THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

10 posts from October 2019

28 October 2019

Recording of the week: Champion Jack Dupree interviewed by James Hogg

This week's selection comes from Catherine Smith, World & Traditional Music volunteer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Champion Jack Dupree (1910-1992) was a blues and boogie-woogie pianist and singer from New Orleans. James Hogg’s 1968 interview with him for Radio 4 gives a fascinating insight into his life as a blues musician, amongst various other professions. The interview was recorded on January 4th 1968 at Dupree's home in Halifax, West Yorkshire. It was broadcast on January 6th 1968 on the BBC Radio 4 programme It’s Saturday.

Photograph of Champion Jack DupreeChampion Jack Dupree, Hamburg, 1973 (photographed by Heinrich Klaffs and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

As well as being a wonderfully expressive vocal storyteller, Dupree also plays the piano throughout the interview. He accompanies his recollections with simultaneous improvisations on the piano; the cadences of his wandering blues complementing the musicality of his voice. This is demonstrated in the following clip as Dupree explains how he came to learn piano from a young age, after his parents were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan when he was just one year old. He goes on to explain how he grew up alongside Louis Armstrong, who was living in the same orphanage, and began playing trumpet with a paper cone before moving onto playing with jazz musician King Oliver.

Clip 1 - Champion Jack Dupree on learning piano and Louis Armstrong

Dupree played alongside members of the New Orleans jazz and blues scene from the age of eight, learning from the barrelhouse pianist, Willie ‘Drive 'em Down’ Hall. Here he gives his insight into his experience of the music scene at the time and why New Orleans was the ‘home of jazz’, rather than blues.

Clip 2 - Champion Jack Dupree on the jazz scene

He later worked as a prize fighter in Chicago, becoming a successful boxer, hence his nickname ‘Champion Jack’ Dupree. He also worked as a Navy cook during World War Two, spending two years as a prisoner of war in Japan, before returning to professionally make blues records. His first and most well-known album was Blues from the Gutter, released in 1958 by Atlantic Records. 

By 1969, Dupree surprisingly settled in Halifax, Yorkshire with his English wife. He explains to Hogg why it made sense for him to settle there:

Clip 3 - Champion Jack Dupree on living in Halifax

This brief but captivating interview led me to research Dupree in more detail, uncovering the remarkable life of a man who used his music to overcome a huge amount of pain and hardship. Later in the interview he explains what the blues means to him, describing it as a ‘medicine’. He explains how the blues is something you have to have lived: 'if you’ve never had no miserable life you cannot do it…it’s always a life story, it’s not just playing.’

Clip 4 - Champion Jack Dupree on what the blues means

The full interview is fourteen minutes long and if these four highlights have interested you, I recommend listening to all of it in the British Library Reading Rooms and learning more about Dupree’s adventurous life story. Full recording details can be found on the British Library Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

This recording has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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24 October 2019

Private Montford's army record

Those of you who visited last year's British Library exhibition 'Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound' will remember a small display of one-of-a-kind voice-recording discs originally made by the public in coin-operated automatic booths.

Among these was a single 'Voices of the Forces' disc, loaned to us, like the other discs in this section, by the broadcaster Alan Dein.

The 'Voices of the Forces' scheme, which was inaugurated in April 1945, enabled members of the Forces to send messages home to their families. Each recording cost one shilling and ninepence, and the sender spoke into a microphone resembling a hand telephone, while the record was cut at a NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) club by a Sergeant recordist. The discs were 5" (12.5 cm) in diameter and played at 78 rpm, so were quite limited in duration.

Voices of the Forces disc
Until this year, the Library had no good examples of these discs (although there must still be many out there in private hands) so we were delighted to be contacted by Piran Montford, who offered as a donation an original 1945 disc featuring his father Adrian Raphael Montford (aka 'Monty'), complete with its original mailing envelope. Although the disc was damaged, our head audio engineer Robert Cowlin was able to digitize and restore the recording.

Adrian Montford, now aged 96, had not heard the recording since he was a young man. He didn’t remember the contents, but suspected he still retained a strong Australian accent (he was born in London, but raised in Melbourne, Australia, before he returned with his family to live in Sutton in 1938).

