THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

13 posts categorized "Black & Asian Britain"

16 November 2020

Recording of the week: Music and singing for the Tihar Festival in Nepal

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

Tihar (Diwali) festival celebrations in Pokhara, Nepal
"20121113-Nepal-trekking-5-Pokhara-ARZH5002E" by zhushman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tihar (also called Diwali) is a five day Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal. It usually takes place in the Nepali month, Kartik (end of October to November). The festival is in honour of Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune. Animals including crows, dogs, cows are also worshipped. Tihar is known as the festival of lights, as diyas (oil lamps) and festive lanterns are lit, illuminating homes and temples.

In this recording, we hear a group of campus students and staff in the small Nepali town of Gorkha Bajar, performing a Deusire song. They are singing and playing instruments including harmonium, madal and kartal. Deusire (or Deusi Re), are traditional call-and-response songs that are sung during the Tihar festival celebrations in Nepal. Traditionally, troupes of children and teenagers sing the songs and dance as they visit homes in their community, giving blessings for prosperity and collecting money, sweets and food.

Tihar git (deusire) (BL REF C1465/44)

This recording was made October 29th 1987 and is part of the Carol Tingey Collection (C1465/44). You can listen to more recordings from this collection on British Library Sounds.

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

26 October 2020

Recording of the week: Go on then, tell me about the duppies

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

‘Go on then, tell me about the duppies...’ Made in 1976, at Princess Junior School in Moss Side, Manchester, this recording captures a group of schoolboys talking about duppies, the malevolent ghosts of Caribbean folklore, or, as the boys put it: spirits of dead people that come alive at midnight.

Princess_Road_in_Moss_Side _Manchester
Princess Road in Moss Side, Manchester, showing Princess Road Park nearby where Princess Junior School was located.

The conversation begins in an atmosphere of lively, scary fun with plenty of laughter over stories about salt cellars moving without warning and unseen presences casting shadows on the wall. Gradually, as the boys open up, they begin to confide their real feelings, talking about fears of sleeping alone and the effects of watching too many scary films. As an afterthought, and a reminder that ghost stories are sometimes preferable to reality, one of them remarks that he doesn’t like watching the news ‘because you see too many horrible things’.

So what is a duppy? As one of the boys says ‘If a duppy catch you you’ll soon find out’.

Duppies (BL REF C1829/670 S2)

Download Transcript - 'Go on then tell me about the duppies'

Made by Ian Mulley in 1976 as part of his research towards his M.A. dissertation 'Aspects of the West Indian Culture and its Survival in an Urban English Environment - Manchester', this recording is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, which consists of sound recordings of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related sound recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute. The sound recordings were donated to the British Library in 2019 for digitisation as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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

02 October 2020

Banned in South Africa: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances in which the possession of a vinyl record of a Christian minister would be illegal.

But this did happen, and not so long ago. The year was 1966; the country was South Africa; and the speaker was Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

King disc label

In July 1966, the disc pictured above was distributed to 1200 church and community leaders throughout South Africa. The South African Publications Control Board banned the record on 19 August that same year, with no reason given. A police spokesperson reportedly said that mere possession of the disc would be grounds for prosecution.

This was at a time when the minority white population dominated the majority black population through the system of ‘apartheid’. Apartheid was a policy of legalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa for most of the second half of the twentieth century.

Two years before this incident, future president Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned: a 'life sentence' that was to last 27 years.

The disc features a speech by Dr King given in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in October, 1964, at a meeting of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. It included a call for US society and its churches to cleanse themselves of racism. It seems this was not a message the South African authorities wanted people to hear.

The records were pressed and distributed by the Rev. Dale White (an Anglican priest, and director of the Wilgespruit Christian Fellowship Center near Johannesburg) and Bode Wegerif (an executive in a Johannesburg publishing company).

The British Library only acquired a copy of this rare record in 2019, when it was kindly donated to the collection by Jannie Oosthuizen.

Jannie wrote at the time:

The LP record was in the record collection of my father, D.C.S. Oosthuizen. He died in 1969, but we remember the record as children, and played it from time to time.

We never noticed that it didn’t have Martin Luther King’s name on the label, and I had assumed incorrectly that it had been bought on sabbatical in the states in 1968.

But in finding it again recently and looking up the history, I realise that it must have been sent to him (as a South African church leader) when the record was first distributed in 1966.

A contemporary press release about the banning, with quotes from Dr King, is available to view on the web site of the African Activist Archive.

