18 May 2009
Decca West Africa Recordings
900 recordings from the British Library’s holdings of the Decca West Africa yellow label series have recently been added to Archival Sound Recordings. Issued on shellac disc between circa 1948 – 1961, the collection includes music recorded in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and possibly Togo. It encompasses a wide range of popular genres of the time including Highlife, Rumba, Calypso and early Nigerian jùjú as well as some more traditional performances.
Recording African music for an African market had only really begun in the late 1920s and was dominated by the various labels of the Gramophone Company, later EMI. Output was greatly reduced during World War 2 staff and other resources were employed for the war effort. Just as African musicians were beginning to formulate new styles, many bringing influences gained in service abroad, and often using new technologies that allowed them to plug into mains supplies, recording activity dried up. Decca Records, having the technological edge as a result of their “Full Frequency Range Recording” system (FFRR) launched their activities in the African market and quickly gained the upper hand with this series of yellow label discs. The collection therefore documents a period of intense competition between music industry majors that only came to an end as countries in the region began to obtain independence and opportunities for musicians broadened beyond colonial hold.
While the collection features recordings by some more well known artists, such as Kwaa Mensah, Kwashi Gatse, Famous Scrubbs and Spike Anyankor, it importantly also includes many more obscure artists – many of whom have long since passed away - thus providing a detailed picture of the musical scene in West Africa in this post-war, “end of empire” period.
Ginevra House, ASR Engagement Officer