The disc was recorded in either North Africa or Palestine in September 1945 and was posted home to his mother in Sutton.

Voices of the Forces disc envelope
The son of the sculptor Paul Raphael Montford, Adrian studied at Sutton Art School and then entered the Royal Academy, London, to study painting, and later sculpture

After the war broke out, Adrian joined the Home Guard in Sutton. He was called up on his 18th birthday, and served the entire war as a Private in the East Surrey Regiment.

Adrian was injured by a mine in the first battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, and developed gas gangrene. He had penicillin injected directly into his leg, a very early use of the medicine. In an Evening Argus interview from 17 September 2006, Adrian described his war experiences as '...traumatic, but all wars are traumatic. I didn't expect to survive.'

The end of the war in 1945 found Adrian in Palestine. While in Palestine, he took two flights to Florence, Italy, to study the art there. It was around this time he made the postal record of his voice.

Listen to Adrian Montford in 1945

Adrian was retained in the army for at least a year after the outbreak of peace. He was moved to Greece (see photo below of him taking a break from directing traffic on Chalkida's Old Bridge near Athens). He ended up driving for a sergeant who patrolled the local brothels throwing out soldiers.

Adrian Montford resting from conducting traffic on Chalkida's Old Bridge  Greece  1945

After being demobbed, Adrian returned to study at the Royal Academy in London.  

In 1951, he was awarded a 1st Landseer Prize of £20 and silver medal for a composition in sculpture. His first attempt to win the Prix de Rome led to a Picture Post magazine cover photo of the sculpture being cast. He attempted again, and in 1954 won the Prix de Rome for Buddha’s Sermon on the Flower.

Adrian went to study at the British School in Rome for two years. He returned from Italy to London, riding his Lambretta scooter over the Alps. Upon his return, he applied for a driving licence. A period of teaching at Sutton Art School and at Folkestone Art School followed.

Adrian taught sculpture for over 30 years at St Martin’s School of Art, with colleagues such as Anthony Caro and David Annesley, under the headship of Frank Martin; at this time, it was the one of the most famous sculpture departments in the world.

In August 1962, he married Selma Hope Nankivell (1934-), an artist and art lecturer. She became involved in preserving Brighton’s heritage, and was granted an MBE for this in 2006. They moved to Brighton in July 1965 with a young family to a house with a large garden. His life passion has been gardening, planting many of the trees to be found in the street. They still live in the same house 54 years later in 2019.

Adrian came out of retirement to teach life drawing at the Royal College of Art, London, ca. 1990, for some years, and he appeared on ITV’s South Bank Show around the same time, and in an article in The Times of 5 February 1991. He exhibited at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition, continued to paint and make prints, and in later life, has been increasingly drawn to pottery.

Adrian has been a keen gardener, and although now more frail, he still takes great pleasure in the beautiful garden he has created. The photo below, taken by his son Piran Montford, shows Adrian in his garden studio, surrounded by both his sculpture and plants.

Adrian Montford in his studio  2019 - photo by Piran Montford

With grateful thanks to Piran Montford for the biographical information incorporated in this piece, and to Robert Cowlin for making the digital transfer of the disc.

23 October 2019

A privilege to be alive on Fair Isle

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds, writes: 

It may come as little surprise, but wildlife sound recordists are usually absent from their recordings. It makes perfect sense, of course; the primary aim of these recordings is to capture the vocalisations of a particular animal or the collective sounds of a habitat. Through the use of microphone grips, long leads and stillness, recordists can completely remove themselves from the sonic picture they're creating.

Occasionally a recording will begin or end with an announcement. Here the recordist may state the location, time of day, weather conditions or species heard. Sometimes we hear the animated protestations of a recordist under attack (trust me, this happens). Other times it might be the gentle snores of a dozing recordist. But, for the most part, recordings are dedicated to nature and nature alone.

