THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

12 November 2018

Recording of the week: a duet for Ugandan lyres

This week's selection comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Coordinator for Europeana Sounds.

This song, recorded in Kamuli, Uganda in 1954 by the pioneering ethnomusicologist Klaus Wachsmann, is of two ntongoli players, Kaija and Isake Ibande, from the Soga culture.

Abe Waife (BL reference C4/39)

The ntongoli is a type of lyre, a stringed instrument. The Hornbostel Sachs musical instrument classification system defines the lyre as a “yoke lute” – that is, the strings are borne by a beam connecting two prongs that emerge from the resonator. Thus, the shape of the lyre generally resembles the head of a horned animal. But a search for “lyre” on Europeana shows that lyres come in many different shapes and sizes, some very simply made, some with ornate and colourful decorations.

The lyre is most closely associated with the mythological character of Ancient Greece, Orpheus, who played so beautifully that he charmed the animals who heard him.

Photograph of a late 20th century ntongoliA late 20th century ntongoli (University of Edinburgh via Europeana, CC-BY-NC-SA)

Although the image of this beautiful ntongoli, held at the University of Edinburgh, is taken from an upright position, the instrument is actually played tilted over so that the strings are more or less horizontal, rather like a guitar. You can hear from this recording that the singing and playing is very intense and powerful, with rhythmic patterns from one instrument following the other in rapid succession.

Visit British Library Sounds to hear more recordings from the Klaus Wachsmann Uganda collection.

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