THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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158 posts categorized "Arts, literature & performance"

28 January 2019

Recording of the week: Bubu music from Tasso Island

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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.

BUBU MUSIC FROM 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

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07 January 2019

Recording of the week: sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi on post-war Britain

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

Sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) describes how it felt to be an artist in the 1950s. Post-war Britain was changing but there was nonetheless a pervading sense of austerity. Paolozzi says, 'we were all grey'.

This sense of austerity was, for Paolozzi, coupled with a sense of apprehension towards foreign art and foreign food. Picasso was deemed 'interesting but foreign'. Spaghetti was unheard of!

He mentions the Festival of Britain, a national exhibition that took place on London's South Bank in 1951. The Festival attracted millions of visitors and was seen as a turning point in Britain, where minds were opened to new achievements in the arts and new developments in industry.

Eduardo Paolozzi was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 1993-1995. The interviewer was Frank Whitford.

Eduardo Paolozzi on post-war Britain (C466/17)

PaolozziSir Eduardo Paolozzi with his sculpture of Newton at the British Library, photographed by Chris Lee. © British Library. Image not licensed for reuse.

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world from behind the scenes. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers who have been immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear Paolozzi's clip in context, see Duncan Robinson's article The London art world, 1950-1965.

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

17 December 2018

Recording of the week: Norman Beaton recalls Liverpool in the 60s

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Our last Recording of the Week for 2018 comes from Stephen Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary & Creative Recordings.

Actor, singer and writer Norman Beaton (1934-1994) recalls his early career steps in Liverpool, and how the production of his first play, the musical Jack of Spades, came about through a chance meeting in the Philharmonic pub.

This is a short excerpt from an interview running for one hour and twenty minutes, which is available to listen to in full at the British Library on request.

The interview was recorded at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, by the British Library, 22 November 1986, at an event to celebrate the publication of Beaton’s autobiography Beaton But Unbowed

Note: this recording has some technical imperfections.

Norman Beaton (C94/92)

Norman-BeatonNorman Beaton in 1979 (image copyright: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo; used under licence)

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UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

05 December 2018

Concert cylinders and the first recording of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra

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Label close up

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

It was exciting to receive an Edison concert cylinder as a donation recently, but much more so to discover that it is probably the first recording by members of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.  Cylinder box labels and the cylinders housed within often do not match, so until we were able to play the cylinder, with a special sized mandrel, we did not know if it was what the label declared.  Fortunately, there was an announcement and the strains of Weber’s Invitation to the Waltz were immediately recognizable. 

Pitching the recording and ensuring the correct playback speed was of paramount importance.  Our engineer had found discussion on the internet speculating that the speed should be 120 rpm for concert cylinders.  However, this pitched the music far too high.  The work was written in D flat major and I found in the British Library collections the score and parts of the edition that probably would have been used for this recording published by Boosey and Company in 1889.  Like the original work, the key of this arrangement is D flat major.  The cylinder had to be played at 102 rpm to give a satisfactory performance of the work.  Evidence that it is a copy (by the pantograph process) and not an original can be heard at the end of the recording where three thuds are heard as the master cylinder hits the end of the grooves, but the copy keeps running.  The first few grooves containing the announcement are damaged but once the music begins, the sound is surprisingly good for 116 years ago.

Weber Invitation to the Waltz

Sir-Henry-Wood-with-Promenade-Concert-Performers

Sir Henry Wood with the Queen's Hall Wind Quintet by William Whiteley Ltd  Albumen cabinet card, circa 1897 NPG P1837  © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Queen's Hall orchestra was founded in 1895 to inaugurate the new Promenade Concerts.  It was in 1902 that the Queen’s Hall Wind Quintet was founded. Trained and rehearsed by the orchestra’s conductor Henry Wood, who also played the piano in performances, the group was known as Wood Wind.  Lecture concerts were given in the Small Queen’s Hall in an effort to make works written for wind ensemble known to the general public.  The members were Albert Fransella (flute), Désiré Lalande (oboe), Manuel Gomez (clarinet), Frederick James (bassoon) and Adolphe Borsdorf (horn).  It is highly likely that some or all of these musicians are heard on this recording.  Most were born in the 1860s and Lalande died in 1904 at the age of thirty-eight.  Gomez, born in 1859, was a founding member of the London Symphony Orchestra while Borsdorf, born in 1854, performed in the English premiere of Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel under the baton of the composer in 1896.  The Queen’s Hall was destroyed in 1941 when it was bombed by the Germans.

Live on stage

Concert cylinders were developed to produce a louder sound so that recordings could ‘be clearly and distinctly heard throughout the largest halls, and in the open air.’  They were not commercially successful, no doubt due to the price and cost of playback equipment.  The A1 Concert Grand, which could play both standard size and concert cylinders retailed at £16 and 16 shillings.  

Edison Concert Cylinder player 1-page-001

The recording we have here was made around 1902 being priced at six shillings, equivalent to around £31 in today’s money.  The machines were very expensive with a complete package including horns, twelve cylinders and three blanks costing an amazing £40 in 1902.