The following recording is a little different. And it's one of my favourites. It was made by Patrick Sellar, co-founder of the British Library's wildlife sounds collection, in 1974 on the Scottish Island of Fair Isle. The main subject of the recording is the Great Skua (Stercorarius skua), or Bonxie to use its colloquial name, however throughout the recording Patrick gives us a running commentary of the events taking place. He speaks of a birdwatching group approaching the nest site and describes the aerial attacks that this approach elicits (the alarm calls of one of the birds can clearly be heard). He then turns his attention to the landscape itself, describing in detail the clear view, light wind and calm sea. Though the calls of the Great Skua, along with the sweet aerial song of a nearby Skylark, can be heard throughout the recording, it's Patrick's description of what can't be heard that really helps us, as listeners, recreate the scene in our minds. As the birds call out we can almost feel the gentle breeze on our face and see the tiny, white-crested waves below. 

Though I love the entire recording, it's Patrick's closing sentence that has really stayed with me. After describing the scene so evocatively, he signs off with the words ' It's one of those days that's a real privilege to be alive on Fair Isle'. For me, these words perfectly encapsulate the power of nature. To make us stop and remember just how lucky we are to be alive is really quite something. 

Patrick  Sellar recording Great Skuas on Fair Isle, 1974 (BL ref 02672)

Colour photograph of the north coast of Fair IsleFair Isle, photographed in August 1974 by Dr Julian Paren (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This recording is just one of many which has been digitised as part of Unlocking our Sound Heritage, an ambitious 5 year project which aims to preserve and provide access to 500,000 rare and at risk recordings from across the nation. 

Follow @CherylTipp, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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21 October 2019

Recording of the week: turning down Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

In his life story recording the artist Michael Rothenstein related a remarkable story about an encounter between his teacher A. S. Hartrick and the artist Vincent van Gogh.

Michael Rothenstein (1908-1993) was a painter, printmaker, and teacher. He taught at Camberwell School of Art for many years and is known for using experimental printing techniques in the 1950s and 1960s. He was recorded for the National Life Stories project Artists' Lives in 1990. While Rothenstein was studying at Chelsea Polytechnic (now Chelsea School of Art) he was taught by several artists, including A. S. Hartrick (1864-1950).

Rothenstein had fond memories of his teacher, ‘Well, he was a delightful man. He seemed very much a human being to me, and he liked talking about his past, and he loved talking about van Gogh…’

In the late 1880s, A. S. Hartrick, a painter and talented draughtsman, was studying in Paris. He became friends with the artist Toulouse-Lautrec – who drew a portrait of Hartrick from memory in 1933 – and the painter Vincent van Gogh. One summer Hartrick had no need for his rented room and decided to offer it to van Gogh. In Rothenstein’s recording he describes how this place was ‘just the job for van Gogh’, as the room had a window overlooking the street and ‘he loved making notes of anything that excited him, you know, a woman carrying a bundle of faggots, or an old horse trotting down the street with sacks of coal, or whatever it was.’ Apparently when van Gogh felt inspired by something he had seen, he would begin to hiss… while reaching for something to draw with.

At that time, when reaching for something to draw with, van Gogh would have been likely to fish out a homemade wax crayon from his pocket ‘…he'd get hold of candle ends, and he'd melt them down in a metal spoon, and he liked to use either red, scarlet, or blue powder, and that gave him a big chunk of wax crayon that he carried in his pocket…’ Rothenstein puts this inventiveness down to van Gogh’s poverty: ‘He really did have no money, and he wanted to use big, big things to draw with…’

When presented with the newly whitewashed walls surrounding the window in Hartrick’s room, van Gogh apparently couldn’t resist filling this blank canvas with scenes from the street below. By the time Hartrick returned to Paris the walls of his room were completely covered in van Gogh’s drawings, created, of course, using candle wax.

Van Gogh, as a thank you to his friend (and one can assume, perhaps as an apology for the state of the walls) turned up with a selection of his canvases and offered one to Hartrick. This selection happened to include one of van Gogh’s paintings from his ‘Sunflowers’ series. However Hartrick ‘couldn’t stand his work’ and politely declined, later explaining to his student Rothenstein that ‘It would have been agony to me, to have to walk away, or hang up one of them, or to live with it.’ Hartrick encouraged van Gogh to ask his brother to sell the paintings, perhaps anticipating their value. Little did he know that in 1987 one of van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ paintings would sell for $39.85 million.

