Sound and vision blog

16 October 2008

Archival Sound Recordings in Action - Reviving the Lost Music of Bunyoro-Kitara

In 1967, the central government of Uganda abolished the historic Bantu kingdoms that had for centuries formed the regional administrations of the country.  Out went the kingdoms, out went the kings, and out with them went generations of musical and cultural lore.

In 1993, the government restored the kingdoms, and the reinstated King of Bunyoro-Kitara is now tackling the daunting task of recreating the institutions, articles and music of the regional heritage.

Samuel Kahunde, a PhD student in ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield, began studying the royal music of Uganda through the Klaus Wachsmann collection on Archival Sound Recordings. In a fieldwork trip last June, Samuel visited the royal court to discuss the recovery of this music with the King of Bunyoro-Kitara. 

He found that many kinds of music are now extinct - the instruments may be preserved, but nobody knows how to play them any more.  Other musical forms are still alive, but have suffered greatly from the 26 year gap, with only a few elderly practitioners left, trying to teach young musicians who have never experienced what the music should sound like.

The Wachsmann recordings are providing a pathway to reviving the music.
“I get information through listening to the music recorded from different regions of Uganda, allowing me to compare the music across diverse cultures," says Samuel.  "They are also useful in making comparisons between traditional music in the 1940s and later periods. This has provided me with new leads for my research.”

Samuel also worked with a group of young Amakondere trumpet players, who were learning under the tutelage of Wachsmann recordings; being allowed to hear the music as it used to be played for the first time. You can see a video of one of their performances here.
On his next trip to Uganda Samuel will continue to work closely with the Royal Court.  It’s a huge job, and one that looks set to continue well beyond the confines of a PhD.


Dear sir
I am a librarian, I work in a sound archive. In our archive we have many vocal and non-vocal music. we are cataloging our music based on anglo-american (AACR2) and Iasa cataloging rules. we have a worksheet for analytical cataloging. this worksheet was prepared by our musician. the musician listen to the music and fill the worksheet. in this worksheet he analyze the each music tracks based on their rhythm, moods, era (Baroque,or Classic, or Romantic, or New age,..)and performance, format, and form of the music and so on.I knew that The library of congress assigned some subject headings to their musics, but this method do not respond our needs. also i saw and read the website. i think our work is similar to this site. is any library or archive describe and analyze their musics like Pandora, at least like us to their users? I want to write an article about our method , but i want to find any other projects like this and use their experiments. thanks a lot for you help.

Unless your cataloguer is an expert in all genres and styles from all historical periods, you are bound to label many items incorrectly with regard to what the original artists thought they were doing and what your users think they want to hear. In the Sound Archive of the British Library I keep this element of description to a minimum and offer only the broadest of categories for classical music based on forces: so, choral, orchestral, instrumental, chamber, opera. For world and traditional music we have been adopting terms in the Rough Guide to World Music. For popular music we hardly ever bother because the terms are so short-lived: so we rely on the titles of compilations ('Punk hits of the late 1970s') rather than authorised subject headings. Several other databases tried to be more specific with classified headings: in the end almost everything unidentifiable (the majority it seems) got classified as Middle of the Road (MOR) - who uses that term anymore?? If you're cataloguing current commercial recordings, why not just look up the recording on Gracenote or i-Tunes and see how they've classified it? I take your point about Library of Congress. I guess they too realised how time-consuming and ultimately limited in value this activity was.

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