The Phonograph and Talking Machine Exchange-page-040EDIT

A list of twenty recordings by the London Regimental Band augmented by members of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra appeared for the 1902 season advertised in the Phonograph and Talking Machine Exchange, so they could have been recorded the previous year.

London Concert Cylinders

Thanks to Jolyon Hudson for the donation of the cylinder and extra information.

 For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

 

03 December 2018

Recording of the week: Island Grief after Hurricane Ivan

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This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

British-Caribbean poet, artist and theatre maker Malika Booker reads ‘Island Grief after Hurricane Ivan’ from her 2013 collection Pepper Seed.

Recorded at the British Library in May 2013 for the Between Two Worlds: Poetry and Translation project funded by the Arts Council.

Ivan_576 pixelsPhoto credit: SanFranAnnie on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Malika Booker reads 'Island Grief after Hurricane Ivan' (C1340/92)

On 31 August 2004, a large tropical wave crossed the west coast of Africa. By 5 September - about 1150 miles east of the southern Windward Islands - it had turned into a hurricane with winds of 160 mph, reaching category 5 strength up to three times, the strongest category of the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Hurricane Ivan mercilessly wrecked parts of Grenada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico, before reaching the Gulf Shores of Alabama and from there continuing its uncontrollable path through multiple locations in the USA.

It took an estimated total of 123 lives between 2 and 24 September 2004.

Atlantic Ocean storms and hurricanes name lists were first created in 1953 by the US National Hurricane Center, with only female names used until 1979. Prior to 1953 hurricanes in the USA were identified by their latitude-longitude, and in the Caribbean Islands after the saint of the day in which the hurricane occurred (according to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar).

The use of names was favoured for communication purposes. There are currently six lists of 21 names each in use. An international committee of the World Meteorological Organization is in charge of updating, maintaining, rotating and recycling the lists every six years. Any name listed can be retired, to never be used again upon request, out of respect for the people who have suffered fatalities and losses. This is what happened with Ivan after 2004, Katrina and Rita in 2005 and several other names since.

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19 November 2018

Recording of the week: Sheila Girling describes fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler

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

To celebrate the launch of Voices of art we're listening to artist Sheila Girling's (1924-2015) description of fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). 

Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract expressionist artist. Girling gives a detailed illustration of Frankenthaler's gestural and 'spontaneous' painting style. She mentions that Frankenthaler was one of 'Clem's' protegées. This was Clement Greenberg, the influential and at times contentious American art critic.

Sheila Girling was a painter and collagist known for her large abstract paintings and her sensitive use of colour. Born in Birmingham, she lived in Vermont for a short time with her family while her husband, the sculptor Anthony Caro, taught at Bennington College. The couple returned there many times. At Bennington, Girling and Caro were part of a close circle of artists who were experimenting with new artistic techniques. These included Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski.

Sheila Girling on Helen Frankenthaler (C466/296)

539_sheila_with_scrfSheila Girling. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world behind the scenes through life story recordings with artists, curators and writers. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers who have been immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear more from Sheila Girling, see Hester Westley's article Coaching from the side lines: Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro.

Voices of art is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

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

16 October 2018

Black History Month - The Gold Coast Police Band

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JZ 282 label

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For Black History month in previous years I have highlighted the career and work of classical musicians such as Dean Dixon and Cullen Maiden.  While considering people for this year’s blog, I received a donation which included a fascinating disc.  The performers are The Gold Coast Police Band.

It used to be that many organisations in the UK had bands made up of employees.  It was a wonderful way of promoting a community spirit, a striving for excellence dependent on each individual’s hard work and commitment producing an end result of combined quality.  The Metropolitan Police Force had divisional bands, then a main band of officers drawn from the divisions.  Its demise due to cuts happened around 1997 and only a choir now remains.  One of the most famous bands from a motor works is Foden’s Motor Works Band (still extant), a large collection of whose discs recorded from 1914 to 1963 I acquired for the British Library in 2003.

The Gold Coast Police Band was formed 1917 in Ghana.  The first recruits were retired army bandsmen from the West African Frontier Force who had studied at Kneller Hall, the Royal Military School of Music in Whitton.  From 1926 to 1941 the first European bandmaster, Mr G. T. March, was in charge and in 1943 his place was taken by Thomas Stenning.  Enlisted in the 7th Dragoon Guards in 1905, Stenning went to France with the 6th Dragoon Guards in August 1914 and was granted a regular commission in the Royal West Kent Regiment in 1917.  He resigned from this in order to study at Kneller Hall to be trained as an Army bandmaster.  From 1923 to 1936 Stenning was bandmaster to the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) stationed in India.  From there he went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst as bandmaster.  It was in 1943 that he took up his post with the Gold Coast Police Band.  The bandsmen were all locally enlisted African men whose sole qualification upon enlistment was ‘a liking for music.’ 

The-Band-of-the-Gold-Coast-Police-at-the-Police-Depot-Accra-Gold-Coast (2)The Gold Coast Police Band at the police depot in Accra, Ghana (courtesy of Marlborough Rare Books)

The band of thirty-five African men arrived in London by air from Accra on Wednesday 7th May 1947 for a four month tour, departing the end of August.  Two days later they were rehearsing at Hounslow before setting off on the tour.  During their stay they played in many of the London parks including, Greenwich, Victoria, Hyde and Regent’s as well as Horse Guards Parade.  On 18th May the band performed at Jephson Gardens Pavilion, Leamington Spa and on the 24th May were back in London where they led the procession from the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields to the Cenotaph for the Empire Day ceremony.  A visit to Nottingham due earlier in May was postponed until the 27th from whence they travelled to Bath for a week of performances during the first week of June.  The highlight of the tour occurred on 10th June when the band played at a Buckingham Palace Presentation Party for 5,000 guests alternating with the Band of the Coldstream Guards.  Around this time a visit to Hendon was filmed by the newsreel cameras for Colonial Cinemagazine No. 9. 

Unfortunately the film is not in colour but the newspapers described the uniforms as scarlet and navy blue with white blouses.  The band wore black shorts braided with red and had matching black caps with red tassels and wore puttees on their feet.

It was in June that the band made the first of their HMV recordings in London for sale in West Africa.  The company began recording in Accra and Lagos in 1937 and these recordings were issued with the JZ prefix.  It appears that they had made one recording in West Africa for HMV which was issued as JZ 94 accompanying J. R. Roberts in songs from The Downfall of Zachariah Fee, a pantomime by Sir Arnold Hodson, Governor of the Gold Coast Colony (and previously the Falkland Islands).

On the 20th June 1947 they recorded six sides and, just before their departure on the 29th August, six more.  As these recordings were made for the West African market they were mainly of traditional songs, with some sides conducted by Sergeant Isaac Annam.  One side was recorded with a vocal trio sung in Fanti, but there is also a disc of marches and one of Rockin’ in Rhythm by Duke Ellington.  The first recording to be made was the one classical title, the Overture to Poet and Peasant by Franz von Suppé.  The instrumental playing is of a high standard, particularly the precision of the opening quietly played brass chords.

Poet and Peasant Overture

Two years later the Daily Mirror reported that compared to pre-war trade, dealers were now selling as many as three times the number of gramophones and four times the number of records in West Africa.  In big demand were the Gold Coast Police Band’s recordings of Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm and an African dance number, Everybody Likes Saturday Night.  

On 6th July the band broadcast on the BBC Home Service for a half hour programme and in the middle of the month travelled north where they were billeted at Crash Camp, Sandy Lane, Gosforth for performances in Newcastle.  On 16th July they lunched with the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and took afternoon tea with the Chief Constable.  A dance in their honour was given  at Albion Assembly Rooms, North Shields where a local dance band was hired to provide entertainment.  The next day, afternoon and evening performances at Exhibition Park were given before leaving for Edinburgh and an appearance at Pittencrief Park, Dunfermline on 22nd July.  The Band then headed south for a week at Warrior Square Gardens, Hastings and further performances in London and, one would hope, some time off to explore the city before their return to Accra at the end of August.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

01 October 2018

Recording of the week: a Tamil lullaby

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This week's selection comes from Christian Poske, AHRC Collaborative PhD candidate and Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

The English musicologist Arthur Henry Fox Strangways recorded this Tamil lullaby with the title Lālishrīta in South India during a recording trip through the Indian subcontinent in 1910-11. An outcome of his research in India was his book The Music of Hindostan (1914) which featured transcriptions and translations of many of the songs he recorded, bringing Indian music closer to European audiences. In the book, he translates the first stanza of the song as: "Baby mine, light of my eyes, here in thy cradle bright with flowers, through sunny hours I bring thee sleep, I rock thee and sing thee to sleep, on the wings of my melodies."

Fox Strangways C72/872, song 2: Lālishrīta

Lullabies transcription (Fox Strangways C72-872)

Fox Strangways also included a photo of the performer, a school teacher from Tanjore.

Schoolmistress  Tanjore (Fox Strangways C72-872)

Professor Martin Clayton (1999: 104-112) reanalysed the song and Fox Strangways’ transcription of it, noticing that the six-beat scheme of the notation did not correspond to the rhythm of the song, which appears to be sung in a free metre. Fox Strangways may have assigned this rhythm to the piece to improve understanding for Western readers familiar with lullabies in 3/4 and 6/8 time. His inclusion in the book of only the English translation of the lyrics may also be attributed to the same reason.

Additional recordings from the Fox Strangways collection are available at https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Ethnographic-wax-cylinders

[Footnote: Clayton, Martin (1999). 'A. H. Fox Strangways and the Music of Hindostan: revisiting historical field recordings'. Journal of the Royal Musical Association 124: 86-118.]

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