01 July 2015
The British Library is celebrating 30 years of collaboration with WOMAD.
The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD is nearly as long as the festival's existence. Since 1985, missing only 3 years, we have been present at WOMAD's major annual summer event in the UK. Each year a small team of staff from the Library has spent an enjoyable weekend making documentary recordings of as many of the performances as possible. We try to cover all the stages and often record artists several times as they deliver different performances, including workshops and interviews, over the weekend. The concentration in one place of so many diverse and talented musicians allows us to document musical traditions from around the world right here on our doorstep. And it's not just a case of keeping a record of each performance for listening at the archive, but also a way of documenting for the long term a significant event on the ‘world music’ scene.
The British Library now has recordings of a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since their appearance at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal (first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991), Thomas Mapfumo (1990) and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1985), to cite only a few.
Our first WOMAD recording (on 20 July 1985 at Mersea Island, near Colchester) was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country.
In total we hold over 2000 hours of music recorded at WOMAD, backed up digitally for preservation and onsite access.
WOMAD is the only music festival that has this incredible relationship with the British Library, and to celebrate we are collaborating to offer one lucky winner a pair of tickets to this year’s festival at Charlton Park (24th-26th July) and an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the British Library Sound Archive in London for four people. For more information click here.
Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme
Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad
13 November 2014
The British Library's Music Open Day for Doctoral Students will take place on 30 January 2015.
These Open Days allow students to learn about our collections of printed and manuscript music and sound recordings (including classical, pop, world and traditional music), to find out how to access them, and to meet our curatorial staff as well as other researchers in their field. In addition to an understanding of the Library’s collections, students gain a wider introduction to the information landscape in their field, and research opportunities opening up in the digital information environment.
This event is aimed at new PhD students, as well as Masters students who are planning to continue their research at doctoral level. Numbers are limited and, as these events are very popular, we do encourage early booking. Places cost £5.00 and this includes lunch.
The Institute of Musical Research will provide discretionary travel bursaries, up to £20, for students coming from outside London – further details will be provided nearer the time.
07 November 2014
The British Library and International Dunhuang Project will be hosting a free evening of music and film on 28 November 2014. The London Uyghur Ensemble, a London-based group which plays traditional and popular music of the Central Asian Uyghurs, will open the evening with a live performance.
Following the performance, will be a screening of the award winning documentary The Silk Road of Pop, a portrait of the explosive pop music scene among the Uyghur community in China's Xinjiang Province. The Silk Road of Pop tells the story of Ay, a young Uyghur woman in China curious about the outside world who turns to music for answers and is drawn to musicians who mirror her struggles in their songs. The screening will be followed by a Q&A sessions with the film directors.
Friday 28 November 2014, 18:30 - 20:30
The British Library Conference Centre
96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
08 September 2014
The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) is nearly as long as the festival's existence, recording performances for archival purposes since 1985. The first recording in the WOMAD Collection, C203/1, was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country. It was made on Ampex 456 ‘Grand Master’ tape at half-track stereo and in the recordists' notes, strong winds were reported as interfering with the quality of the recording.
Since 1985 and each year, with the exception of three, a small team of staff from the British Library record as many of the performances as possible, including workshops and interviews. This summer, between 24 and 27 July, six members of staff attended the festival equipped with portable digital recorders and recorded ninety-one performances, covering 95% of the festival. These recordings have recently been catalogued and processed and are searchable on our catalogue. They can be listened to free of charge through our listening service on-site at the British Library in King's Cross in London and in Boston Spa, Yorkshire.
The British Library holds a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since performing at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal, first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991, Thomas Mapfumo, first recorded in 1990 and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, first recorded in 1985, to cite only a few. In total we hold around 2,100 hours of audio (you would need close to 3 months of non-stop listening to listen to it all!) of performances at WOMAD, held on different physical formats such as open reel tape, DAT, CD-R and digital audio files; all are stored in our basements and backed up digitally for preservation and access.
The British Library holds five million recordings on over one million items dating back to the 1890s and possibly earlier. The sound collections have their origin in 1906, when the British Museum began collecting metal masters from the Gramophone Company. Recording performances at WOMAD is one example of the many ways in which the British Library actively develops its sound collections although the majority of material is acquired through donations, purchases or loans.
Steven Dryden, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist, was a member of the WOMAD team this year. In this paragraph he relays his highlight of the festival: experiencing the live sound of DakhaBrakha, made possible thanks to Dash Arts, the creative agency which brought the group to the United Kingdom.
