12 July 2021
Over the past month we've continued making new archive collections available to view through our website. You can read about the individual projects below.
- Records from the archives of Tristan da Cunha [EAP951]
- Records relating to the Shevchenko Scientific Society, Ukraine [EAP900]
- Archival material relating to the 'Young India' gramophone record label [EAP190]
Tristan da Cunha is a small island located in the southern Atlantic Ocean and known as “the remotest island in the world”. Its isolated location means it has unique flora and fauna which have been studied in scientific expeditions since the 19th century. Some of the records include diaries and other documents related to these expeditions, as well as reports on the number of penguins, seals, and other wildlife on the island.
The isolation of this British Overseas Territory is also interesting from a social history perspective. Records include copies of correspondence about life on the island, appeals for members of the clergy, and even a letter from 1815 regarding the establishment of the British colony.
This blog post written by the project holder gives further information about this project and the challenges involved in setting up the project in such a remote location.
The Shevchenko Scientific Society (ShSS) in Lviv is a Ukrainian institution that specialises in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. It was founded in 1873 and is dedicated to the promotion of academic research and publication. Subject areas include Philosophy, Philology, Ethnography, Mathematics, and Natural Studies. The ShSS played the role of the Academy of Sciences before the foundation and opening of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kiev in 1918.
Records digitised include a complete set of the scientific journal "The Notes (Memoirs) of the ShSS" (1892-1937). There are also many other documents regarding scientific and organizational activities of the ShSS. These include: minutes of general meetings; statutes; details on commissions granted by individual sections of the society.
This 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. While the audio recordings have been available on BL Sounds for some time, the related images of Young India ephemera are only now available again via the EAP website.
14 May 2021
Over the past two weeks, we have hosted five UCL Archives and Records Management MA students. As part of their placement, they completed three projects and each of the students has contributed to this blog, reflecting on what they did during their time with us.
Project 1: Connecting EAP with Wikipedia
Over the course of my placement, I created and edited Wikipedia articles relating to two pioneering women photographers from the EAP collection. Marie-Lydie Bonfils, an early woman photographer and co-owner of a Beirut photographic studio, sadly did not have an existing article. So, I created one, also linking to it from other articles for readers to access the page.
Next, I expanded the article of similarly fascinating German-Argentinian celebrity photographer, Annemarie Heinrich.
I interact with Wikipedia on a near-daily basis, looking up a celebrity, checking the origin of a phrase, or falling down a spiral researching the history of bowler hats. However, I was a novice editor at best. While I knew that Wikipedia articles are created by many, I underestimated the level of community involvement. Editors highlight their interests with ‘userboxes’, icons with a nostalgic old-school social media feel.
In talk pages on every article, users discuss the facts, but also the language, structure, citations and specific wording.
Editing Wikipedia has made me think more productively about my writing, as we were encouraged to see our articles as ongoing and collaborative projects. Using Wikipedia is to invite others to edit and expand upon your work.
It has been a wonderful experience working with the EAP on this placement and improving the visibility of two incredible women on Wikipedia.
I have been working on connecting EAP to Wikipedia. Before the placement, I hadn’t edited Wikipedia entries, nor had I thought of it as an outreach tool for archive collections. The placement has made me confident in creating and editing Wikipedia articles, understanding copyright considerations and utilising Wikipedia’s possibilities in an archival outreach context.
I decided to work with Syliphone, a Guinean record label. I was surprised that Syliphone didn’t have a Wikipedia page - its influence over the developments in West African popular music from the late 1960s to the mid 80s were well noted. In 2016, The British Library made available The Syliphone Archive containing over 7000 digitised recordings from the label and their recording studios. I must have spent most of one of the days just exploring the collection, listening to the recordings. If I had to pick just one to recommend it would be the wonderful Sona Diabate Des Amazones - 22 Kele. Released in 1983, it was one of the final releases on the label and as such it really showcases the blending of modern and traditional West African music practice - it’s an 8-minute-long epic of happy/sad plucked guitar and marimba accompaniment. I could have it on repeat forever.
I really enjoyed my time working with EAP. All the support from the team has made for an informative experience. Their guidance and approachability has helped me produce a finalised Syliphone Wikipedia article. I hope it will draw people to the magic of The Syliphone Archive for years to come.
