Endangered archives blog

19 posts categorized "Music"

20 March 2014

Flowers of Persian Song and Music

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.

Black and white photograph of a group of people.Davoud Pirnia © Golha Project

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.

A man sits on a sofa reading a book that is placed on a round table covered in a cloth. A small vase, glasses and a transistor radio are also on the table.Davoud Pirnia  © Golha Project

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!

Shahidi with three other musicians.Abdolvahab Shahidi with accompanying musicians  © Golha Project

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.

An orchestra and female singer in a recording studio.Concert  © Golha Project

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

http://www.iranheritage.org/golha_project/default.htm or [email protected].

Jane Lewisohn director of the Golha Project

Research associate Music Department SOAS, University of London


12 June 2013

Syliphone - an early recording label from Guinea

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.           

Photograph of Dr Graeme Counsel s

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.

A pink building that houses Radiodiffusion Télévision Guinée
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.

10 July 2012

Dongjing musical scores feature on Music in the British Library

Today I have the pleasure of featuring as guest blogger on the new Music in the British Library blog. My post discusses dongjing music scores (and other records including video and audio recitals of performances and interviews) received as part of two EAP projects:

EAP012 Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance

EAP209 Survey on surviving donging archives in Jianshui, Tonghai and Mengzi

The new Music in the British Library blog will be featuring news about the Music Collections here at the Library as well as announcements of events, activities and music-related projects. Well worth a look.


06 July 2012

June Accessions

The year is half over and it is time to tell everyone about our June Accessions. We received some really interesting material last month from four different projects working in Chile, Indonesia, Argentina and Mali. Here are the details:

EAP359 Plan for Valparaíso's musical heritage digitisation (1870-1930): scores and 78rpm discs

This project copied printed musical scores and 78rpm discs from the Margot Loyola Collection. The surrogate digital material includes folk music and will provide researchers with a unique insight into the social history of Valparaiso, Chile, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In addition to their musical content the scores and discs display advertising and some quite fabulous art work.

EAP359 adoracion1

EAP365 Preservation of Makassarese lontara' pilot project

This pilot project set out to discover and evaluate the existence of private collections of lontara' manuscripts in the Makassarese language of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The results of their field work will be shown in a Survey Report. Alongside this, the project team took digital images from six manuscripts belonging to three Collections. The image below is from a manuscript concerned with the Islamic calendar.


EAP375 The transition from a traditional to a modern society: recovering Argentinean and Latin American history through an emblematic publishing company

The digital surrogates received from EAP375 are the result of a 12 month project to digitise part of the archives from a major newspaper company in Argentina, the Haynes Publishing Company. I will post more information on this, with images, next week when the principal investigator, Celina Tuzzo, will be our guest blogger.

EAP488 Major project to digitise and preserve the manuscripts of Djenné, Mali

We received the first submission of material from this major project. The project is copying manuscripts belonging to private collections housed in the Manuscript Library of Djenné or private family libraries. These Arabic manuscripts include important Islamic texts and other volumes covering a range of topics including themes of the occult and local history.

EAP488 Photo 4


25 November 2011

Making dongjing records available

This week images from EAP209 Survey on surviving dongjing archives in Jianshui, Tonghai and Mengzi were added to the EAP WebPages. The project visited three counties in South Yunnan and gathered information about surviving dongjing records in the area. It also copied 33 manuscripts from the collections of Li Chun and Kaichao Wang. These have made a substantial and important addition to the dongjing archives copied by an earlier EAP project: EAP012 Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunnan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance.

Together these projects copied 100 dongjing manuscripts and approximately 36 hours of recorded material. The printed sources include music scores and lyrics, correspondence, a charter for the Dali dongjing society, guides and rules for conducting rituals and even seating arrangements for performances. The recordings are of performances and interviews. They provide an amazing amount of original material for students of dongjing culture, practices and belief and should be of particular interest to students studying dongjing music.

EAP209 DLL_020_005

Interestingly, most of the original manuscripts digitally copied by EAP012 and EAP209 are themselves copies of earlier manuscripts. The texts and musical scores have been passed down, transcribed and re-copied by members of dongjing societies. In this way they have survived through centuries of political turmoil and social transitions. They contain the traditions of generations of dongjing practitioners.


02 September 2011

EAP and Digitised Manuscripts

In my last post I announced that the eight Collections copied by EAP012 Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunnan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance have been catalogued. Four manuscripts from three of these Collections have now been added to The British Library's Digitised Manuscripts pages. From here, they can be viewed along side early medieval volumes dating back to the sixth century - some of the treasures of the Library. The Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog provides updates on the Library's digitised manuscripts, information on the manuscripts themselves and the cultures and contexts from which they came, and images from some of the already-digitised items. Well worth a look.

The four manuscripts we have added are:

EAP012/2/1 [Dong jing pu], an anonymous music score from Qilin District, Qujing City

EAP012/5/1 Luliang dong jing yin yue zheng li chu gao, a booklet of Dongjing music scores from Luliang County

EAP012/7/15 Chuxiong Yi zhou dong jing gu yue, a score of archaic Dongjing music from Chuxiong in jianpu notation

EAP012/7/16 Min zu min jian gu yue-gong chi pu yi jian pu ben, a transcript of an archaic Dongjing music score written in gongche notation.

The Digitised Manuscripts viewer has easy to use navigation tools that allow you to move around the items, choose pages, view two pages at once, rotate the images, zoom in and zoom out etc.


25 January 2011

EAP132: Digital Archive of North Indian Classical Music

This week we have started to catalogue the material created as part of EAP132: Digital Archive of North Indian Classical Music. Run by the School of Cultural Texts and Records at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, the project digitised approximately 1,150 hours of north Indian (or Hindustani) classical music held by private collectors and institutions.

Collectors in West Bengal provided most of the material, and one collector was committed enough to transport his material from Venezuela to be digitised. A follow up project - EAP274 (stage two)- is currently underway, which focuses on special collections of relatively rare styles (such as dhrupad singing) and Bengali popular music from 1902 to 1936.

Sound recordings are threatened by the physical decay of their carriers and technological obsolescence, and material was digitised from gramophone discs, vinyl, cassette tapes and CDs in various states of repair. The EAP is working with the British Library Sound Archive to ensure that our digital copies can be accessed in the future.

274_SSM0990_1 copy 

The user community of the SCTR digital archive have set up a website featuring audio clips, video footage and biographies of the performers featured in the collections. The site also provides a forum for users to exchange information about the collections and related resources.



27 October 2010

UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Just a quick post to draw your attention to the fact that today is the UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, established to raise awareness of the value of audiovisual material , and the challenges we face in ensuring its preservation for current and future generations. The UNESCO web pages have more information about the day, including details of a programme of short films to be screened in Paris this evening in celebration.

EAP projects have digitised a range of audiovisual materials, documenting such varied performances and events as Chinese Dongjing performances, initiation rites for the Dagara Bagr cult of Northern Ghana and Southern Burkina Faso, records created by the East Timor Commission on Return, Truth and Reconciliation from 2002-2004, and recordings of North Indian Classical Music.


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