01 October 2020

‘Using your eyes as a pen’ – Black British Poets in Performance

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By Dr Hannah Silva, British writer and performer and Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London.

Paula Varjack
Paula Varjack selfie.

“What you actually do is you use your eyes as a pen,” David J is telling me how he learned to freestyle, “off the dome.” We’re sitting in a studio at the British Library, recording an interview for an archive: Black British Poets in Performance.

David J developed his craft out loud. When freestyling “it’s your life really that gets played out.” He describes hiding in a corner: “a silent child hears more.” He picked up vocabulary from books in the family home, medical journals and the Encyclopedia Britannica, and integrated it into his freestyling, “we can have fun ’cause my family is medical so we’re gonnna do vocal autopsies so everyone is… ah! nah he’s gonna rip em apart... nah I’m gonna do it clinically, ’cause mum’s a health visitor.”

Throughout these interviews it becomes clear that writing ‘out loud’ and ‘on the page’ are not differentiated practices, that performance is as much a part of ‘writing’ as writing is performance.

Here’s Anthony Joseph discussing how vocalising a poem can connect you to “other musical ideas”:

Anthony Joseph [47.55-48.24] ref. C1874_1

Download Anthony Joseph transcript.

Vocalisation is a way of embodying writing, engaging not just the ears in listening, but the breath, diaphragm, larynx, and vocal folds. Malika Booker comments that she likes to walk whilst she writes: “because I need to get the rhythm, I need to hear things I need to feel things […] writing is not just a solitary sitting down act.”

In the padded windowless room David J is looking at me, “you see Hannah” and looking around: “you see: speaker” and now he’s inhaling the words and mixing them with “what’s inside of you… your thought.”

David J [17.56-18.33] ref. C1874_15

Download David J transcript.

Kayo Chingonyi comments that “the label of ‘poetry’ has shrunk over the centuries”, that performance has often not been accorded the same importance as “dancing that intellect on the page.” He analyses the racialised aspect of labels such as spoken word and performance poetry and how this is linked “to having bodies”:

Kayo Chingonyi [26.37-27.30] ref. C1874_9

Download Kayo Chingonyi transcript.

Jacob Sam-La Rose discusses the importance of having spoken word and performance poetry in archives that can be accessed by poets developing their craft:

Jacob Sam-La Rose [19.50-20.40] ref. C1874_16

Download Jacob Sam-La Rose transcript.

This is that kind of resource.

These interviews feel groundbreaking because of the depth to which each poet discusses their craft. As Malika Booker says, this is “an artform that needs to be interrogated.” Every interview is over an hour long, and is accompanied by readings. We discuss how labels can exclude, and conversely how self-naming can be a creative act. We have conversations about the Black British voice, the Lyric I, presence, audiences, artistic development, performance poetry criticism, and poetry within theatre. We discuss influences and inspirations, and zoom in on moments of writing and performing.

Booker writes on her feet both at the early compositional stage, and sometimes in performance. In our interview she explains that her poem ‘My Mother’s Blues’ was edited in performance in response to her audience. Initially she wasn’t “sure how to use the ‘pain’.” She wrote “twenty-six drafts, trying to figure it out.” It was only when she did it for an audience that she realised the poem was “important.” Her description provides an example of how the body, voice and audience can all play a part in the writing of poetry, she treated “the performance space as a laboratory.” It also illustrates the interactive joys of a poetry night:

Malika Booker [45.50-52.00] ref. C1847_12

Download Malika Booker transcript.

Other unforgettable moments in this archive include Paula Varjack revealing that her name and performance persona were constructed around a pair of sunglasses. Lemn Sissay, whom I interviewed by a pool in Brazil, demonstrating how he started to deconstruct the moment of performance as it happens, and how he uses gesture as part of his writing (read more here: Lemn Sissay: Defamiliarsation and Performed Palimpsests. There’s Inua Ellams on guerrilla gardening, Karen McCarthy Woolf on vulnerability and hybridity and how trauma made her especially sensitive to sound, and a chat with Raymond Antrobus and Deanna Rodger behind the Latitude Poetry Tent (already a historical event).

Also – we had fun. Here’s Joshua Idehen parodying poetry styles and prosodies:

Joshua Idehen [55.28-56.28] ref. C1874_5

Download Joshua Idehen transcript.