My highlight of WOMAD 2014 has to be ‘Ethno Chaos’ founders DakhaBrakha - brooding, shamanic ‘noisescapes’ from Ukraine. The Siam Tent filled to capacity throughout the four piece set, the atmosphere building and building with each song. The sound is eclectic, in the truest sense of the word; there is a traditional folk element but also, dance, hip-hop and tribal rhythms. The songs often build to terrifyingly claustrophobic dins, but remain rhythmic and chant like - just as the ‘Ethno Chaos’ tag might suggest, there is a lot of beauty in this chaos. One couldn’t help but reflect on everything that has happened in the Ukraine in the last year. Perhaps DakhaBrakha are capturing the zeitgeist of a generation of Ukrainians? The performance is swamped with pride, Ukrainian flags are featured on stage and amongst the audience. But there is something more here, the sound of the four piece is defiant and confident, totally uncompromising between the past and the future sounds of the Ukraine. This band sucks you in to their world of noise and forces you to contemplate, all while moving your feet.
Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music, attended WOMAD festival for the first time.
Bernie Krause's talk at the Society of Sound Stage was an inspiring complement to the numerous musical performances I recorded at WOMAD: The Good Ones, Monsieur Doumani, Aar Maanta, Siyaya, Amjad Ali Khan, Mulatu Astatke, Kobo Town, Magnolia Sisters, amongst others. In his talk, the bio-acoustician and founder of Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to recording and archiving natural soundscapes, invited the audience to reflect on the origins of music by suggesting structural relationships between what he identifies as the three layers of the soundscape - the geophony ('non-biological sound that occurs in the natural world'), biophony ('all of the sounds that animals create collectively in a natural wild environment') and the anthrophony ('all the human noise we create'). Using spectograms and audio recordings from his personal archive and recordings of the BayAka Pigmies made by Louis Sarno, his points were made audible.
Andy Linehan, Curator of Pop Music, attended the first WOMAD festival in 1985.
As ever, it is difficult to pick out the highlights of WOMAD – there is so much to see, hear, taste and enjoy even though we are working - but Manu Dibango has long been a personal favourite on record so it was great to see him live and Richard Thompson’s late-night set reminded me what a great guitarist and songwriter he is. Ibibio Sound Machine played a storming set on Saturday afternoon and Youssou N’Dour was as classy as ever that evening. Sunday brought my favourite band of the weekend – Les Ambassadeurs, the reformed band led by Salif Keita who revisited their 1970s blend of afrobeat, funk, jazz and soul in an all-too short 75 minutes of aural pleasure. And in a contrast of style the final performance of the weekend was a blistering set by Public Service Broadcasting (probably the first band to have played both the British Library Entrance Hall and Womad) who enthralled a packed Siam tent and drew proceedings to a close. It didn’t rain either.
31 July 2014
The British Library has recently acquired a collection of field recordings made at the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. The recordings were made by field recordist and composer Yiorgis Sakellariou with support from World & Traditional Music at the British Library and the generous guidance of Dr. Austė Nakienė at the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature in Vilnius. The following text, written by Yiorgis Sakellariou himself, details his experience at the festival and features audio excerpts from the collection:
The Skamba Skamba Kankliai recording project is more so the documentation of an intense listening experience rather than the result of thorough ethnomusicological research. When I arrived in Vilnius I was mainly motivated by the curiosity to see how traditional Lithuanian music is presented and staged at a large-scale festival. My previous knowledge on the subject was fragmentary. I had recently lived in Lithuania for about a year and during that time I became interested in the country's folk music, however I never developed an organized method of collecting or documenting it. Nonetheless, it was easy to discover that there is a big variety of songs and dances and, furthermore, a long history of recording and archiving Lithuanian music.
Since 1973, Skamba Skamba Kankliai has been held annually in Vilnius, Lithuania and currrently it is organized by the Vilnius Ethnic Culture Centre. Every year the festival welcomes a large number of folk ensembles that present a wide and diverse range of traditional music. The festival also hosts international ensembles. In 2014, ensembles from Azerbaijan, Italy, Iran and Georgia assisted and performed folk music from their countries.