Michael Rothenstein on Hartrick and van Gogh (C466/02)

Vincent van Gogh's 'Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers', painted in 1888Vincent van Gogh, Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers, 1888. Image courtesy National Gallery (NG3863)

Visit British Library Sounds to listen to Michael Rothenstein's  10-part life story recording which was conducted as part of Artists' Lives, an ongoing oral history project which documents the lives of individuals involved in British art, including painters, sculptors, curators, dealers and critics.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

18 October 2019

Black History Month: King Menelik and Queen Taytu's phonograph message to Queen Victoria

Menelik II Emperor of EthiopiaNegusa Nagast (King of Kings) Menelik II of Ethiopia

Guest blog by Eyob Derillo of the British Library Ethiopian collection

The year 2019 marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of King Menelik II, one of Ethiopia’s most famous and influential monarchs. King Menelik and his wife Queen Taytu bequeathed an important legacy to all Africa.  To celebrate their many achievements and lasting influence as Ethiopia’s most popular king and queen, we would like to invite you to hear a phonograph recording of the voices of these monarchs.

Few African leaders have achieved such fame as the Ethiopian King Menilik II.  He was born in Shewa on 17th August 1844 to King Haile Malakot (1824-1855) and his wife Woizero Ejigayehu. After the death of his father, Menelik was taken prisoner by Emperor Tewodros II, and ten years of his life were spent in captivity at the fort of Maqdala.  In November 1889, after the death of Yohannes IV, he was proclaimed King of Kings, Menelik II.  According to the official Ethiopian court chronicle of the period, he was named after the legendary first king of Ethiopia Menelik I , who was the eldest son of Makeda, Queen of Sheba and ruled over the country in the 10th century BC.

Menelik II’s triumphs on the battlefield of Adwa (1896) against an invading force of Italian troops allowed him to extend Ethiopia’s sphere of influence over most of East Africa.  Menelik II was the first Ethiopian king to succeed in mobilizing all the quarrelling nobles and regional rulers to unite against the Italian aggression.  His victory completely reshaped the balance of power in the Horn of Africa, allowing Ethiopia to play an assertive role in the geopolitics of the strategic Red Sea region.  Under his rule Ethiopia reached the zenith of its economic, political, diplomatic and cultural power.  The era of King Menelik II and Queen Taytu also saw the geographical expansion of the boundaries of the Ethiopian kingdom.  For peoples suffering under colonial rule Ethiopia became a symbol of hope and inspiration in their struggle towards freedom.  King Menelik’s great victory against the Italian General Oreste Baratieri at the Battle of Adwa also become a source of inspiration for the worldwide movement of pan-Africanism in the early twentieth century.

The Battle of AdwaThe Battle of Adwa, painting by an unknown Ethiopian artist. The painting depicts the Battle of Adwa, fought between Italy and Abyssinia in 1896 (Photo - © The British Museum)

Equally celebrated for her considerable political power and participation in the Battle of Adwa was Taytu Betul (c.1851-1918). Taytu was descended from a northern princely family who had ruled the northern region of Ethiopia since the seventeenth century.  Her education and family background gave her a keen insight into the workings of the court and political life, rendering her a formidable ruler in her own right.  Queen Taytu was admired for her mastery of the way the power structure functioned, and her diplomatic tact in dealing with the quarrelling factions of nobles who were constantly vying for the king's patronage.  As a result she was popularly known as ‘the light of Ethiopia’.

Queen Taytu

Portrait of Queen Taytu by Georgios Prokopiou (1905)

The capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, was founded by Menelik II in 1889, though it is important to note that the location was both selected, and named by Taytu.  Her reign can be seen as representing the foundation of modern Ethiopia.  Menelik, on the other hand, founded the first modern school, and established the Ethiopian national bank, as well as the first railway, telegraph system and telephone lines.  One spectacular achievement was the construction of the railway from the Red Sea coast to Addis Ababa.