The poets in this archive are there because I wanted to talk to them, and because they were willing to talk to me. My own research interests and my connections and friendships inevitably shaped it. The interviews were recorded several years ago and the poets would record different interviews today, but this archive enables us to, as Sam-La Rose puts it, “chase back movements and ways of thinking.” It is by no means a finished project and I hope it continues to be expanded and that the interviews are an exciting resource that supports further research.

Thank you to all the poets who agreed to talk to me for the archive, and all those who talked to me outside of the British Library context too. So far this archive contains interviews with Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Malika Booker, Kayo Chingonyi, Inua Ellams, Anthony Joseph, Ria Jade Hartley, Joshua Idehen, Keith Jarrett, David J, Chanje Kunda, Deanna Rodgers, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Andra Simons, Lemn Sissay, Mark Mace Smith, Paula Varjack, Indigo Williams and Karen McCarthy Woolf.

The archive was constructed as part of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with Stirling University and The British Library.

This collection is available in the Library's Reading Rooms and will be online next year. If you would like to browse the collection online, please enter C1874 into the Library's Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

24 August 2020

Recording of the week: Lubaina Himid and Griselda Pollock in conversation (ICA, 1988)

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

Listen to artist Lubaina Himid in conversation with the art historian Griselda Pollock, recorded in 1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London.

The discussion focuses on the impact of feminism in visual arts in the 1970s and early 1980s. It also addresses the under-representation of black women artists in the history of feminist art practice. There is a Q&A at the end of the talk, which includes remarks by artist and writer Maud Sulter, who started the Blackwomen Creativity Project in 1982.

Detail of ‘A Fashionable Marriage’ (1986) by Lubaina Himid. Photo credit: David Perry
Detail of ‘A Fashionable Marriage’ (1986) by Lubaina Himid. Photo credit: David Perry 

Lubaina Himid ICA London 1988

Griselda Pollock introduces Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985. This is an anthology of essays she has co-edited with Roszika Parker, documenting feminist art practices in the UK.

The book includes press releases, newspaper articles and reviews from events and exhibitions of the time. It became a seminal text in the discipline of art history in the UK. Lubaina Himid argues that the book, and feminist art history, is white-female-dominated and lacks a meaningful inclusion of black women artists:

I don’t really know that much about publishing really, except that I find that I can’t find myself - myself meaning ourselves: black women – in books very much written by black women, saying the things that we want to say, and that chronicle our experience as we had it.

Lubaina Himid MBE, CBE, is an artist, curator, writer and Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. She trained as a theatre designer followed by an MA in Cultural History at the Royal College of Art. Her dissertation title was Young Black Artists in Britain Today (1984).

Himid won the Turner Prize in 2017 and has exhibited all over the world. Her work is in major public collections, such as Tate Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Arts Council Collection.

Since the start of her career she has both made art and curated exhibitions. She was a leading figure in the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and helped bring public attention to her generation of black women artists.

In her 2006-2007 interview for the British Library, National Life Stories project Artists’ Lives she said:

‘We wanted to shift how we as black people were seen in the world - and we were using art to do it.’

Himid works in painting, drawing, installation and printmaking. She makes art to open up conversations about race, gender, class and to ‘fill in the gaps of history’. Through her work, she reclaims the histories and contributions of black people in the history of Europe from the colonial times to the present.

‘We made art to make ourselves visible, to be part of a bigger history.’

She has created projects to challenge the representation of black people in the media and culture, such as the Guardian series. She also has reached out to institutions and archives to influence the inclusion of artists of colour in their collections.

At the time of this 1988 recording at the ICA, Himid had already curated four exhibitions of black women artists and had had two solo exhibitions.

5 Black Women at the Africa Centre (1983) Covent Garden London.
Black Woman Time Now (1983/4) Battersea Arts Centre London.
The Thin Black Line (1985) Institute of Contemporary Art London.
Unrecorded Truths (1986) The Elbow Room Gallery, Borough, London.
A Fashionable Marriage (1986) Pentonville Gallery, London (solo exhibition).
New Robes for MaShulan (1987) Rochdale Art Gallery, Lancashire, England (solo exhibition which included a collaborative work with Maud Sulter).

This recording is part of the ICA collection C95, available online on the British Library Sounds website. It contains 889 talks and discussions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, during the period 1982-1993, featuring leading writers, artists and filmmakers.

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

References:

Lubaina Himid (1990). Mapping: A Decade of Black Women Artists 1980-1990.
Maud Sulter 1990, Passion: Discourses On Blackwomen's Creativity, Hebden Bridge: Urban Fox Press.

