05 October 2022
We have another four projects that recently went online to highlight this month. Two projects from India, and one each from Cuba and Columbia:
- Preservation and Digitisation of Manuscripts Belonging to 16th to 20th Century of Central Kerala (EAP1320)
- Creating a digital archive of ecclesiastical records in the original seven Villas of Cuba (EAP955)
- Digitisation of Documentary Heritage of the Colombian Caribbean in the Maritime Port of Cartagena de Indias (EAP1212)
- Songs of the Old Madmen: Recovering Baul Songs from the Note-Books of 19th and 20th Century Bengali Saint-Composers (EAP1247)
The project team has digitised 84 documents, made up of a total of 77 palm leaves documents and seven old books. The palm leaves belong to the period 1600 to 1910 AD. Notable outcomes are the recovery and digitisation of assumingly ‘lost’ ancient works like ‘Lagnaprakarana’ of renowned ancient scholars and a Palm leaf manuscript text of Rgveda. The records cover the topics of Astronomy related mathematics, Ayurveda, Upanayana, Astrology, Commentaries, amongst others. The sources of these collections are mainly from two families with renowned tradition of knowledge in ancient Kerala. One is the Irinjadapilly Mana the ancestral home of Sangamagrama Madhava, the legendary Mathematician of the 14th century. The other is Kunnathur Padinjaredath Mana, known for their knowledge in Vasthu Sastra and Tantra.
This project digitised records owned by the Bishopric of Santa Clara in Cuba, and held at three separate locations: the Catedral de Santa Clara, the Iglesia de San Juan, and the Iglesia of La Caridad. Records include baptism, death, and burial registers.
This project digitised notarial documents from 1853-1900 corresponding to the First Notary Office of Cartagena, and notarial documents from 1859-1861 corresponding to the Notary Public of the Municipality of El Carmen de Bolívar. Such documents are found in the Historical Archive of Cartagena de Indias, an administrative unit of the Historical Museum of the same city. The digitised material accounts for the social history of both the city of Cartagena de Indias and the Municipality of El Carmen de Bolívar. It addresses aspects related to economic life (including: trade, formation of commercial companies, purchase-sale of possessions and rural and urban properties, production and marketing of tobacco, public administrative contracts, mortgages), as well as characteristics of social, public and private life (civil marriages, successions of post-mortuary assets, appraisals, wills), both in rural and urban areas.
This project digitised records from six different Baul collections in West Bengal, India. The songs of the Bauls (literally “mad”, intoxicated by divine love) are composed by gurus or spiritual teachers, and performed by itinerant folk musicians. They are performed among low-caste communities in India and Bangladesh, where they are recognized as intangible cultural heritage. An encyclopedia of beliefs and practices, Baul songs discuss ideas on cosmogony, health, sexuality, meditation and everyday life.
The collections provide important primary sources for the study of the Baul tradition of Bengal, showing how the songs are passed down across the generations and transmitted from older gurus to contemporary singers/practitioners. They provide information about the continuity and change in the repertoire of Baul songs, while also offering a window to understand the intimate and devotional relationship between gurus and disciples of this tradition.
The records include handwritten notebooks of Baul songs, three albums of correspondence between guru and disciple, historical documents, and numerous photographs of Baul performers and their families which have been found within the pages of the notebooks.
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 [email protected]
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
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 [email protected]
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.
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