The victory of Adwa brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world, and soon new diplomatic relations were established and old ones renewed.  The history of diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and England can be traced as far back as the fifteenth century.  The British Library’s collections include the copy of a letter from King Henry IV to 'Prester John, King of Abyssinia' written in 1400, seeking to open communications and establish diplomatic relations.  With the expansion of Ottoman power in the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa, from the sixteenth century onwards the diplomatic relations between Europe and Ethiopia were characterized by a mutual awareness of the vital role each side could play in checking and containing the steady and at times seemingly irresistible expansion of the Ottoman Empire. 

Britain was one of the first to resume its alliance with Ethiopia, and in 1898 Queen Victoria sent a recorded phonograph message to King Menelik and Queen Taytu, expressing the 'hope that the friendship between our two Empires will constantly increase.'  In the following year King Menelik and Queen Taytu returned the compliment by making phonograph recordings of their voices and sending them to Queen Victoria.  Although in poor sound, these cylinder recordings, made 120 years ago, capture a unique relationship between monarchs who never met.

King Menelik II 1899

An Amharic transcription of the recording was made by Abraham Demoz for the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1969:

I, Menelik II, king of kings of Ethiopia, say to our very honoured friend Victoria, Queen of the great English people, 'May the Saviour of the World give you health!'

When the very beautiful and excellent phonograph (recording) of the Queen reached me by the hands of Monsieur Harrington and when I heard the voice of Your Majesty (as if) you were beside me, I listened with great pleasure.

May God thank you for your good wishes for us and for my kingdom.  May God give you long life and health and give your people peace and repose.  I have spoken with M. Harrington concerning all issues between both our peoples.  When he told me that he was now returning to England, I said to him that I would be pleased if he could settle all our affairs before coming back.  And now, may the Queen receive him well.

Furthermore, we have told M. Harrington about Matamma, how our great king is and many of our compatriots died there for their religious zeal.  I have hopes that you will help us in having the English government recognize this city for us.

May God help us that Ethiopia and England may remain in peace and friendship.  Having said this, I extend my greetings of respect to your great people.

Queen Taytu 1899

I, Itege (Queen) Taitu, Light of Ethiopia, say to the very honoured Queen Victoria, the great Queen of the English...  May God give you health.  Your phonograph has reached me.  With great pleasure I listened to you (as if) you were beside me.  And now, since God has willed to bring my voice to the ear of the honoured Queen, I declare ... that God give you health and long life.  May God keep you many years in good health.

References

Demoz, Abraham: 'Emperor Menelik's Phonograph Message to Queen Victoria.'  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, vol. 32, no. 2, 1969, pp. 251–256. 

Jonas, R. A., 2011. The Battle of Adwa: African victory in the age of empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Prouty, C., 1986. Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethiopia 1883-1910. London : Trenton: Ravens Educational & Development Services; Red Sea Press.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

17 October 2019

AWATE's Journey into the Past

AWATE joined the British Library this summer as Artist-in-Residence for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, the British Library’s major project to digitally preserve and widely share the nation’s rare and at-risk sounds. During his five-month residency, AWATE will use the extensive sound archive to weave together a long-form genre-bending musical piece exploring the subject of diaspora and human migration. In this blog, AWATE writes about his first introduction to the Library’s sound archive and Conservation Centre.

Image of AWATE stood in front of shelves of collection items in the British Library's basement archives.
AWATE stands in front of shelves of collection items in the British Library's basement archives.

Having grown up in Maiden Lane Estate, a mile away from the British Library, I would see the grand building that was completed in 1998 and marvel at the architecture, art and posters, as I went by on the bus. As a child reading was my sanctuary away from the traumas that came with being a refugee in London during the 1990s, and the added fact that this building was next door to the fictional portal to Hogwarts made it even more special.

The mobile library that would come to the edge of our estate got the young me more excited than seeing an ice cream van, and in secondary school, I was the student-library liaison for many years, which meant I would write a list of up to 10 books a month that the school would order for us. Young adult novels by William Nicholson or Jacqueline Wilson, collections of short stories and poems by Benjamin Zephaniah or African history by Cheikh Anta Diop; my school would order them all.