The concerts took place in several locations of the old town of Vilnius and many times they overlapped which made it impossible to record every single one. I tried to record music that was as diverse and representative as possible, documenting material on the basis of style, place of origin, instrumentation or age and gender of singers. Often the decision was purely practical (distance between stages, exhaustion, weather conditions etc.). The recordings attempt to capture not only the performed music but also the sonic atmosphere of the festival. The concerts took place in squares, parks, streets, alleys, theatres and churches and on several occasions the purely musical sounds are mixed with street and crowd noise or simply the recording location’s ambiance.
This collection can only document a small sample of Lithuania’s long musical tradition but hopefully the recordings will stimulate curiosity of listeners who are interested in world and traditional music. I do not consider the recorded material as a relic of a past that desperately tries to catch up with the present and secure a place in the future. These songs, which mostly originated in late 19th century’s rural life, are filtered through the new ideas and experiences of the people that currently perform them and afterwards through me, an observer/recordist of the performances. The recordings themselves act as another filter, substituting the physical experience of actually being present at the performance. Yet, despite the multiple layers of filters, the core of the music remains intact. My impression, or perhaps even wish, is that its truthfulness can still deeply affect the listener of the 21st century.
Here are a few highlights from the festival selected and commented by Yiorgis Sakellariou.
Sasutalas folk ensemble performs Kas tar teka par dvarelį
The most significant form of Lithuanian singing is the polyphonic sutartinės (from the word sutarti meaning 'to be in agreement'). Each song includes short melodic patterns with few notes, which are sung independently following the polyphonic vocal music rules of heterophony, canon and counterpoint. On 1 June, the last day of the festival, Sasutalas folk ensemble performed a set of sutartinės at Adomas Mickevičius yard. A few children were playing games around the yard shortly before it started to rain.
Toma Grašytė, Adelė Vaiginytė and Ieva Kisieliūtė perform Lioj saudailio, vokaro (sutartinė)
This sutartinė was performed by three singers at the opening of Nakties muzika (Night Music), a concert that was set in the atmospheric Lėlė theatre late on the evening of 30 May. A mesmerized audience of around forty people was in attendance.
Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė perform Vaikščiojo motulė po dvarų
Earlier that day at the Lėlė theatre, Čiulba Čiulbutis (Little Bird Warbles), an event focusing on solos, duets and trios, took place. Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė is a member of the ensemble Vaicenavičių šeima (Vaicenavičius family). She sings a song about a mother who wakes her sweetest young daughter up and encourages her to go to the garden and look after their male guests.
Tatato folk ensemble performs Ar aušta rytas, ar diena?
Tatato is the ensemble of the studio of the Ethnomusicology Department of Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy. The ensemble director, Daiva Vyčinienė, has been devoted to the spreading and teaching of Lithuanian folk music for the past twenty years.
You can listen to more recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Recording Project in British Library Reading Rooms by searching for C1661 on our catalogue. The British Library also has several CD publications documenting Lithuanian songs and music from 1908-1941 which were kindly donated by the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature. In addition, Yiorgis Sakellariou has also deposited environmental field recordings made in Lithuania at the British Library which you can find on our catalogue under collection number WA 2014/019.
Listen online to more collections from World & Traditional music!
22 May 2014
The Saga Trust funds the Edison Fellowships for students to study recordings in the Classical Music department. Each June on a Tuesday at 5pm the Fellows have an opportunity to give an illustrated talk on their current work. This year the free presentations will be:-
Tue 10 Jun 2014, 17.00-18.00
Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation
Matthew Rubery - From Shell Shock to Shellac: the Great War, blindness and Britain’s talking book library
Tue 17 Jun 2014, 17.00-18.00
Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation
Emily Worthington - Catch me if you can: Rubato and ensemble flexibility among British clarinettists on record, 1898-1953
Tue 24 Jun 2014, 17.00-18.00
Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation
Margaret Dziekonski - Leopold Stokowski's performance aesthetic
More details of how to obtain free tickets can be found at
01 May 2014
On Saturday 10 May 2014 in the Foyle Suite, British Library Centre for Conservation there will be two free events to celebrate the outstanding British music collections at the British Library.
The Full English Archive Open Day
From 10.30 to 1.30, the Full English Archive Open Day will give access to some of the original manuscript folksong transcriptions of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger, with illustrated talks about the early folk revival and the collectors. This presentation forms part of the Full English project, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and developed by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). For the first time 19 of the most significant manuscript collections of folk music, song and dance amassed in England during the folk revival of early 20th century are available to browse and search online. Also find out how The Full English digital archive works and can be used, and learn about the project’s development from author and folklorist Steve Roud and EFDSS Library Director Malcolm Taylor OBE.
This event is supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Further information:
The British Music Society Annual Lecture:
'Sir John Barbirolli: British Music's Cockney Emissary'
In the afternoon(starting at 2.30), join Dr Raymond Holden, the Sir John Barbirolli Lecturer in Music at the Royal Academy of Music, for a talk about 'Sir John Barbirolli: British Music's Cockney Emissary'. Dr Holden will use recordings, marked scores and other performance artefacts to chart the role of Sir John Barbirolli as British Music's leading international advocate. This presentation will be the Annual Lecture of the British Music Society. Material from both the Royal Academy of Music and the British Library will be on display. The lecture will start at 2.30pm and will be presented in two 50-minute halves with a short break.
This event is supported by the British Music Society. Further information: http://www.britishmusicsociety.com/bms-events/
Admission to both events is free, but to reserve a seat please book free tickets in advance through the British Library Box Office:
Full English: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events/event159831.html
17 April 2014
For the last seven years recordist Duncan Whitley has documented the events at Seville's Semana Santa in Spain. The results of this dedicated study can be found in collection C1338, which contains recordings in both audio and video of the rituals of Holy Week. Duncan's approach provides a unique and intimate acoustic portrait, allowing the listener to experience Holy Week as if they were there!
To celebrate Easter we invited Duncan Whitley to write the following guest blog for the World and Traditional Music section describing his collection:
The 194 audio and video recordings handed over to the British Library last month form part of an ongoing study of the soundscapes of Seville's Semana Santa, many recordings from which are already available in collection C1338. The collection features field recordings documenting the aural landscapes of Seville's Easter processions, with a particular focus on both processional music and the saetas flamencas. The saetas are short, flamenco prayers sung from balconies and in the streets, as effigies of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried past. The styles of saeta documented in the collection largely fall into the categories of: saeta por seguiriya, por martinete, por seguiriya con cambio a martinete, or por carceleras. With regards to processional music, it is worth mentioning that Seville has a heritage of musical composition for the Semana Santa, which can take on great significance when performed in certain places and times, in accompaniment to particular religious images to whom the marches are dedicated.
This most recent batch of recordings dates from Easter 2013, and features interviews with saeta singers Pili del Castillo, Paquita Gómez and José Antonio Rodríguez Sabín, alongside video and sound documentation of Seville's public processions. The material links up with recordings already available in collection C1338, as well as a quantity of material captured across Easter 2011 and 2012 which has yet to be catalogued.
The first video documents the salida (exit from the church) of the Guide Cross of El Silencio, on the Madrugá (early hours of Good Friday). Susana Sierra Martínez sings her saeta por seguirilla from a balcony opposite the church door. It is one of only two places in Seville where it is customary to sing to the Guide Cross (saetas typically being addressed to the religious images of Christ or the Virgin).
The following video documents the salida of the procession of Jesús Despojado on Palm Sunday of 2013. Upon completion of the complex manoeuvre of the religious float from the interior of the church into the street, the Agrupación Musical Virgen de los Reyes plays the Marcha Real.
The next video follows on from the previous, with the Agrupación Musical Virgen de los Reyes accompanying the religious float bearing the image of Jesús Despojado as it makes its way through the Plaza de Molviedro. The marches interpreted are A La Gloria!, which segways into Tu Misericordia.
The last video documents the return of the popular Esperanza de Triana ("Hope of Triana") to its neighbourhood, Triana. The brotherhood was not able to complete its Station of Penitence on the Madrugá, and having sought refuge for two nights in Seville's cathedral, the procession returns "home" without musical accompaniment. Upon reaching the Calle Pureza, where the religious images reside all year round, the public accompanying the Virgin Esperanza sing the Salve Marinera.
Duncan Whitley www.duncanwhitley.net
Music blog recent posts
- The British Library at WOMAD
- Calling all PhD students with a music-related topic!
- Film Screening: The Silk Road of Pop
- Archiving WOMAD 2014
- Recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai music festival, Lithuania
- Three free Sound Case events during June
- British Music at the British Library: two free events on 10 May
- The music of Holy Week in Seville
- Keeping Tracks - a one day symposium on music and archives in the digital age
- Plainsong and Medieval Music Study Day at the British Library