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8 posts categorized "Film"

07 November 2014

Film Screening: The Silk Road of Pop


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




23 May 2014

Nigerian music and dance records at the British Library

The South African-born choreographer and dancer, Peggy Harper (1923 – 2009), worked from 1963 to 1978 in Nigeria, mainly based at the University of Ibadan and the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife), where she carried out extensive research on traditional dance styles and masquerades relating to ritual and recreational ceremonies and performances. Co-founder of the Ori-Olokun performing arts centre (or Cultural Centre), Peggy created and co-produced creative dance and theatrical works for the stage, collaborating with towering figures such as Wole Soyinka.


Gwari musicians from central Nigeria. Peggy Harper Archive C1074

Peggy expounded on her work and approach in an article for African Arts (vol. 1 no. 1, 1967)  (available via JSTOR electronically and in hardcopy at the BL). Peggy teamed up with anthropological film-maker, Frank Speed, who helped her record in film, audio and still photography many of the dances and masquerades.

Unidentified photo. Peggy Harper Archive C1074

Unidentified photo of masquerade. Peggy Harper Archive C1074



These materials were kindly donated to the British Library in 2003 where they are being digitised and made available for listening and viewing via our on-site services.

Although Peggy was not an archivist, librarian or historian, she had a keen mind to the importance of creating a record “using the most reliable and comprehensive means available to give an accurate, if possible, first-hand picture of the dancers in their original context” (African Arts as above, p80). She predicted that “these records will be of immense value historically and sociologically, and as raw material for the theatre of the future.”

As the British Library prepares for its major exhibition on West Africa, due to open in October 2015, the Peggy Harper Archive is indeed providing a valuable resource, some 50 years after their original making.


17 April 2014

The music of Holy Week in Seville

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!

 Performer: Susana Silencio

Performer: Susana Sierra Martínez

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).

En la Calle Silencio, 2013 from Duncan Whitley on Vimeo.

 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.

Jesús Despójado, Salida 2013 from Duncan Whitley on Vimeo.

 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.

Jesús Despojado, A La Gloria! 2013 from Duncan Whitley on Vimeo.

 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.

La Esperanza de Triana, regreso a Pureza (2013) from Duncan Whitley on Vimeo.

 Duncan Whitley



15 February 2013

Kalahari San [Bushmen] music online


Over 1000 recordings of music recorded by John Brearley in Botswana, primarily among San or Bushmen people in the Kalahari, have been made available on the British Library Sounds website.

Oba plays the zhoma (pluriarc) while children look on.
Oba plays the zhoma (pluriarc) while children look on.

Recording of Oba playing the zhoma and singing.

John Brearley’s collection began with his first trip to Botswana in July 1982 to investigate and record traditional music, and to observe the extent to which the influence of radio and recorded music had interrupted the use of traditional instruments. In particular he wanted to learn about the music of the Basarwa (San / Bushmen) and so the collection includes recordings from a range of Bushmen groups including the !Kung, Nharo and Makoko, and features performances of healing dances, games, and instrumental tunes on a range of indigenous instruments. John returned to the Kalahari many times from 1982 to 2007.

Women playing tandiri [dakateri] musical bow
Women playing tandiri [dakateri] musical bow

Recording of women playing tandiri, 1989

During his travels in northern Botswana John came into contact with the anthropologist Hans-Joachim Heinz. Heinz had also made recordings of music and ceremonies, which he deposited at the British Library. These are also available online. Heinz also made films during his research in Botswana. Copies of these are in the British Library's collections as C312.

John wrote a report of his very first trip in 1982 which was published in Botswana Notes and Records (volume 16). This includes details of instrument tunings and musical transcriptions of brief extracts from the recordings.

14 November 2012

World and Traditional Music collections on YouTube

The first four archive film clips to be launched on the  British Library  - Sound and Moving Image  - YouTube channel are the results of a collaboration between the British Library World and Traditional Music and Moving Image departments, Dr Richard Widdess at SOAS and the Music Museum of Nepal. The digitisation, identification and editing of some of the film and non-synchronous audio material in the Arnold Adriaan Bake collection, C52, means we are now able to release some edited highlights from the Bake collection online. Furthermore each clip is specifically referenced in the summary of the YouTube clip to allow researchers to link directly back to the source material in the catalogue.