On my first day as ‘Artist in Residence’ at the British Library – as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project – I was given a tour of the basement and conservation areas and realised that this place wouldn’t need me to help fill their shelves!

Image of AWATE looking through boxes of cassettes and logs of music in the British Library's basements.
AWATE looking through boxes of cassettes and logs of music the British Library's basements.

The British Library’s Conservation Centre (BLCC) is a relatively new addition to the building, with state of the art studios amongst ancient sound equipment and recordings. One of the first things you encounter in the BLCC are two colourful, wood-panelled jukeboxes. Next to these are huge tape machines from the 1980s that would have been centrepieces of the top recording studios of their time. Further down the hallway, several gramophones with different designs line the walls beside a statue of Nipper, the dog famously used as the mascot of His Master’s Voice or HMV.

I was shown where and how recordings are digitally preserved in the BL’s system with tags and descriptions of the quality of the recordings before seeing the actual studios where they are digitised. After analogue formats are carefully assessed, sometimes needing sonic baths to remove microscopic specks of dust or a go around a tape cleaner which resembles a grandfather clock, the materials are ready for the complicated process of digitisation. This involves a puzzle of directions, as some reel-to-reel tapes are mismatched at various different speeds for a single recording. The analogue records being digitised, whether they’re vinyl, shellac or lacquer, sit on a turntable made sturdy by a large block of marble so that vibrations in the room or the nearby London Underground trains do not jog the needle.

During my tour of the second floor of the basement, where a considerable parts of the sound collections are held, I was amazed at every turn. As soon as you enter, you notice that the ceiling is covered in shiny metal rails that look like they belong in the Terry Gilliam classic, ‘Brazil’. These chutes are used to transport books from the basement to the reading rooms where people have requested specific titles. Past the ‘Shawshank Redemption’ looking gates, the vastness of the archives becomes evident. 

Image of AWATE standing beneath the cavernous ceiling of one the British Library basements, examining the conveyor system that transport books to the reading rooms.
AWATE stands beneath the cavernous ceiling of one the British Library basements, examining the conveyor system that transports books to the reading rooms.

From top to bottom, row after row, and in all directions there are seemingly endless shelves of artefacts. When looking closer, the variety of the objects is clear. CDs and cassette tapes, I know. Vinyl records, I know from my life as a rapper and music lover. But in addition, DAT tapes from the first WOMAD festival are stored beside reel-to-reel tape cases looking like giant wheels of mechanical cheese inside. Tapes of recordings from LBC and Capital Radio line the walls with words on them like ‘Royal Wedding 1981’ or ‘Pope Shooting’. The further I went; it was like stepping further back into time. At the push of a button, what I assumed were walls would move to reveal further rows of treasure.

Copper-coated cases containing gramophone matrices - or masters - held some of the earliest BBC Radio recordings available. Speeches by government ministers sat beside broadcasts from the Middle East. Gloves must be worn before handling any of these. I kept my gloves on as I was shown the oldest objects in the sound archive. Dating to the late 1890s, these wax cylinders with their beautifully designed labels from the Edison and Lambert companies’ document ethnographic research done in Oceania, West Africa and the music halls of London. The vivid colours of the wax cylinders made no sense to me, as they looked to have not faded at all in over 100 years with bright blues, reds, greens and pinks.

Image of AWATE chatting with Jowan from the British Library’s Acquisitions and Cataloguing team, while inspecting wax cylinders that 100 years old.
AWATE chats with Jowan from the British Library’s Acquisitions and Cataloguing team, while inspecting wax cylinders over 100 years old.

For days after my tour of the BLCC and basement of this great library, it was all I could think about. Seeing all these pieces of history in different formats from all over the world was overwhelming. The number of sound recordings in the sound archive reach almost 7 million and setting eyes on each of the physical originals would take far longer than my five-month residency would allow. In essence, all I had really seen was the outside of these artefacts, the cover and not the content. The history documented on them itself would take an eternity to experience. And there is more being added every day…

I began to ask myself questions about how long it would take to listen to all of the cylinders, records, tapes, wires and CDs in the basement? If someone lived down there for a lifetime, would they even make a dent in the amount of content stored on those devices?