Making Histories Visible. An interdisciplinary visual art research project based in the Centre for Contemporary Art (School of Art, Design and Fashion) at the University of Central Lancashire (website).

The Thin Black Line(s).Tate Britain 2011-2012 (exhibition catalogue).

Lubaina Himid (2006-2007). National Life Stories: Artists' Lives C466/249. An oral history of Lubaina Himid interviewed by Anna Dyke at the artist’s home in Preston. Available online with full transcript.

In Conversation: Lubaina Himid & Courtney J. Martin (17 Feb 2017). A talk on the occasion of Invisible Strategies, the first major survey exhibition by British artist Lubaina Himid at the Modern Art Oxford gallery (20 Jan - 30 April 2017).

Modern Art Oxford - Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies (2017). 3D view of the exhibition presented by Vroom 360.co.uk

17 August 2020

Recording of the week: Ganapati, mythology and Koh-i-Noors: a poetry reading by Debjani Chatterjee

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

To celebrate the first official South Asian Heritage Month in the U.K., running from July 18th to August 17th, we are sharing the beautiful poetry of Debjani Chatterjee (1952-), an Indian-born British award-winning poet, children's writer, storyteller, editor and translator.

Having joined the Library earlier this year as an Audio Project Cataloguer, the first recordings I began working on were from the vast and impressive Poetry Society collection. It comprises well over 400 items, including reel-to-reel tape, DAT, Betamax and compact cassette, which are being digitised as part of the sound archive’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The Poetry Society collection includes a diverse range of poetry, prose and literary events recorded in London by the Poetry Society and the British Library, beginning in the late 60s and continuing up until the early 90s. It includes an array of wonderful poets, both famous and lesser known.

I was delighted to come across Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry whilst cataloguing her reading at a Poetry Society event held at the National Poetry Centre in April 1990. The event also featured Indian poet, Eunice De Souza. The poets conjure vivid and sensory worlds, depicting Indian and British culture, religion, mythology and wildlife, whilst skillfully addressing issues relating to feminism, identity, racism and environmentalism with wit and poignancy.

Ganesa on Parvati's lap
Ganesa on Parvati's lap. The young Ganesa, wearing a yellow ‘dhoti’ is seated in Parvati’s lap with his rat; Parvati, wearing a red ‘sari,’ sits on lotuses in a canopied throne.                                Shelfmark: Add.Or.1036. Artist/creator: Anon. Place and date of production: c.1770.              Credit: British Library.

'To the English Language' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C21)

Chatterjee was born in Delhi and grew up in India, Japan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Egypt, then moved to England in 1972. This poem ‘To the English Language’ cleverly portrays the perspective of an Indian immigrant making the UK their home and coming to terms with the contradictory emotions faced whilst asserting the importance of her place and voice, adeptly using the infamous ‘Koh-i-noor’ diamond as a metaphor. Chatterjee introduces the poem as “a journey to a language” and “a journey to a country”.

'Ganapati' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C25)

In Hindu mythology, Ganapati is the ‘elephant-headed god of wisdom’, also known as Ganesha or Gaṇeśa, amongst other titles. He is the son of Parvati, goddess of the mountains, and Shiva, god of destruction and the destroyer of evil. This poem is directed at Ganapati’s mother, Parvati, as depicted in the image. The poem refers to a tradition from Bengal, the home of Chatterjee’s ancestors, in which Ganapati is married to the banana tree. Chatterjee reveals earlier in the reading that she is particularly interested in elephants and she has written a large amount of prose and poems inspired by them.

'I Was That Woman' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C26)

This influential poem takes us on a journey, exploring various women, goddesses, heroines and characters from multiple countries, religions and cultures, both mythological and real. It includes Eve in the Garden of Eden, Sita, heroine of The Ramayana, Draupadi, heroine of The Mahabharata, Medusa and the Buddha’s aunt, to name just a few. I would encourage you to delve into Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry and explore the rest of the characters further. Debjani Chatterjee's website is a good starting point for understanding some of the references in the poem above.

The entirety of Debjani Chatterjee’s reading at this Poetry Society event (C15/428), along with the rest of the Poetry Society collection, will be available for on-site listening in Reading Rooms at the British Library. Other poets we recommend exploring in the C15 Poetry Society collection include Sujata Bhatt, Suniti Namjoshi, Iftikhar Arif and Saqi Farooqi. You may also be interested in the South Asian Literature Society event on C15/310.