The first film begins with Bake's arrival in Nepal in 1931.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Indra Jaatra festival Kathmandu, 1931

Arnold Bake created a unique document of the religious music of Nepal through his films of the annual festivals which was where he found many of the musicians he would record for his research. In his films he also represented a changing culture and built landscape that would in part vanish in the earthquakes of 1933.

Many collections in the World and Traditional Music section hold a range of formats, reflecting the diverse nature of ethnographic field recording. Among these is C52, a unique collection of South Asian material recorded by Dutch ethnomusicologist Dr Arnold Adriaan Bake [1899-1963]. His collection spans not only many decades but also many formats of audio and visual material including wax cylinders, tefi-bands, reel-to-reel tapes and 16mm black and white and colour silent films, providing a complex and detailed document of music and ritual in South Asia from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

The collection itself is in many ways like a jigsaw. The recent digitisation of the 16mm film material by the Moving Image team enabled access to footage hitherto impossible in the British Library. This coincided with the digitisation of audio material from the collection. However the documentation, especially that of the films, was extremely sparse and in places non-existent. To add to the complexity the non-synchronous nature of the recordings means that although much of the audio and film footage is related it would not have been shot at the same time: in many cases Bake would record an event in film and then return to record the event in audio. The story could have ended there with a complex collection awaiting researchers to release its secrets………….

Excitingly the Nepalese material in this collection, which makes up at least half of the collection, became the subject of a repatriation project with the Music Museum of Nepal. With painstaking effort they honoured the exchange of knowledge by returning detailed documentation for the films to the British Library which has now been added to the catalogue and was the inspiration for the making of these short films.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Newar musicians, 1955-56

The second film introduces musicians from one of the main culture groups in Nepal, the Newar. Among the religious music performed by the Newar is Dapha, a form of hymn singing.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Matayaa festival, 1955-56

The third film illustrates the importance of ritual in Nepalese life. The Matayaa festival celebrates family ancestors with offerings at shrines. Musicians and devotees circumambulate the town making offerings.

Title: Arnold Adriaan Bake: documenting music in Nepal. Seto Machindranath festival, 1955-56

The final film allows a glimpse of one of the main features of the religious festivals in Nepal, the mobilisation of the chariots carrying the deities. This colour footage shows the dedication and worship related to the chariots and the precariousness as they are manually pulled through the streets during the festival. The mountains of Nepal can be seen on the horizon.

These represent only a small portion of the collection, with a great deal more digitised films to be released next Spring 2013, but we hope they will encourage researchers to come to the British Library to delve further into this and other collections.

27 September 2012

Delius Weekend at the British Library

The following is a guest post by Megan Russ.

The British Library recently contributed to the 150th anniversary celebrations of the birth of the composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) by hosting Delius in 2012: an International Celebration. The Delius Society assembled an illustrious panel of speakers, which included leading scholars from around the world. The weekend also saw recitals by winners of the 2011 Delius Prize and the winner of the inaugural Frederick Delius International Composition Prize. Delius panel discussion

A theme of the weekend was the promotion of a composer who is unduly neglected in the contemporary classical music world. Part of the reason for this, the speakers reiterated, was that Delius defies every convention and label. Born in Bradford of German parents, he lived in Florida (USA) and spent most of his adult life in France. He is usually labelled a British composer though his music was rarely performed here during his lifetime. Delius’s unique compositional voice was also praised. Paul Guinery (Pianist and Broadcaster) and Digby Fairweather (Jazz Trumpeter and Composer) highlighted the many jazz elements which Delius foreshadowed in his music. Jeremy Dibble (Durham University) further emphasised Delius’s rich and unusual harmonic treatments in ‘A Village Romeo and Juliet’. Nora Sirbaugh (College of New Jersey, USA) considered Delius’s nuanced treatment of texts, particularly in translations of his songs.

Song before Sunrise

Other contributors spoke about the state of Delius research and his music in the UK and abroad. Richard Chesser (British Library) gave an illuminating talk on the Delius manuscripts in the BL and uncovered several areas for further research. Lionel Carley (The Delius Society) reported a wealth of events happening during this anniversary year and Jérôme Rossi (University of Nantes) gave a report on Delius in France today.