Without the expertise of the incredibly knowledgeable and outgoing staff at the British Library, this project would be impossible, as I would be lost in the sheer amount of recordings in their possession. The curatorial teams have taken time out of their busy schedules to point me in the right direction for what I wish to accomplish. I still hope I don’t get lost, though.

 

Learn more about AWATE and his residency at the Library

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is the British Library’s major National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project to catalogue, digitally preserve and share the nation’s rare and unique sounds.

Find out more about Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

14 October 2019

Recording of the week: Dr John interviewed by Charlie Gillett

This week's selection comes from Andy Linehan, Curator of Popular Music.

Charlie Gillett, in his later years best-known as a World Music broadcaster, spent many years investigating the roots of rock music. He hosted Honky-Tonk on BBC Radio London in the 1970s where many of his guests were influential figures in the history of rock that Charlie traced in his book The sound of the City.

This excerpt is from an interview Charlie conducted with legendary New Orleans musician Dr. John, who describes a recording session in London where he had to find musicians at short notice – luckily he had some good contacts that resulted in some well-known names coming to his aid. The sessions were eventually issued on his album The Sun, Moon & Herbs.

The entire interview takes place in the back of a taxi driving through New Orleans with all the background noise that entails plus the occasional interruptions of a small child who is also in the cab. It probably wasn’t good enough quality for broadcast use but does provide first-hand testimony about Dr John’s relationship with his fellow musicians and management and the problems they encountered with the stresses of touring and recording.

Excerpt from Charlie Gillett interview with Dr John (C510/46-48)

Open reel tape containing Charlie Gillett's interview with Dr John (C510/46-48))Open reel tape containing Charlie Gillett's interview with Dr John (C510/46-48)

The Charlie Gillett collection contains interviews and broadcasts from both his early work as a presenter and writer specialising in the history of rock’n’roll and his later interest and influence on the development of the world music scene in the UK. He died in 2010 and his collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @BL_PopMusic and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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07 October 2019

Recording of the week: No prisoners

This week's selection comes from Mat Hart, World & Traditional Music volunteer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

This beautiful song is composed and performed by Madi Lehbib, who sings and plays percussion on this track, with accompaniment from guitarist Mahmud Bara. The song is sung in local Arabic dialect – Hassaniya. Madi’s lyrics reject the idea of political imprisonment and oppression, which his community – the Saharawi’s – have experienced as refugees living in exile in the Tindouf Province of South-Western Algeria.

The Saharawi’s are ethnically mixed descendants of Berbers, Arabs, and Black Africans. They have been living in exile since the mid-1970’s after fleeing from Moroccan forces during the Western Sahara War. Today, their people and communities live in refugee camps set up across the Tindouf Province. Having lived for centuries in the deserts of the Western Sahara, known as Africa’s last colony, the Saharawi’s land is, to this day, still occupied by Morocco and pending decolonisation.

Musical performances at the camps are common, as there are many musicians within the Saharawi community, though the lack of resources in the refugee camps forces musicians to constantly improvise with their instrumentation. In this recording, Madi is playing percussion on the body of his friend’s guitar. There is a humble beauty to his performance, which brings the Arabic voice and acoustic guitar together in gentle harmony.

No Prisoners performed by Madi Lehbib & Mahmud Bara, recorded by Violeta Ruano (C1640/1)

Photograph of Madi Lehbib during the sessionPhotograph of Madi Lehbib during the recording session

This recording was made by sound recordist Violeta Ruano Posada. Violeta spent six months staying in the various refugee camps during 2013 and 2014 conducting ethnographic fieldwork as part of her PhD research at London’s SOAS University - commissioned by the sound archive. This recording was made at the “Cape Bojador” refugee camp and was recorded at the camp’s shabiba (youth centre) with the help of a group of local Saharawi sound students.

To listen to more sound recordings of Sahrawi Music, browse the Violeta Ruano collection on British Library Sounds

Follow @BL_WorldTrad, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.