Project 2: Creating 'how-to' guides showing how to navigate EAP content
There was concern when I began my course at UCL that I would be unable to take part in a placement, but thankfully this was made possible. I was particularly pleased to be working with the British Library, having enjoyed the institution many times.
My project was writing How-To Guides for the Endangered Archives Programme with Thomas. I have had trouble navigating online catalogues, with guides not always being helpful. I agreed to work on finding the best search methods including the facets available on the website.
I found it tricky trying to put the instructions into a simple-to-understand manner for people who may not have English as a first language, altering words like "experience" to "practise", finding this a useful experience in considering how to make material more accessible. My work was overall interesting and satisfying and will hopefully assist others in searching the EAP website. I was able to appreciate how fascinating the Endangered Archives were, gaining a glimpse of the extensive information on display. I found my contact to be very helpful in clarifying the details. I would certainly recommend the British Library for research or for volunteer opportunities.
When deciding to carry out my Masters this year, I did this with the knowledge that placements may not be an option. However, thanks to the kind people at the British Library and, I am sure many others, myself and my fellow students have been able to access placement opportunities albeit remotely. Despite this, I have found the experience to be both informative, enjoyable, and challenging.
I was tasked, alongside Felix, to create “How-to Guides” for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). My role focussed on the Library's Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue as well as EAP's interactive map. Writing guides on these sections allowed me to explore and delve into the EAP’s website and further my understanding of online and digitised collections, whilst also expanding my knowledge of both EAP and its collections.
If any future students are hesitant to work with/alongside EAP I would highly advise it, as their staff are highly knowledgeable and passionate, and will aid you in both your given tasks and in understanding the archival world outside of a lecture theatre (Zoom call).
Project 3: Develop archival standards guide for non-specialists
While the experience of a virtual work placement was a new one for me, I found the experience rewarding and enjoyed learning about the everyday work of the Endangered Archives Programme team.
My task was to create a guide explaining archival hierarchies to EAP cataloguers who may not have a background working with archives. I explained why archives are arranged in hierarchies, and used examples from EAP collections to illustrate the different ways that a collection could be structured. I hope that my guide will be a useful resource for future projects, and that it will help the EAP staff when communicating with project teams around the world.
Spending time in the EAP catalogue gave me a chance to explore some of the fantastic music that has been digitised as part of EAP projects. I particularly enjoyed discovering the Syliphone record label recordings, an archive of sound recordings originally released on post-independence Guinea’s state-funded music label (discussed in more detail by Jack).
While I only scratched the surface of this huge collection, whose digitisation was funded through three EAP grants, my personal highlights were a balafon performance by the Ballet Djoliba, and this incredible unknown performer playing a pastoral flute.
The EAP team would really like to thank Hope, Jack, Felix, Thomas and John-Francis. It has been a joy working with them and they all produced fantastic material for us. We just hope we will be able to meet them in person before too long!
01 September 2016
Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 4 November 2016 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website. This year we will also be accepting online applications.
The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, 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 digital collections from 165 projects are currently available online, consisting of over 5 million images and several thousand sound recordings.
This year we have started making our sound recordings available for online streaming and one of our most popular archives is the Syliphone Label.
The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals. Since 2004 approximately 300 projects have been funded. Last year awards were given for projects based in Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ghana, India, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turks and Caicos Islands.
The following images give a sense of the type of material that went online over the past year.
EAP727/6/25: བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid-19th century]. Tibetan Buddhist manuscript from Amdo, PR China
EAP856/1/6 Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony (Tome III) [May 1881 - Sep 1881]. 19th century archives written by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (written in Malagasy. Another project is also underway on Madagascar.
So, 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
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).
25 January 2016
Over the past few months we have been working to make publicly available some of the sound collections that the Endangered Archives Programme has funded. Two of the first collections we worked on were EAP088: The Golha radio programmes (Flowers of Persian Song and Poetry), and the three projects that make up the Syliphone record label collection from Guinea (EAP187, EAP327 and EAP608). It is with great pleasure that we can announce that these two collections are now available on BL Sounds for anyone to listen to worldwide.