Thank you to Debjani Chatterjee for kindly allowing us to share her poetry readings.

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

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13 January 2020

Recording of the week: Pinglish code-switching

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Hot Chapati
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Adam Cohn

Many bilingual speakers demonstrate a fascinating tendency to code-switch – that is they alternate between different languages as circumstance dictates, generally subconsciously and often within the same utterance.

Listen to Code Switching (BL reference C1442/1578)

Listen to this young British Asian female from Leeds describe her use of gunnhnā [= ‘to knead’], āttā [= ‘flour’], seknā [= ‘to toast’] and rotī [= ‘chapati’]. What is particularly interesting is the way she instinctively applies English grammar to Punjabi words by, for instance, adding the conventional English plural suffix <-s> to form rotīs, the regular past tense suffix <-ed> to create gunned and a more typically English sounding infinitive form sek: “I’ve gunned the āttā and I’ll sek the rotīs later”.

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

19 July 2019

‘My Other Piano’ – the classical side of Winifred Atwell

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Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s

Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s  (1LP0248992 BL collections)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Uchenna Ngwe who is studying Black classical musicians in Britain before 1960

Little is known about the early years of Winifred Atwell but she is thought to have been born in either 1910 or 1914. By the 1950s the Trinidad-born pianist had become a household name in Britain and Australia but has become a forgotten figure today.

Although various sources claim that Atwell arrived in London in 1946, BBC documents show that she actually appeared on at least two episodes of the radio programme Calling The West Indies in 1945, and was already living in London by this time. Her first appearance was as piano accompanist to a fellow Trinidadian, renowned singer and actor Edric Connor. In 1993, his widow, Pearl Connor, spoke to Stephen Bourne in this unedited interview about Atwell for the BBC Radio 2 programme Salutations.

Pearl Connor C1019/16

Following the 1945 broadcasts, Atwell was asked to perform on the radio on a number of occasions over the next year before her inaugural TV appearance on the BBC’s Stars in Your Eyes on the afternoon of 21st October 1946.

Radio Times 21st October 1946

Winifred Atwell made her name mainly from popular music but, as she continued to show in her stage act, she was also well-versed in standard classical repertoire. Soon after her arrival in Britain, she began taking piano lessons with Harold Craxton (1885 – 1971), a well-respected teacher at the Royal Academy of Music and sought-after accompanist. In another unedited interview for Salutations, Michael Craxton, Harold’s son, described Atwell’s visits to the family home to study with his father.

Michael Craxton C1019/16

After working with a variety of agents from early on in her career, Atwell was represented by Bernard Delfont Ltd from July 1948. Delfont was a former music-hall dancer and theatrical agent before embarking on a career as a successful theatre and leisure impresario – his brothers Lew and Leslie Grade were also theatrical agents before both becoming television executives. This collaboration proved to be very successful and Atwell was in huge demand for her TV, radio and live theatre performances. By the late 1950s she was earning the equivalent of around £4,000 per TV appearance.

Michael Craxton also refers to Atwell's work with his father on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. On the 28th November 1954, Atwell made her classical debut at the Royal Albert Hall performing this piece with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stanford Robinson (1904 – 1984). A few days later on the 1st and 2nd of December, Atwell recorded the work for the Decca label with the same ensemble and conductor. These sessions were Decca’s first ever UK stereo recordings but sadly this experiment remains unpublished and the concerto was only issued in mono.

Grieg Piano Concerto

Despite her abilities and considerable public draw, assumptions made due to her race and success outside of the classical genre meant that Atwell was not taken seriously as a classical musician. However, her work mainly with pop and jazz-influenced music led to the achievement of a remarkable amount of success during her career, including two British no. 1 singles – Let’s Have Another Party (1954) and Poor People of Paris (1956). Her highest-ranking classical recording was of the 18th variation from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsodie on a theme of Paganini, which was performed on the soundtrack of the film The Story of Three Loves by Jakob Gimpel. Atwell’s version, with Wally Stott and his Orchestra, peaked at no. 9 in the UK charts in 1954.

Atwell Rachmaninoff

Winifred Atwell LP

1LP0239366 (BL collections)

I was pleased to correct details of Atwell’s early career through my Edison Fellowship research at the BBC archives at Caversham and to be able to put this into context with the rest of my work on Black music in Britain before 1960.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical