THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

26 posts categorized "Africa"

18 October 2019

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

Add comment

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

07 October 2019

Recording of the week: No prisoners

Add comment

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.

17 September 2019

Beginnings: Arabic music in the 'Ezra Hakkāk and Emile Cohen Collection

Add comment

Hazem Jamjoum joined the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project in April 2019 as Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer. Over the next 2-3 years he will be working on the Library's audio collections connected with the Gulf region to scope, catalogue and research them, to manage their preservation and access and to write about them. In this blog Hazem talks of his introduction to the collections.

 

It was at the very beginning, less than three weeks into my role as Gulf History Audio Curator that I found myself with British Library Sound Archive doyen Ian Macaskill in the disc and tape-bestrewn room through which newly acquired sound and moving image materials enter the British Library’s collections. At the end of this audio-cataloguer rite of passage, one foot already out the door, I was beckoned back into the room to describe my role at the Library to another veteran of the accessioning team. As if awaiting confirmation that I would work with Arabic language materials, a bemused Jowan Collier rose from his seat and began the dance around the stacks of CDs to the other end of the room. “I imagine there’s a box that’s been sitting here that might just pique your interest.” A few dozen shellacs in an assortment of discrepant sleeves lay in a dark wooden box marked “532: Emile Cohen Collection.” A yellow sticky note, curled up like a delaminated lacquer disc on the side of the box announced October 25, 2016 as the donation date.

Image of Emile Cohen Box
“…there’s a box that’s been sitting here that might just pique your interest.”


I eventually found out that it was my predecessor on the British Library-Qatar Foundation partnership, Rolf Killius, who had arranged for this gift. Rolf had delivered a lecture about Iraqi music at the British Institute for the Study of Iraq after which an elderly gentleman introduced himself, and soon thereafter offered to donate a collection of shellacs to the British Library. This was Emile Cohen. Born in Baghdad in 1943 to a secular scion of a rabbinical family, Emile spent the evenings of his youth listening to the dozens of guests who would assemble at his grandfather’s house for edifying conversation. Given the centrality of Baghdad’s Jewish community to the city’s musical life, much of this conversation centred on things musical. It didn’t hurt that from the roof of their house they could eavesdrop on the regular musical performances at the nightclub next door. Cohen had obtained the recordings from 'Ezra Hakkāk. The Hakkāk’s owned a shop on al-Rasheed Street in Baghdad and another in Tehran that started off selling leather goods, branching out into sewing machines, electronics and, ultimately gramophone machines and records.

Emile narrates much about these and other stories in an oral history interview conducted by Richard Green and held at the Library as part of the Sephardi Voices UK Collection (C1638), and which comprises oral history testimony about the settlement of Jews from West Asia and North Africa in the UK.

Image of Emile Cohen with Collection – photo by Rolf Killius 2016
Emile Cohen just before a trip to the British Library to donate his shellac collection. Photo: Rolf Killius, 2016.

Much can be said about what was in that little box, but ‘beginnings’ might be ‘a very good place to start’ given how many of the recordings contained in that box of wonders embodied career-launching events in the contributing artists’ biographies. At the very top of the box’s stack of discs lay two Baidaphon records by the legendary Laylā Murād (1918-1995). Though Murād had achieved enough fame as a teenager in one of Cairo’s top music halls to be cast in one of the earliest full length Egyptian films (al-Dhaḥāyā [The Victims], 1932, dir. Bahija Hafez and Ibrahim Lama), hers was a minor role in the silent film. She achieved a bit more notoriety when that film was reissued as a ‘talkie’ a few years later, landing her a recording deal with Baidaphon that resulted in Ḥabbayt w shuft ktīr (I've loved and seen a great deal), which was also in the box. But it was not until her 1938 collaboration with Moḥammad ʻAbd al-Wahhāb on the film Yaḥyā al-Ḥubb (Long Live Love, dir. Moḥammad Karīm) that her career as a superstar singer and actor began. Indeed, the two records at the top of the delightful box were Yā mā ʼaraqq al-nasīm (oh how soft the breeze) and Yā qalbī mālak (oh my heart, what is the matter), both written by Aḥmad Rāmī and composed by ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, and both from that film’s soundtrack.

Image of Habbayt w shuft kteer on the Baidaphon label
“Ḥabbayt w shuft ktīr” on the Baidaphon label. Recorded when she was 19 years of age, it was one of Layla Murad’s very first recordings.