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. These programmes can be listened to here. You can read more about this project in a previous guest blog by Jane Lewisohn.
To celebrate these collections now being made available we have a guest blog entry from Dr Graeme Counsel whose hard work has enabled these fantastic Syliphone recordings to be shared with a wider audience. The recordings are available here to listen to. There are 7780 tracks in total for you to enjoy!
The end of colonial rule in Africa commenced with Ghana’s declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1956. Faced with a growing independence movement, to gain the ascendancy France presented its colonies with an ultimatum: the choice of autonomy in a confederation of states under French rule or total independence. Guineans were the first to vote on this offer via a national referendum, and in September 1958 the mayor of Conakry, Sékou Touré, addressed a large crowd who had gathered on the eve of the poll. With President Charles de Gaulle standing by his side, Touré implored Guineans to vote no to the offer of autonomy, declaring that “Guineans prefer freedom in poverty to riches in chains”. A few days later Guineans stunned France by voting for independence, and under the Presidency of a young and charismatic Sékou Touré the nation would become one of the major proponents of pan-Africanism and an architect in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union).
President Touré saw the development of national identity as key to the progress of his nation. The development of culture was thus a central policy platform, with the arts sector, for example, largely under government direction. This was not unusual in Guinea, for in the course of his presidency (1958-1984) Touré oversaw the government’s reach extend into virtually all facets of daily life, supported by over 26,000 party cells. To develop culture, Touré’s government launched an official cultural policy called authenticité, whereby artists were encouraged to seek inspiration from the values inherent in traditional African culture as a means of edifying contemporary society. Traditional folklore, for example, would be “revalorised”, with Guinean heroes “re-awakened” through imagery, songs and text in order to serve the needs of a post-colonial Guinean society. The process was most concisely illustrated in a catchphrase of the time – “regard sur le passé”, or “look at the past”. Of the arts, music was the principal focus of the authenticité policy, and one of the first acts by the government was to disband all private orchestras in Guinea as they were deemed to be too European in their musical style. To replace them, new state-sponsored orchestras were created in each of the nation’s 35 prefectures. The government supplied all of the groups with musical instruments, which, in the vein of the Cuban/Jazz style popular at the time, included electric guitars, saxophones and trumpets. The government hand-picked musicians who formed core “national” orchestras, and they were tasked with training the young musicians of the 35 “regional” groups. Through authenticité a new form of African music was being created, one which presented traditional Guinean music in a modern style. All of the orchestras’ musicians were paid a regular wage and all had opportunities to perform at government-sponsored national arts festivals.
In addition to a network of orchestras, the authenticité policy also created theatrical troupes, traditional music ensembles and dance groups in all of Guinea’s prefectures. Together, they formed artistic companies who represented their region in arts festivals. To further embed the authenticité policy all Western music was banned from Guinea’s radio network, and to fill the gap the government broadcast its own recordings. Since at least 1960 the Guinean government had been recording musicians, initially on Nagra III’s in makeshift studios. By the mid-1960s, however, the West German-funded Voix de la Révolution studios had been created in the Radio Télévision Guinée (RTG) offices, and these state of the art facilities would soon be augmented by a government-owned recording label, Syliphone. Originally recorded on ¼” magnetic tape, Syliphone recordings were released both locally and internationally via eighty-three 33.3 rpm and seventy-seven 45rpm vinyl discs. Broadcast by the RTG through one of the largest radio transmitters in West Africa, Syliphone recordings were a sensation, and Sékou Touré sent his orchestras and musicians on tours throughout the region and continent. It was a remarkable period of creativity which saw Guinean musicians as pioneers in the creation of African popular music styles and as the voice of a new Africa.
The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) funded three projects to archive the collection of music contained in the sound archives of the RTG. The Syliphone archive, as it has been named, is now available through the British Library Sounds website.
The 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 artillery bombed the national broadcaster and home of the offices of the RTG. I commenced the project in 2008 and completed it in time for Guinea’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations. These recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone1”. The success of the project enabled access to the RTG sound archive, a place I had visited some years earlier. Then I had been shown a hand-written catalogue of perhaps fifty audio reels of recordings. In 2008 I was ushered into a room which contained walls of reels, two or three deep. In the few weeks that remained of my project I digitised and preserved as many reels as possible, and these recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone2”.
