Music blog

13 July 2012

Rare Tanzanian music recordings preserved

Alison Hope Redmayne conducted anthropological fieldwork in western Tanzania in the 1960s, resulting in her D.Phil from Oxford University’s Nuffield College in 1964 in a thesis entitled The Wahehe people of Tanganyika. As is often the case in ethnographic research disciplines, the doctorate was not the end, but the beginning of a lifetime’s work that has seen Dr Redmayne return to Tanzania every year for nearly 50 years.

In 1965 she realised the value of documenting Hehe oral traditions by recording them and between that year and 1975 she amassed approximately 100 hours on magnetic quarter inch reel tape. The British Library has recently acquired these original recordings. They have been digitised by our audio engineers and are fully catalogued and searchable on our online catalogue. This can be accessed at To find the recordings enter “C3 and Redmayne and Tanzania” (without the quotation marks) in the simple search box.

Unique gems of the collection include recordings of songs accompanied on the ligombo (a large bass trough zither), the sumbi (a gourd zither) and a lidimba or didimba (a large lamellophone) – all little documented instrumental traditions. Dr Redmayne’s recordings also include beautiful renditions of local folktales, performed by a wide range of performers of all ages, and recitations of important historic events, for example, that document German colonisation accomplishments of notable local leaders.

The recordings will become available online via BL Sounds in due course but as a preview, listen to this recording of Pancras Mkwawa: Ligombo mourning song (to 4 min. 56 sec.).- Pancras recites praises of Chief Mkwawa (to 5 min. 30 sec.).- Pancras recites an idalika [an important speech as when rousing the troops before battle] (to end).




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