The conference was enriched by a wealth of musical content. Two excellent recitals were presented.Natalie Hyde, Robert Markham, and Dominika Fehér Dominika Fehér (violin), Natalie Hyde (soprano) and Robert Markham (pianist) gave an all-Delius programme which, by a turn of luck, included many pieces that had been spoken about earlier in the day. Michael Djupstrom’s prize-winning new work ‘Walimai’ (2011) was greeted with enthusiasm. He and Ayane Kozasa (viola) also included a delightful performance of Delius’ Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano (adapted for the viola by Lionel Tertis, 1932). Bo Holten (Composer and Conductor), a renowned Delius interpreter, gave a welcome practical view of Delius interpretation for modern performers, including many examples from classic and contemporary recordings—the conductors remaining anonymous.

Ayane Kozasa and Michael Djupstrom

The weekend was rounded off with a screening on Sunday afternoon of John Bridcut’s recent BBC film, Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma. The conference was by all accounts a success and everyone clearly enjoyed spending an entire weekend talking about nothing but Delius!

Sketch for On hearing the first cuckoo in spring

06 August 2012

Delius in 2012: an international celebration

The composer Frederick Delius was born in Bradford on 29 January 1862 and to mark his 150th anniversary, the British Library will be hosting a symposium devoted to his music in association with the Delius Society on 22 and 23 September. 

With a packed programme comprising talks, a round-table discussion, live music and a screening of the recent BBC4 film ‘Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma’ by John Bridcut, the Symposium will also provide the opportunity for delegates to speak with renowned experts in the field. 

Delius in 1899

Speakers will include: Bo Holten (composer and conductor of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra); Dr. Lionel Carley (Delius scholar); Professor Tim Blanning (Emeritus Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University); Digby Fairweather (jazz composer and musician); Dr. Jérôme Rossi (Delius scholar and author of the first French biography of Delius); and Anthony Payne (composer).

Live music will include a recital by Paul Guinery (pianist and BBC Radio 3 broadcaster), song and violin recitals by the winners of the 2011 Delius Performance Prize Competition, Natalie Hyde and Dominika Fehér, and a UK first performance of the winning entry of the 2012 Delius International Composition Prize Competition, composed by Michael Djupstrom.

The British Library holds the bulk of Delius’s manuscripts (presented to the Library by the Delius Trust in 1995) and a large body of correspondence relating to the composer, as well as numerous sound recordings charting the performance history of his works, making the Library the focal point of research concerning his life and music. 

To book for the Delius Symposium, see the British Library events page.
Tickets are £20 per day.  Each day must be booked separately.

For further details, please download the pdf flyer.

The full programme is also available at the Delius Society website.



03 August 2012

A New Olympic Hymn?

The Olympic Hymn composed by Spiro Samara for the first modern Olympiad in 1896 has been used as the official Olympic anthem at every games since 1960, and accompanied the hoisting of Olympic flag at last week’s opening ceremony. Between 1900 and 1952 new music had been specially composed for each games, and for the 1956 Games it was decided that a new Olympic Hymn should be commissioned, to serve as a permanent anthem for future games. Prince Pierre of Monaco organised a competition, and there were almost 400 entries from 40 countries.

Olympic Hymn - James Stevens

Among the entrants was the British composer James Stevens, who died on 26 June 2012 at the age of 89. He bequeathed his compositions to the British Library, and a listing of them will appear on our catalogue in due course. He was most active as a composer of film music, but his Olympic Hymn, ‘dedicated to sport, valour and the glory of youth’, is a relatively simple work for large orchestra, a rather high-pitched tenor soloist and the massed voices of the spectators. Olympic judgesScores were to be submitted under a pseudonym – Stevens used the moniker ‘Anglo-Saxon’ – and were judged by an international panel of eminent composers convened by his former teacher Nadia Boulanger. In April 1955 the jury met for a week in Monte Carlo to assess the submissions. Each piece had a cover sheet attached to it, which the judges signed after inspecting the score: there are some very familiar signatures alongside much less well known names.

In the end, the jury awarded the prize to another of Nadia Boulanger’s students, the Polish composer Michał Spisak. However, his time of Olympic glory was limited: the winning Hymn was performed at the 1956 Games, but thereafter the Comité International Olympique decided, partly for copyright reasons, to revert to the original anthem of the 1896 Games. It has been performed ever since, in many different languages and on occasion in a purely instrumental version.