Many of the reels had been poorly stored. Some were completely void of identifying information
I returned the following year to complete the archival project. In the interim, Guinea’s long serving President Lansana Conté had died. This heralded a coup, and when I arrived in August 2009 a new military regime was in power. On September 28 an opposition rally was attacked by the Guinean army in an infamous event known as the “stadium massacre”. 187 civilians lost their lives and 2,000 were injured. In the aftermath that followed, with risks of reprisals and civil war, it was clear that working at the centre of the government broadcaster was too dangerous. The project was abandoned, just a few weeks before the government fell. The recordings from this project commence with the reference number “Syliphone3”.
In 2010 Guinea’s first democratically elected government was in office, and I returned to Conakry in 2012 to launch the third EAP project to archive the RTG’s audio recordings. In 2008 I had archived just 69 audio reels of music. In 2009 I archived 229 reels. From September 2012 to January 2013 the remaining 827 reels were archived, and these recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone4”. The completion of the project drew much media attention in Guinea and had resulted in the preservation and digitisation of a total of 9,410 songs, or more than 50,000 minutes of music. The bulk of the material was recorded during the era of President Sékou Touré, and the archive is thus a testament to his government and to the policy of authenticité. The Syliphone archive captures an important era of African history, that of the independence period, when governments and artists alike looked to Africa’s history and culture for inspiration.
The Ministry of Culture organised a ceremony to celebrate the end of the project. The Minister of Culture & Dr Counsel both made speeches, and the all-female orchestra 'Les Amazones de Guinée' performed, as did 'Keletigui et ses Tambourinis'. The event was broadcast live
The Syliphone archive contains many unique and important recordings which document Guinea’s 1st Republic. It covers the early years (1960-1965), when Cuban music was a strong influence on the new and exuberant modern styles. The years following the Cultural Revolution of 1968 are extensively covered, and here new experimental styles are in evidence as music was being directly channelled by revolutionary policy. The early 1970s, when Guinean music was arguably at its creative zenith, is also comprehensively covered, and there are also numerous recordings from the post-Touré years, too, which permit a comparison.
Authenticité was abandoned in 1984, following the death of Sékou Touré, and the RTG’s sound archive was subject to years of censorship and neglect. Most of its recordings were never broadcast again, which resulted in a generation of Guineans having little exposure to the music of their mothers and fathers. The archive’s emergence is thus emblematic of the new era of Guinean democracy and of the gradual rehabilitation of Sékou Touré into mainstream Guinean politics. It is also a wonderful collection of music which permits us to “regard sur le passé”.
The list of artists and musicians represented in the archive is a who’s who of Guinean musicians. In addition to the complete catalogue of Syliphone vinyl discs, there are numerous examples of unreleased studio recordings by major artists 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 are dozens of concert recordings, too, and a wealth of material by famous Guinean artists who, as they were never commercially recorded, are unheralded outside of the region. Some of these include Farba Tela, Mama Kanté, Binta Laaly Sow, Koubia Jazz and Jeanne Macauley. The archive collection also features thousands of traditional songs from Guinea’s regions and ethnic groups, including recordings in the following languages: Baga, Bassari, Baoulé, Djakanké, Djallonké, Fulfuldé, Guerzé, Jahanka, Kissi, Konianka, Kônô, Kpèlè, Landouma, Lélé, Lokko, Maninkakan, Manon, Onëyan, Sankaran, Susu, Toma, Toma-Manian and Wamey.
Further information on the archival project can be found in the chapter “Music for a revolution: The sound archives of Radio Télévision Guinée", in From dust to digital: Ten years of the Endangered Archives Programme (Maja Kominko ed., Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015) and also at the author’s website – www.radioafrica.com.au.
Dr Graeme Counsel, 2015.
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.
Endangered archives blog recent posts
- New online - June 2021
- Reflections on a virtual placement with EAP
- Call for Applications
- New collections online - April 2016
- Syliphone record label archive from Guinea
- Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives
- Flowers of Persian Song and Music
- Syliphone - an early recording label from Guinea
- UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage