07 March 2022
We are pleased to announce a number of new additions to our Music e-resources offer this year:
Medici.TV is a world-leading classical music channel, offering access to live performances and classical music programmes to viewers worldwide. More than 150 live events are broadcast each year, in partnership with the world's most prestigious venues, opera houses, festivals and competitions. Their platform also features over 3,000 programmes, including: concerts and archived historical concerts; operas; ballets; documentaries, artist portraits; educational programmes and masterclasses, which are available to stream in HD.
Medici.TV is currently available in our reading rooms and can be accessed via the Find Electronic Resources webpage.
RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals (Full text) and RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals (Full text)
RIPM (Répertoire international de la presse musicale) offers online access to thousands of European and North American music periodicals from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. This includes articles in music journals, daily newspapers, literary periodicals, theatrical journals, and magazines, constituting a remarkable documentary resource to music historians.
We now subscribe to the full-text versions of both RIPM Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals and RIPM Preservation Series: European & North American Music Periodicals, which can both be accessed in our reading rooms via the Find Electronic Resources webpage.
Music Online: Classical Scores Library Volumes I-IV
This multivolume series contains more than 53,000 titles of the most important scores in classical music, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. More than 4,600 composers are included, from traditionally studied composers such as Mozart and Tchaikovsky to contemporary artists including Kaija Saariaho, Peter Maxwell-Davies, and John Tavener.
Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music
Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music is the first comprehensive online resource devoted to music research of all the world's peoples. More than 9,000 pages of material and 300 audio recordings, combined with entries by more than 700 expert contributors from all over the world, make this the most complete body of work focused on world music.
Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries
Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries is the largest and most comprehensive streaming audio collection of world music. With nearly 3,000 albums and more than 40,000 individual tracks of music, spoken word, and natural and human made sounds, this collection includes the published recordings owned by the non profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label together with the archival audio collections of the legendary Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels.
You can browse the full range of Music e-resources available in our reading rooms and/or remotely via the Find Electronic Resources webpage:
For any enquiries on how to access and use our e-resources please contact our Music or Sound & Vision Reference Teams.
02 October 2018
The British Library has the pleasure of bringing you an exciting free educational resource providing unparalleled access to our music collection: Discovering Music.
Aimed at A level students, teachers, undergraduates and the general public, the site features manuscript and printed sources as well as recordings to support the study of particular music topics. The site also sheds light on the historical, political and cultural contexts in which key musical works were composed and musicians operated.
The first stage focuses on music from the early 20th century, while other periods will be explored in the future. This present web space highlights some of the Library’s most treasured collection items, in high-resolution digitised images, including manuscripts by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and others. In addition, the site features a rich range of contextual material, including letters, notebooks, illustrations, newspapers, photographs and other forms of ephemera.
The Second Viennese School: Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern
Mark Berry introduces the three composers labelled as key members of the ‘Second Viennese School’, each influential in his own way on musical modernism throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
Music and the creative process: Elgar’s Third Symphony
The composer Anthony Payne, who completed Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, describes Elgar’s compositional methods as seen in the surviving sketches for this work at the British Library.
Delius in performance
Joanna Bullivant explores how Delius’s compositions were brought to life by various interpreters. Did he give his performers enough information? How important are the contributions made by the famous musicians with whom he worked: the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, the pianists Theodor Szántó and Evlyn Howard-Jones, and the violinist May Harrison?
Folksong revival in the early 20th century
Eric Saylor surveys the social contexts and musical impact of the folksong revival in the early 20th century.
Ballet in Paris in the early 20th century
Jane Pritchard discusses the ballet companies and their artists who were active in Paris in the early 20th century.
British composers in the early 20th century
Jeremy Dibble gives an overview of British composers in the early 20th century and their context.
Delius, Paris, Grez
Lionel Carley explores Delius’s long association with France, and how the distinctive landscapes of Paris and Grez-sur-Loing inspired some of his most famous scores.
Exploring Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations
Julian Rushton discusses the early history of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations.
The use of the instruments of the orchestra
Lucy Walker surveys three orchestral masterpieces of the early 20th century.
Music and the First World War
Kate Kennedy examines the impact of the First World War on British composers and the music composed both during the war and in its aftermath.
Music and the Holocaust
Stephen Muir examines the impact of the Holocaust on musicians and musical life in Germany and Austria in the Second World War.
Music for film: Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten
Music formed an important component of the propaganda and educational films produced during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. In this article, Nicholas Clark explores the film scores composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten between 1940 and 1948.
Music and the Russian Revolution
Pauline Fairclough discusses the impact of the Russian Revolution on Russian composers’ lives and careers.
Delius and America
Daniel M. Grimley explains the significance of America in Delius's life, music, and career.
Stravinsky and Neoclassicism
Stephen Walsh discusses Neoclassicism as a concept focussing on the music of Stravinsky who extensively used this compositional ‘attitude’ in his music.
The Society of Women Musicians
Sophie Fuller discusses the history of the Society of Women Musicians and some of its leading members.
Daniel M. Grimley examines Delius's compositional routine and looks at the processes involved in assembling a large-scale musical work.
Tonality in crisis? How harmony changed in the 20th century
Arnold Whittall explores changing approaches to harmony and the concept of tonality in early 20th-century music.
Vaughan Williams and The English Hymnal
Simon Wright explores the role of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in selecting and arranging the music for The English Hymnal.
These 19 articles are accompanied by three teaching resources to support the study of 20th-century classical music at GCSE and A Level.
Composition: learning from Delius and Elgar
Use Delius's and Elgar's sketches to develop compositional skills and understand their music.
Music and place: sacred music and folksong
Learn how English composers were inspired by folksong and ideas of the sacred.
Overturning tonality: into the 20th century
Explore new ways of composing in the early 20th century
28 April 2017
To celebrate her 70th birthday on 28 April 2017, we are taking a closer look at the career and influences of composer Nicola LeFanu, and highlighting two of her works held within the music manuscript collections at the British Library.
Photograph ©Michael Lynch
Nicola LeFanu was born in England in 1947 to librarian William LeFanu and composer Elizabeth Maconchy. She studied composition with Jeremy Dale Roberts, Alexander Goehr, Goffredo Petrassi, Humphrey Searle and Thea Musgrave. She has been most strongly influenced by her mother, her husband David Lumsdaine (also a composer), her first tutor Jeremy Dale Roberts and by Korean-American composer Earl Kim.
Her first large orchestral work, ‘The Hidden Landscape’, was commissioned by the BBC for the 1973 Proms. In an article for The Guardian, LeFanu describes the absorption required when composing for orchestra and the thrill of the first rehearsal when she heard the piece come to life exactly as she had imagined it in her head.
The British Library holds a dyeline copy of the composer’s manuscript score of this work, annotated by Norman Del Mar, who conducted the first performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 7 August 1973. With the score is a letter from LeFanu to Del Mar dated 10 December 1975 along with a list of her alterations. These were produced in preparation for a recording of the work in January 1976.
Nicola LeFanu: ‘The Hidden Landscape’. British Library MS Mus. 1820
One of LeFanu’s particular strengths is in writing dramatically for voice. Among the many works she has written for soprano is the 1981 monodrama ‘The Old Woman of Beare’, which is among her personal favourites. The libretto is based on a 9th- or 10th-century Irish poem about a courtesan woman who has entered a convent in her old age. Here she reflects on her life, her sexuality and her aging body.
The work is notable for its passion, the integration of sea and sexuality, the wide range of the vocal part and the instrumentation, which is like an orchestra in miniature. LeFanu deepens the passion of the poem by mixing the singing with spoken passages and by integrating imagery of the sea.
Nicola LeFanu, ‘The Old Woman of Beare’ for soprano and thirteen players
© 1984 Novello & Co.
Reproduced by permission of Novello & Company Limited
British Library E.1500.r.(3.)
After studying at Oxford and the Royal College of Music, LeFanu won the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1972 and was a Harkness Fellow at Harvard from 1973 to 1974. She was then Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1975 to 1977, followed by almost twenty years teaching at King’s College London. LeFanu became Professor of Music at the University of York in 1994, a post she held until 2008.
Nicola LeFanu is featured as ‘Composer of the Week’ on Radio 3 from 24 to 28 April 2017. Information about her works and recordings can be found on her website. Many of her scores and recordings are available at the British Library and some of her works can be heard on SoundCloud.
Photograph © Michael Lynch
Head of Content and Metadata Processing South (and former Curator of Music Manuscripts)
23 August 2016
The British Library's World and Traditional Music section supported ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, on a field trip to record music in Iraq-Kurdistan over June/July 2016. This is his report.
It is hot. No, it is extremely hot. Today the temperature is 45° Celsius; the air is bone-dry, no trace of wind. I am in Sulaimani, the second urban centre in Iraq-Kurdistan. This part of Iraq belongs to the Kurds and is de-facto an independent state run by a Kurdish government.
Traditional singers and musicians have gathered in the Zardosht Café. Zardosht is the Kurdish term for Zoroastrianism, an age-old religion known in the wider region. Since the coming of the Islamic period, it has become a minority religion, often frowned upon. These days the Zardosht belief is making a kind of come-back. Here in Kurdistan the faith is essentially Kurdish and promotes traditional folk music.
Listen Zardosht Cafe Group
The group starts to play: The zarab (goblet drum) player provides rhythm while the Korg keyboardist adds harmonies and melodic phrases. Occasionally the saz (plucked lute) virtuoso contributes drone and melodic sounds. But the musical highlight is the charismatic lead-singer Ata Azizy; he alternates – or even competes – with the balaban player, Jowanro, in expressing intricate melodic lines. A balaban is a traditional single-reed wood instrument; it is very similar to the Armenian duduk. Its sound is soothing and exciting at the same time. Their way of singing and playing, including the guttural stops, is possibly what makes the music “typically” Kurdish.
With the support of the British Library's World and Traditional Music section, I was able to visit Iraq-Kurdistan and record traditional music during live events and in pre-arranged recording sessions. I was curious: how does a new country treats its rich traditional music culture?
I stay for the ‘after-party’ at the Zorgasth Café. Here the singer, Rafat Germiany, and the same balaban player perform howrama. Though this musical genre is remotely connected to Zoroastrianism, it is known as a typical Kurdish vocal style. The voice and the wind-instrument alternate again.
Listen Zardosht Cafe Howrama group
For me the most remarkable thing is the large, mainly young crowd (only men). They watch the performance with increasing anticipation. It shows that the music is still meaningful to a younger audience and therefore has a future. One participant told me that this café was the only public space where a female singer was allowed to perform these days.
Everybody mentions the traditional vocal style called heiran from the Erbil region, Erbil being the country’s capital and the other urban centre. Mr Delzar, a friend, invites me to his home village far from Erbil, just below the Qarachokh mountain range. Today his ‘village’ consists of several farm-houses managed on a part-time basis and re-created only recently. The original Kurdish villages of this region were destroyed by Iraqi troops, the last time by Saddam Hussain in 1988. Only in the last few years – the region was only recently secured by the Peshmerga (Kurdish liberation army) – have some of the original villagers and their descendants come back to farm again.
A seasoned Kurd arrives at Mr Delzar’s farm-house and immediately starts singing. Mr Mahyadin Sherwani is a farmer and self-taught heiran singer. He explains to me that the songs of the heiran genre describe the rugged countryside of Kurdistan and its people.
I first experienced traditional Kurdish vocal music many years back in the Kurdish region of eastern Turkey. I listened to the always slightly over-amplified and highly reverberated recordings from cassettes played on the crackling PA-system of a local bus. There, listening to this music and viewing the hills flying past, I imagined how this music was born in the Kurdish countryside. I have the same feeling today, listening to this talented singer in this Iraq-Kurdistan village.
I have already mentioned the saz. During my last week in Iraq-Kurdistan I was invited to a performance in the heart of Erbil of the saz player and musical instrument shop owner, Bakr Sazvan. He has his shop just below the ancient citadel set on a mound towering over the city. He played a number of electrifying pieces, setting his business aside for a full hour.
The saz is a pear-shaped plucked instrument, with five or six strings organised in three courses. For the Kurds the saz is an essentially Kurdish instrument though it is also used by Turkish and Iranian musicians.
Especially intriguing is how Bakr Sazvan plays, combining melodic phrases played on the higher pitched strings, and striking the lower pitched strings in order to create the accompanying drone sound.
As I pack my bags for the return journey to London I ponder about Kurdish traditional music: in comparison with many other regions of the world I’ve visited, the music of the Kurds is still alive and kicking! As these people are very keen to demonstrate traditional music and to preserve their culture, they invited me to come again for a much longer stay. I happily accepted.
Rolf Killius (email@example.com and www.rolfkillius.com) 09/08/2016
(with thanks to the musicians, interpreters, fixers and friends who assisted on the trip)
The recordings made during this project will be added to the Rolf Killius Collection (C815). Some of Rolf's recordings from rural India are online on BL Sounds.
03 June 2016
As part of an AHRC Cultural Engagement project grant awarded to City University and partially funded by the National Folk Music Fund, ethnomusicologist Andrew Pace, has engaged in a project to catalogue thousands of paper and photographic files from Peter Kennedy’s collection of British and Irish folk music held at the British Library.
This month we have launched a unique website - www.peterkennedyarchive.org - in which listeners can retrace the chronology and geographical routes of Kennedy's extensive field recording activity. In the text below, Andrew describes the project and walks us through the website's main features.
Peter Kennedy was one of the most prolific collectors of British and Irish folk music and customs from the 1950s up until his death in 2006. Working closely with other collectors of his generation, such as Alan Lomax, Sean O’Boyle and Hamish Henderson, he recorded hundreds of traditional performers ‘in the field’, including Margaret Barry, Fred Jordan, Paddy Tunney, Harry Cox, Frank and Francis McPeake and Jack Armstrong. In 2008 his collection came under the care of the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library.
I’ve been working on Peter’s sizeable collection periodically since 2010, cataloguing thousands of audio tapes and photographs of traditional performers and uploading some of this material to Sounds. In fact, just this month an additional 500 photographs and 70 audio recordings from Peter’s collection have been added to the existing collection available online.
However, Peter’s paper files, comprising song texts, scores, contracts, draft manuscripts and a large amount of correspondence between himself and performers, collectors, institutions and enquirers, hadn’t been catalogued. This is the task that I’ve been undertaking since January. All of these papers will be uploaded to the Library’s catalogue in due course.
Amongst these papers I discovered 31 reports written by Peter for the BBC’s ‘Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme’, a project on which he was working during the 1950s. Across 180 typewritten pages, Peter describes his daily itinerary recording traditional performers around the UK and Ireland between 1952 and 1962. Full of anecdotes and insightful information about the musicians he recorded - including confirmation of when and where he recorded them - these documents reveal a great deal about Peter’s fieldwork during this period.
I decided to use these reports as the basis for a new website which brings these narratives together with all of the audio recordings and photographs from Peter’s collection that have been digitised so far: www.peterkennedyarchive.org.
These reports feature ‘hotspots’ placed over the names of the more than 650 musicians that Peter recorded during these trips. Clicking on the name of a performer reveals any sound recordings or photographs taken of them by Peter on that particular day that are available to view and listen to on Sounds. Additionally, links to entries in the British Library’s catalogue are provided for any related material that hasn’t yet been digitised, such as Peter’s tapes or BBC transcription discs.
What makes this website unique is the way it contextualises recordings and photographs of performers with Peter’s own notes about them. Whilst the British Library’s catalogue is useful as a search tool, it doesn’t reveal how a collection was formed and developed – and it doesn’t tell us very much about who created it. This new website gives us a better idea of what’s in this collection by refocusing attention on Peter as a recordist and reconstituting his material into a form that better resembles how he created it.
I hope www.peterkennedyarchive.org will prove useful to researchers and musicians alike and encourage more people to explore Peter’s collection at the British Library. As more of his field recordings are digitised and attached to the site, it should become an increasingly valuable resource
- Andrew Pace
Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.
07 March 2016
On the 7th March 2016 ‘Time upon Time’, an exhibition of field recordings from Bengal curated by The Travelling Archive, opens at the Nandan Gallery in Santiniketan. The exhibition focuses on the work of the ethnomusicologist Arnold Adriaan Bake (British Library collection C52), and includes materials from the archives of the British Library, alongside materials from the University of Leiden, ARCE, Rabindra Bhavan, Visva Bharati and the private collections and field recordings of The Travelling Archive.
Moushumi Bhowmik describes the exhibition in this guest blog:
In the early twentieth century, a time when the discipline of ethnomusicology was still in its infancy, Arnold Bake (1899-1963) was among the first of the researcher-collectors who found their way to South Asia. Trained in Sanskrit and Indology at the Dutch universities of Leiden and Utrecht, Bake took up residency at Santiniketan in 1925 in order to study Damodar Misra’sSangitadarpana for his doctoral research. In addition, his love for folk music led him to making recordings of the folk music of Bengal, of which the baul and kirtan traditions in particular appealed to him. Furthermore, Bake worked closely with Rabindranath Tagore, in an attempt to study, collect, preserve, and distribute his songs and poetry. Between 1925 and 1956, Bake lived for extended periods of time in the Indian sub-continent, the first decade mostly in and around Bengal; he also travelled widely and made extensive recordings of music and dance from across many other parts India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Bake’s work very much constitutes the creation of an archive. The Travelling Archive, a project created by singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik and sound recordist Sukanta Majumdar involving field recording in Bengal and its dissemination, first encountered Arnold Bake’s recordings in the archives of the British Library in 2003, and have remained connected to his work ever since. ‘Time upon Time’, an exhibition of field recordings from Bengal, explores the nature and depth of this connection. There are large overlaps between Arnold Bake and The Travelling Archive’s areas of work, both from a topographical and an archival perspective. This exhibition is an attempt to unravel the threads of archival material to demonstrate how past, present and future are intertwined.
The exhibition also draws attention to the future of archiving by commenting on the very concept of the archive. With support of the IFA through their Archival and Museum Fellowship, and a Scaliger Fellowship from Leiden University, the exhibition explores resources from several archives within India and abroad, including British Library, ARCE-AIIS, SOAS and Rabindra Bhavan. In so doing, the exhibition strives to layer archive upon archive as a way to examine the way archives are constructed. Furthermore, by employing the language of art, this exhibition is also a venture into some of the ways in which archival material can be used and interpreted. Finally, this exhibition is not only about Arnold Bake but also about the time in which he lived, people who surrounded him, their sounds, and silences, too. It is also about this present time when we are trying to listen to him and, in him, listen to the ‘future of our past’.
Thus, ‘Time upon Time’ is meant to be an interactive experience of a work in progress. The Travelling Archive is interested in studying sound and image as historical material. Seeing and listening can trigger memory and thus lead to the further unravelling of history. Therefore, visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to contribute their own memories and experiences to The Travelling Archive. Words, voices, sounds, images, and other contributions will be recorded on site by The Travelling Archive in their ‘studio’ set up within the space of the exhibition.
7-15 March 2016. Nandan gallery, Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. (Closed on Wednesday and Thursday)
The event opens with a presentation by Tagore singer Chitralekha Chowwhdury, recorded by Arnold Bake in 1956.
Recording reference: C52/NEP/70
For further information please visit: www.travelling archive.org
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
20 March 2015
27 short films on music from Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, made by Rolf Killius (the BL's Gulf History Curator for Oral and Musical Cultures) are now available online.
Traditional music in the Persian (or Arabic) Gulf region creates joy at weddings, helps to deal with death, shows cultural continuity and changes, is part of the history of peoples, accompanies nation-building and national celebrations, reflects ethnic unity, diversity and plurality, expresses cultural heritage and unites people.
In 2013 and 2014 I had the chance to do fieldwork on traditional music in Oman, Qatar and Kuwait for the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme. The main aim of this fieldwork was to complement the British Library's historical commercial music collections from the Gulf region (mainly on shellac discs) with new audio and video recordings of traditional music.
I have selected and edited 27 short films from these fieldwork journeys for the Qatar Digital Library Portal, where one can also find contextual pieces outlining the fieldwork and introducing the regions and musical genres. Linked to the portal are YouTube and SoundCloud channels with hundreds of audio and video titles with detailed captions. Additional material can also be found on the British Library Sounds website where one can listen to Middle Eastern music on shellac discs.
Modernity meets tradition: traditional music in Qatar
The intention to do fieldwork in one of the richest countries in the world seemed at first to be a challenge. Walking along the Cornice, the waterfront in Qatar’s capital, Doha - with more than its share of skyscrapers and blinking lights, the promenade walkways alongside a superhighway and the wooden boats ready to service tourists and affluent Qataris - gives the impression of a rapidly modernising country which has left much of the Bedouins’ and seafarers’ roots behind. Despite all this we discovered that just a little scratch in the right place can uncover the traditional musical cultures of the desert and the sea again. If one has access to the very intimate family, tribal or informal Qatari Arab gatherings it is surprising how much of the traditional music culture is still alive.
For instance, try the sea music performance, where the naham (lead singer) Ali Saeed Al Mari, conducts a choir of twenty-five singers and instrumentalists:
Or, watch the al-ardha performance during the tribal gathering of the al-Atteeyah community during the annual Qatar National Day. Here the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, graced the audience and players:
Sea meets desert: traditional music in Oman
In the Sultanate of Oman traditional music, poetry and dance are still part and parcel of both everyday life and national/patriotic celebrations, and are practised by experts and laypersons alike. An example of how well Omani people respect music was my late-night arrival at the airport in Muscat: all bags were scanned and the customs official asked me to unpack all my equipment. Finally he pointed at the microphones and barked: “What is this for?” I hesitated at first and then answered that they were “microphones to record Omani music”. A big smile settled on his face and he wished me a good time in Oman. Welcome to the country of music and frankincense!
The musical culture reflects the population’s multi-ethnic origin and has created a unique variety of numerous musical and dance genres. Though they all have been flavoured by the grand cultures of India, East Africa and Persia, the Omani people have developed their own variety of specific Gulf styles. Along with Hijaz (Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia) and Yemen, Oman has the most ancient and diverse culture on the Arabian Peninsula.
For instance, try Galfat Shobani, the sea music from Oman, completely different from sea music in Qatar and Kuwait and – surprisingly – with a Scottish bagpipe as the solo instrument.
Or, watch the Al-Maidan dance and music from a large wedding in Sur. This dance is considered the most complicated and sophisticated dance form and is strongly influenced by African culture.
Hidden treasures: traditional music in Kuwait
Although Kuwait City (where the research was conducted) at first seemed to me a bit dull, once personally introduced, the numerous places where traditional music is still practised revealed a rich heritage of a living Gulf music culture. Indeed Kuwait is musically quite a revelation. Traditional music is performed, at least in private gatherings, on a weekly basis.
Kuwait was and (to a certain degree) still is the centre of traditional music in the Gulf. Together with Bahrain the country shares the honour of being the birthplace of such once popular music genres as sowt (early urban genre of the Gulf). Bahri (sea music), in particular, has been at the heart of Kuwait’s music scene. Numerous old audiovisual documents show evidence of the country’s ‘roaring 1960s’, where male and female musicians performed widely and were recorded by record labels and television companies. Kuwait has maintained a thriving traditional music culture to the present day, which is practised nearly exclusively in private homes and semi-private diwaniyas or traditional meeting places for men, mostly related to music.
For instance, try this sowt performance from a diwaniya in Kuwait City:
Or, try Leywa (or liwah), the ritual music of African origin practised in the whole Gulf region. The instrument players are at the centre of the performance while the surnai (oboe) player leads the dancers and singers who move anti-clockwise around the instrumentalists.
Guest post written by Rolf Killius, March 2015
Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme
Follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds
Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad
Music blog recent posts
- New Music E-resources
- Welcome to Discovering Music
- Nicola LeFanu at 70
- Passionate music from a hot country: a musical visit to Iraq-Kurdistan
- Peter Kennedy Archive
- Once upon a time in Bengal....
- The British Library at WOMAD
- Musical Journeys to Oman, Qatar and Kuwait
- Directory of UK Music Sound Collections
- Calling all PhD students with a music-related topic!