Nestled among the shellacs in the box of wonders was a little 17cm disc in its original sleeve proclaiming the artist as “Om Kalsoum”, one of more than a dozen variations on the Egyptian diva’s name. The recording is “Enta fein wel ḥobb fein” which roughly translates as “love is here, and you are way over there”, a song much better known after its opening verse "ḥubb eh illi-inta gayy tʼūl 'aleh" (what love is it that you speak of). By 1960, when this song was first performed, Um Kulthūm was already well established as the pre-eminent Arab artist across the region. Indeed, at that time Egypt and Syria had united into the United Arab Republic, and Um Kulthūm had been chosen to sing the union’s national anthem. But it was the largely unknown composer of this runaway hit who skyrocketed to regional fame when it was first performed. Balīgh Ḥamdī (1931-1993) had studied music since the age of nine, spending his college years between law school and the music academy before trying his hand as a singer in the late 1950s. It was around this time that Um Kulthūm was looking for a new sound, meeting Ḥamdī at the recommendation of singer (and Misrphon label owner) Moḥamad Fawzī. In the two decades that followed the success of ḥubb eh, Ḥamdī became one of the most sought after composers in the Arab world, composing for every major artist of the mid-twentieth century as well as for radio, television, theatre and the cinema. Hip hop aficionados will be very familiar with Timbaland’s sampling of the melody from Ḥamdī’s Khusāra khusāra on Jay Z’s first major hit single, Big Pimpin’. Intellectual property enthusiasts are likely also familiar with it after Ḥamdī’s nephew sued Jay Z, Timbaland and EMI in 2007 for copyright infringement. The court summarily dismissed the case in 2015, finding that Egyptian law was not applicable, and that as a result the artists and the recording company were under no obligation to seek the permission of Ḥamdī’s family for what the family considered a debauched use of Balīgh Ḥamdī’s work.

Image of Um Kulthūm on the cover of Enta Fein wel Hobb Fein
The original sleeve of Um Kulthūm’s ḥubb eh, composed by Balīgh Ḥamdī


In addition to a host of other career-making recordings, Emile Cohen’s gift can tell the tale of another sort of beginning; the beginning of Egyptian music’s regional dominance in the interwar period. Many of those involved in the development of cultural production in Egypt since the nineteenth century were artists whose families had moved to Egypt from Greater Syria, a trend that continued well into the twentieth century. From this collection alone, some names that stand out include:

  • Ṣabāḥ, who was brought to Egypt from Mount Lebanon by filmmaker ’Āssia Dāgher and ultimately recorded over 3000 songs and performed in over 100 plays and films;
  • Moḥammad Salmān, who moved to Cairo from Mt. Lebanon to pursue a career in music but would later find his passion as an actor and filmmaker in the Egyptian capital;
  • Ḥalīm al-Rūmī, who grew up in Palestine performing as an amateur until he was sent to study at the music academy in Cairo in 1937. There, he became deeply involved in composing and performing for radio audiences before eventually becoming head of music programming at the Near East Broadcasting Service in Palestine until the expulsion of, and denial of return to, two-thirds of the Palestinian population in 1947-1948. After a few years with the broadcast service which had moved to Cyprus, he moved to Lebanon to head the music department at the Lebanese radio service al-Sharq al-Awsat;
  • Najāḥ Salām’s Beiruti father was a well-known composer and ‘ūd player and took the chanteuse, already known in Lebanon, to Cairo in 1948 to meet many of the leading musical figures of the Egyptian capital. This, of course, did wonders for her career. So much so that by the mid-1970s she was granted honorary Egyptian citizenship.
  • Sihām Rifqī who moved from Syria to Egypt for a music and film career, recording over a dozen hits before an early retirement;
    and of course
  • Farīd al-‘Aṭrash and Amal al-‘Aṭrash (aka Asmahān), brother and sister born to a notable Druze family that had led the resistance against the French occupation of Syria, moving to Egypt because of the anticolonial connections between their family and that of the Egyptian independence movement’s leader Sa‘d Zaghlūl. The siblings rose to dominate the music and musical film scene in Cairo by the 1940s.
Image of Baidaphon sleeve featuring their top recording artists
Baidaphon was a Beirut-based record label, and possibly the first homegrown music recording company in the Arab world. This sleeve from the 1940s showcases the company’s top recording artists. It is notable that all of these artists hail from Greater Syria, and all of them launched their stardom and regional celebrity in Egypt. Clockwise from the top: Asmahān, Najāḥ Salām, Ḥalīm al-Rūmī, Sihām Rifqī, Moḥammad Salmān, Ḥanān. The record in the photograph is by an Egyptian dancer of Syrian origin, Bibā ʻIzz al-Dīn, who achieved far more notoriety for her live shows in Cairo’s music halls than she did for her recorded output.

Those familiar with postcolonial dynamics will be particularly aware of just how politicised cultural battles between former coloniser and colonised can be. In the case of Arab states emerging from British, French and Italian colonial rule, and in light of the centrality of Cairo described above, the battle over national culture was also waged with an eye to Egypt. Whether in Tunisia, Iraq, or elsewhere, the mid-twentieth century witnessed an immense amount of activity that practically accepted Egyptian cultural production as the language of Arabic culture, but each of these fledgling nation-states sought to develop and elevate their own dialect within that. The dynamic between language and dialect is not only metaphor; any composer in the interwar period who wanted to produce 'serious' music had to do so in either classical Arabic or an Egyptian dialect, while other dialects were reserved for their own folklore. After the post-WWII wave of postcolonial independence, composers and lyricists beyond the confines of Cairo sought a legitimacy for their own dialects, including other Egyptian dialects, as ones that could convey a cultivated urbanity.

The recordings in this collection help tell that story as it unfolded in Lebanon. The early recordings by Ṣabāḥ and Wadī‘ al-Ṣāf ī in the collection typify the folkloric bent of the music recorded in Lebanon well into the 1940s. One of the more significant recordings in the collection is the song Waynik yā Laylā (Where are you Layla) by Sāmī al-Ṣaydāwī, who originally composed the song for Lebanese singer Kamāl al-Ṭawīl. Both Ṣaydāwī and Ṭawīl had built careers performing in the Egyptian dialect to audiences in both Egypt and Greater Syria; Waynik yā Laylā was one of the early non-folkloric songs performed and recorded in the Syro-Lebanese dialect, forming part of a trend that would continue and grow over the decades that followed.

Image of the iconic cover art of Fairūz and the Raḥbānī brothers’ 1952 hit: ʻItāb (reproach)
The iconic cover art of Fairūz and the Raḥbānī brothers’ 1952 hit: ʻItāb (reproach)



The artists who did the most to propel Lebanese song into the more exalted register regionally all had a part to play in yet another item in the box of wonders. The song ʻItāb (reproach), appearing on the Zodephone label in the early 1950s, was an instant hit, one that proved momentous for the emergence of Beirut as Cairo’s main musical rival. The vocalist, Nuhād Haddād, had been 'discovered' a few years earlier by Mohamad Flayfel, composer of such songs as Mawṭini (‘my homeland’, the popularly accepted national anthem of Palestine, and the post-2003-occupation anthem of Iraq) and Ḥumāt al-Diyār (‘defenders of the home,’ the national anthem of Syria). Flayfel encouraged Haddād to study music at the conservatory, and to immerse herself in that repository of vocal technique at the heart of ecstatic Arabic song: Qur’anic recitation (tajwīd). While at the conservatory, Ḥalīm al-Rūmī heard her sing and decided to take her under his wing, introducing her to his friends the Raḥbānī brothers, ‘Assī and Manṣūr. Rūmī also decided to pick out a stage name for her, one that means turquoise, and that millions of people now associate with their morning coffee: Fairūz.

As a romance blossomed between ‘Assī Raḥbānī and Nuhād (they married in 1955), so did their creative collaboration, the first fruit of which was the song ʻItāb that is on this recording. The airing of this song on Lebanese and then Syrian radio in late 1952 launched Fairūz’s regional fame, enabling her to sign her first recording contract with Zodephone. Indeed, Zodephone's early success as a record company was based on the company's recordings of Fairuz songs.

All that’s left to say is a big warm thank you to Emile Cohen and ‘Ezra Hakkāk for such wonderful beginnings!

 

Written by Hazem Jamjoum, Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project (BLQF), which produces the Qatar Digital Library. Follow the BLQF Project @BLQatar

Follow The British Library’s World and Traditional Music team @BL_WorldTrad

Follow Unlocking Our Sound Heritage updates @BLSoundHeritage

21 July 2019

Recording of the week: Nelson Mandela in the UK

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Adonis Leboho, Communications Intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Last Thursday, people all over the world marked Mandela Day through commemorative events celebrating the legacy of the heroic anti-apartheid revolutionary.

Nelson Mandela fought against institutionalised racial segregation in South Africa for decades, enduring twenty-seven years of imprisonment until the ruling regime finally gave in to domestic and international pressure and released him. Eventually succeeding in the fight against apartheid, Mandela went on to lead South Africa as its president, setting about the difficult task of healing the nation’s deep wounds after years of division.

In a recording digitised through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, Mandela addresses gathered journalists at a press conference during his visit to the UK following his release, likely at the International Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in 1990.

Photograph of Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela photographed smiling in Johannesburg, Gauteng, May 2008 (courtesy of South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za via Wikimedia Commons)

Still full of energy and resolve, Mandela uses this platform to draw attention to the continuing struggle to dismantle apartheid. In his clear and considered way, Mandela also responds to difficult questions about the state of his political party, the ANC, and the struggle for human rights around the world.

In the clip I have selected, Mandela discusses the role of artists in successfully communicating political messages, especially in ways politicians just aren’t able to manage. Though he admits he didn’t have much time to keep up with the latest musical trends because of the demands on his time and lack of access to music, Mandela talks about how he came to develop an appreciation of the work of musicians, as they used their art to campaign for his freedom.

Nelson Mandela (C1132/148)

Found in the Rob Waldron Radio Broadcasts collection, this recording captures Mandela’s integrity, dedication and compassion right at the moment when he is forging South Africa’s democratic future.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage for regular updates on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

22 April 2019

Recording of the week: a lesson in bird song duets and trios

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

With hundreds of recordings of birds from around East Africa, Myles E. W. North is a name that constantly crops up within the enormous collection of wildlife species reels here at the library. During his time with the Colonial Administrative Service in Kenya, Myles developed a keen interest in ornithology and, combined with his interest in music, this turned into a passion for recording and studying bird song. He had an excellent ear and was able to transcribe and mimic bird song very accurately. He released two highly praised records: ‘Voices of African Birds’ and ‘More Voices of African Birds’.

In this recording of Tropical Boubous - one of many outtakes from his commercial releases - Myles presents a selection of duets from the birds with announcements in between explaining how the duet works. He accurately whistles the part of each bird, and even uses a recorder (an end blown flute, not his EMI reel-to-reel machine) to demonstrate the lower notes that he cannot whistle.

Photograph of a pair of Tropical Boubous in Hwange National Park, ZimbabweTropical Boubous in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo credit: Derek Keats on Visual Hunt / CC BY)

Tropical Boubou duets & trios (BL ref WS2882 C3)

This excerpt features what Myles believes is a trio of boubous all adding their own part to the melody and, without his input, you would be forgiven for believing it was all one bird. Myles’ personality really shines through in this recording, demonstrating his knowledge and experience as he breaks down a complicated ensemble of birdsong with some brilliant mimicry.

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

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

11 February 2019

Recording of the week: the endingidi and the erhu – two types of the spike tube fiddle

Add comment

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

The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system is a way of grouping types of musical instruments by structure and the way in which sound is produced, rather than the culture from which the instruments are made. This system reflects the classification of the animal kingdom by skeletal structure, rather than by size or behaviour. This means that similar types of musical instruments can be found in very different parts of the world and playing different styles of music.

The two instruments featured here are both spike tube fiddles. That is to say, the string bearer passes right through the resonator of the instrument. In this case, the resonator is a tube, at right angles to the spike.

One instrument is the endingidi (or ndingidi) from Uganda. The other is the erhu, a two stringed instrument from China.

Photograph of two types of spike tube fiddleTwo types of spike tube fiddle (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz - Ethnologisches Museum, CC-BY-SA-NC-ND)

Our recording of the week is an unidentified song for erhu and voice, recorded by Colin Huehns during a field trip to Xinxiang, China, in 1994.

Unidentified song for erhu and voice (C485/79)

There are quite a few other examples of both instruments on Europeana here. In addition, you can see the erhu played in this photograph of “Female Musicians and singers of Foo-Chow” taken around 1910, provided on Europeana by the Världskulturmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND). It’s played rather like a cello, but the bow is held with the palm facing upwards rather than downwards.

Photograph entitled 'Female musicians and singers of Foo-Chow'

Over 1000 recordings of music from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as China, can be found in the Colin Huehns Asia collection on British Library Sounds.

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

28 January 2019

Recording of the week: Bubu music from Tasso Island

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Natural history broadcaster and author Dennis Furnell first travelled to Sierra Leone in January 1991 to record wildlife sounds for his radio programme Country Scene, broadcast on BBC Bedfordshire. As an active environmentalist involved with charities such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International, he was part of a group visit, organized by the European Common Market, to Sierra Leone to see if it was possible to create an infrastructure for ecotourism. It was his first and only trip to the country.

The following recording was made by Furnell on 24 January on Tasso Island, about 8 miles east of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Made on cassette, this is a sound recording of traditional Bubu music, a genre modernised and popularised by Sierra Leonean pop star Ahmed Janka Nabay (January 5, 1964 – April 2, 2018) who first released music in his early 20s, also on cassette tape. Traditional Bubu music, played on “bamboo flutes, carburetor pipes, and other metal tubes of different sizes, as well as large wooden boxes, shakers, cowbells, and triangles…” (Nuxoll, 2015) has served diverse purposes in Sierra Leone, being linked with folk rituals (witchcraft), Islamic festivities and carnivals. Its popularised version, enhanced with synthesisers and drum machines, was appropriated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during the Sierra Leonean Civil War –

'During the war, civilians who suffered direct encounters with the rebel insurgents witnessed terror operations involving Janka Nabay’s music. RUF combatants regularly used Bubu music when invading villages and towns as part of hit-and-run raids. The rebels would play Janka Nabay’s popular music from ghetto blasters in order to attract and lure out unsuspecting civilians for easy capture or forced conscription. At other times, rebels would create the impression of initiating a party, playing Bubu music from loudspeakers and inviting civilians to join in, only to later disclose their real motives and then capture them.” (Nuxoll, 2015)

Dennis Furnell arrived on Tasso Island and made this sound recording by sheer chance. Returning from a visit to a nearby island, the person driving the canoe said they would go to Tasso because the chief was a friend. Dennis was keen to share his recollection of the event –

'This was an unplanned gathering of musicians and dancers (mainly children dancing) done, I believe, simply for my benefit and that of a small group of Scandinavian visitors who had come along for the ride.  European visitors to Tasso Island were a rarity. As I said, the event was laid on by the Chief whose name I never discovered. It was a truly happy occasion after a relatively sombre visit to the nearby, uninhabited “Bunce Island” with its deserted slave compounds and rusting chains. There was a slave graveyard and armed forts, still with Georgian cannon pointing seawards and gun carriages eaten by termites.  It was a major slave shipping island taking slaves from the Sierra Leone River to America. To my mind it seemed to maintain a shadow of its awful memories and appalling cruelty.     
 
The musicians were residents of Tasso Island who simply appeared from dwellings and other buildings at the behest of the Chief, carrying with them a variety of tubes, pipes and drums, including car exhaust pipes, metal water pipes, steel vehicle brake drums – all in a variety of sizes. There were one or two sheet metal cones.'

Bubu music from Tasso Island (BL collection C741)

'When they began to tune up it was rather discordant, then the children and young women began to beat time with their feet and the band seemed to pick up the rhythm. I had been talking into my recorder when the music started, but didn’t start to record the music straight away as I had some problems with over-modulation from the tea-chest drummer and I also wanted to photograph the dancers… But, when the band began in earnest I started to record. The sounds were fascinating and I wished I had begun to record from the beginning. It was a wonderful happy sound that reminded me of traditional Jazz.'

Photograph of musicians on Tasso Island

'Just at the end of my stay, the government collapsed and the army took over – and after some worrying moments I left the country.  However, I retained a link through the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and the Children’s Wildlife Week through a charity we had created with the support of my wife and several friends.

Not long after I returned to the UK war erupted, fueled by forces from Liberia under the control of the corrupt regime of President Taylor and the war continued for nearly 12 years* with appalling atrocities.  During this time (with the exception of 2 years) our charity, the Rainforest Action Fund, with the help of the RSPB’s contacts and Birdlife International, managed to channel funds to the Children’s Wildlife Week and CSSL.'

Dennis Furnell donated the cassette tape to the British Library after playing it on his radio programme, for fear of it becoming lost in his own library. It was later included on a CD to accompany the British Library’s exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, distributed exclusively by Songlines magazine.

*The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991 to 2002. However, there was never really any peace after that which is why Dennis Furnell refers to it as having lasted 12 years.

References:
Nuxoll, C. (2015). “We Listened to it Because of the Message”: Juvenile RUF Combatants and the Role of Music in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Music and Politics, IX(1). doi:10.3998/mp.9460447.0009.104

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

12 November 2018

Recording of the week: a duet for Ugandan lyres

Add comment

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.

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