the offices of the RTG. Since the mid 1960s the RTG had housed the sound archive, the actual contents of which were something of a mystery. My Syliphone project proceeded extremely well and in September 2008, in time for Guinea’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations, I presented to the government the complete collection of Syliphone music digitised to compact discs. The collection was exhibited at the Musée National and in recognition the government awarded me their highest academic honour, the gold medal of the Palme Académique en Or. Such a high profile gave me considerable leverage. The swathes and labyrinths of red tape and bureaucracy required to access the RTG, a difficult place to gain access to, were slowly swept away, and I will never forget the first time I entered the sound archive. What I had heard and imagined the archive to consist of, perhaps 50 audio reels, turned into an Aladdin’s Cave of perhaps 1,000 reels. All I could do in the few weeks that remained of my project was to digitise and preserve as many of them as I could. I applied for a 2nd EAP project to archive the remainder, and returned in 2009 to complete the project.
Shortly after I left Guinea in 2008, Guinea’s long serving President Lansana Conté died. This heralded a coup and a new military regime, which was in power when I arrived in August 2009 and which was becoming increasingly unpopular. Guineans had suffered under one party/military rule since 1958 and the protests grew increasingly violent. On 28 September 2009 the Guinean army attacked an opposition rally and 187 civilians lost their lives with nearly 2,000 injured. Following this tragedy I realised that working at the RTG would be impossible. It was likely that the army would split, that civil war may result, that anything could happen, and when it did that the RTG (with its national TV and radio broadcasting monopoly) would be taken over by armed force. This has been the history of Guinea’s conflicts, and thousands were leaving the capital as the situation grew very uncertain. I was one of the last foreigners living downtown when, with the full support of the EAP and under the direct advice of the British and Australian governments, I had to leave and abandon the project. Shortly after the President and leader of the military junta was shot in the head, though he survived...
In 2010 Guinea’s first democratically elected government was in office, and in 2012, with a third EAP budget, I returned to Guinea to complete the archiving at the RTG. I worked as fast as I could, given my previous experiences, and the fact that the government had already suffered one coup attempt. In 2008 I archived 69 audio reels of music. In 2009 I had archived 229 reels, and from September 2012 to January 2013 I archived 827 reels and achieved the completion of the archiving project. In total 9,410 songs were preserved and digitised. 99.9% of the material was Guinean music, with the bulk recorded during the era of President Sékou Touré. The archive is thus a testament to his government and to the policy of authenticité. It captures an important era of African history, that of the independence period, when anti-colonial and anti-imperial rhetoric abounded and governments and artists alike looked to Africa’s history and culture for inspiration.
To celebrate the completion of the project the Ministry of Culture held a soirée. Many dignitaries were present including all of the chefs d’orchestre of the National Orchestras. There was a large media presence and the event was broadcast live on many radio stations. The Prime Minister sent his congratulations. Many speeches were given and the event concluded with performances by two orchestras – Keletigui et ses Tambourinis and the all-female orchestra Les Amazones de Guinée. Here is a video excerpt of their performance.
The RTG archive contains many unique recordings which have never been heard outside of Guinean radio. A large proportion of the music has not been broadcast in over 20 years, as it was politically sensitive and subject to censorship. The list of artists and musicians represented in the archive is a who’s who of Guinean and African music. There are many unreleased recordings by major stars such as Kandia Sory Kouyaté, Bembeya Jazz National, Fodé Conté, and Kadé Diawara, in addition to hundreds of unreleased recordings by Guinea’s National and Regional orchestras, troupes and ensembles. There is also a wealth of material by famous Guinean artists who, as they were never commercially recorded, are virtually unknown outside of Guinea. Some of these include Farba Tela (an inspiration to Ali Farka Touré), Mama Kanté, Binta Laaly Sow, Koubia Jazz, and Jeanne Macauley. The archive collection also features thousands of traditional songs from all of Guinea’s regions and ethnic groups. Ethnomusicologists will find a treasure trove of material to assist their research.
All songs are catalogued in the British Library's Sound and Moving Image Catalogue and are available to listen to in the reading rooms. They can also be accessed at Guinea’s national library which is housed in the Musée National complex in Boulbinet, Conakry. The complete catalogue of the RTG recordings is available for download from my website – www.radioafrica.com.au.
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