Sound and vision blog

101 posts categorized "Digitisation"

29 August 2022

Recording of the week: Learning garden birdsong with Charles and Heather Myers

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

Charles and Heather Myers

Above: Charles and Heather Myers, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

Charles and Heather Myers were a husband-and-wife recording duo. They met through their shared love of nature and sound recordings. Their impressive collection here at the library (BL shelfmark: WA 2010/017) consists of a whopping 559 open reel tapes and over 5,000 recordings. All are meticulously edited, catalogued, and organised by species and subject. The duo’s dedication and technical prowess make every recording in this collection a joy to listen to, and the time they spent organising and documenting made it a pleasure to digitise and catalogue as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Any recordist should aspire to have a collection half as good as this!

Charles and Heather were both active members of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society (WSRS) and regularly met at field meetings before they got married and set up home together in Shropshire. They were always more than happy to share their knowledge and recordings with anyone interested, and often sent in material to the WSRS journals and members’ recording compilations, as well as entering, and often winning, the society’s annual recording competition. Heather took over as the society’s secretary from 1983 to 1994. Both Charles and Heather’s obituaries in the Wildlife Sound journals are filled with kind tributes from members who saw them as friends and mentors.

Heather with reflector

Above: Heather Myers with reflector, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

As well as contributing to the WSRS, they often submitted recordings and prepared pieces to their local talking newspaper for the blind. Many of these submissions are preserved in the collection, including this piece titled ‘Garden Birds No. 3’. In it, Mr and Mrs Myers welcome the listener into their garden in Shrewsbury, and introduce them to some of the regular avian visitors and their vocalisations. In this excerpt, Charles explains the difference between song thrush and mistle thrush songs. The full-length recording, archived here as British Library call number WA 2010/017/502 C6, also features the sounds of magpies, crows, house sparrows and dunnocks, with the latter two introduced by Heather. This is one of many precious recordings from the collection in which Heather and Charles’s passion and personality shines through.

Listen to Garden Birds No. 3

Download Charles and Heather Myers transcript

Charles with reflector

Above: Charles Myers with reflector, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

Sadly the recording ends abruptly. The piece is incomplete, and neither ‘Garden Birds No.1’ nor ‘Garden Birds No. 2’ can be found elsewhere in the archive.

If you enjoyed this recording and would like to hear more from Charles and Heather Myers, a 60-minute mix of ambient sounds and talk from the collection can be found in the NTS Radio archive.

01 August 2022

Recording of the week: Women’s work on the record

This week’s post comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data protection and Rights Clearance Officer.

Women picking netted gooseberries in Bedfordshire  1941

Above: Wartime Activities, women picking fruit, Bedfordshire, 1941. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Source: LSE Library.

One of the many joys of oral history is learning about unexpected topics. Whether recording an interview or discovering another interviewer’s work, oral history - and especially life story recordings - is full of information that we would not suspect if we were to only read the catalogue records and summaries.

In the last few months, I have worked on three collections of interview cassettes that were preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. These are An Oral History of British Horticulture (British Library ref. C1029), An Oral History of the Post Office (C1007) and the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive (C456). Most of the interviews are several hours long, sometimes up to 13 hours. Unsurprisingly, they cover much more than the topics of horticulture, the Post Office, or gay and lesbian experience in the United Kingdom. Some of the transversal themes are fascinating to observe, and one of them is women’s work in the mid-20th century, across social classes and geographical areas.

A large part of my work as an UOSH Rights Officer is to review newly digitised and catalogued sound recordings before deciding whether they are suitable for online open access. When it comes to oral history recordings, conducting a sensitivity review requires paying attention to the interviewee’s family members, key life events and relationships. Each time, I am reminded of the wealth of sociological and historical information that is usually captured in the first hour of most interviews, which often depicts the origins of two parents and four grandparents, as well as their occupations and roles inside and outside the home.

Listening to these recordings shines a light on the power of sound archives, and on the limits of their written description. The four extracts below show the importance of diving into the audio version of any interview, to go beyond the misleading categories that are inevitably created by cataloguing and summarising. This includes the simplistic, and often wrong, category of 'housewife' used to describe an interviewee’s mother. Often the interview summary also hides the many paid and unpaid occupations that many women had in the 20th century. These jobs are revealed when oral history narrators talk about their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and themselves. Although my selection is only of female narrators, the shift in women’s and men’s roles is also described through these personal accounts, as can be heard in the last extract.

My selection starts with Pamela Schwerdt, who was co-interviewed for the Oral History of British Horticulture project in 2002. She was born in Esher, Surrey in 1931. Her father was a naval officer and her mother’s occupation is described as 'none given' in our catalogue. Yet, the first part of the interview unveils a busy trio of women who, between themselves, set up and chaired for a century the National Wildlife Society. Its success culminated in Pamela’s mother receiving a CBE in 1986 for her work as President of this Society.

In this clip Pamela talks about the three Presidents of the National Wildlife Society. The British Library ref. is C1029/08.

Listen to Pamela Schwerdt

Download Pamela Schwerdt transcript

In the same oral history collection dedicated to horticulture, Peggy Cole described in 2003 the many paid jobs that her mother had in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite being catalogued as a 'housewife', her mother worked as a hospital cleaner, a woodcutter and fruit picker. In this extract, Peggy, who was born in 1935, recounts how her mother worked after the birth of her last son in 1950 as one of a hundred other female seasonal workers near Easton, Suffolk. The British Library ref. is C1029/11.

Listen to Peggy Cole

Download Peggy Cole transcript

In the third extract, we hear about Gladys Hillier who worked as one of the few postwomen in the 1940s in Gloucester, where she was born in 1917. In the interview that she gave in 2002 as part of the Oral History of the Post Office project, she described how she went from working in an aircraft factory during World War II, to delivering the mail in 1947 until her retirement in 1982. The British Library ref. is c1007/57.

Listen to Gladys Hillier

Download Gladys Hillier transcript

Women’s new paid professional activities during World War 2 are discussed in our fourth interview. Jackie Forster, who was born in 1926 in London, reflected on the impact this social change had within her own family. In an interview for the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive, she explained how her mother worked as an ambulance driver during the war and started making money in the Stock Exchange to support her two children. Jackie’s mother became the breadwinner after her husband, who was an army doctor posted in India, was declared missing in 1939. In this extract, Jackie describes the new family roles and dynamic, and how these had to be accepted by her father, who eventually returned to England in 1945. The British Library ref. is C456/87.

Listen to Jackie Forster

Download Jackie Forster transcript

08 July 2022

Starting from here: ‘Interview with Michael Saville’

Yee I-Lann is one of the British Library’s Resonations artists-in-residence. She lives and works in her hometown Kota Kinabalu, capital of the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. Her practice engages with regional Southeast Asian history, addressing issues of colonialism, power, and the impact of historical memory in lived social experience. Yee I-Lann was one of the featured artists in this summer’s Unlimited. This was Art Basel’s section for large scale projects. She presented her work TIKAR/MEJA, 2020 which was created in collaboration with women weavers in her homeland. In this blog, she gives us some insight into the start of her online residency at the British Library:

Perhaps Mr Michael Saville wanted me to find his story buried in the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection at the Bristol Archives. I was looking for stories and sounds on the British Library Sound and Moving Image catalogue and entered ‘North Borneo’, where I am from, into the search box. An interview with him landed first on my screen. In the summary of the interview, I read: ‘He describes the nationalism movement [in Malaysia] and his involvement in it, and he expresses various doubts.’

‘What doubts, Mr Saville?’ I asked the screen. Did you have premonitions of the history I have since lived? I have doubts too, lots of them. What’s your story? What do you want to tell me Mr Michael Saville? What do I want to know from you? What do I want to say to you? Do you want to hear what I have to say?

So I chose this audio file as my first request for the Resonations residency I am part of. I chose it because the recording’s summary contained the word ‘doubt’. ‘Doubt’ seemed a good place to start a conversation.

Mr Saville, his wife and two children arrived in my home town Jesselton, North Borneo in April 1949. The name has since changed to Kota Kinabalu, capital of the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah.

Since 1881, North Borneo had been a British Protectorate under the CEO of the North Borneo Chartered Company. When, as a consequence of the war with the Japanese during WWII, the company went bankrupt, the North Borneo Chartered Company handed us over to the British Empire, and we officially became a British crown colony in 1946.

A young Mr Saville, with his education in finance, had come to join the administration. He would work for the secretariat, become a District Officer, and hold the office of Controller of Supplies, dealing specifically with rice.

Playing sports Town Padang with the Jesselton Sports Club in the backgroundPlaying sports, Town Padang with the Jesselton Sports Club in the background, 1950s, Robert Knowles’ Collection, Sabah Museum. Mr Saville speaks of the Sports Club in Jesselton at the Town Padang in his interview. The Town Padang was the site for the Proclamation of Malaysia in Sabah in 1963.

When I first listened to ‘Interview with Michael Saville (1999-04-13)’ - British Library shelfmark: UBC034/700 - I thought, oh, that’s quite benign. The sound of his voice was familiar to me. In 1963, as the British exited North Borneo, it joined the Federation of Malaya, as Sabah, to form Malaysia. Mr Saville left Sabah in 1964. I was born seven years later. I grew up hearing what I’ve come to think of as a British paternalistic tone: earnest, sympathetic at times; defensive at others, with swallowed breath at the racier moments.

Of the colonial administration and his role within it he says:

Whether we did a good job or not I don't know. We can't be like the Irishman who says, when being asked the way, ‘Well, if I were you I wouldn't start from here’. We started from here. It was one piece of cloth and one was part of the weaving process.

Mr Saville also sounds like he loved my home, or at least enjoyed his time there. I transcribe the interview. Start, stop, rewind, play. What was that? Stop, rewind, play. I hear his intonation and pauses, I hear the doubt and nostalgia that must occupy him and old chaps from the administration like him, swept away as they must’ve been in their youth by the currents of their unquestioned times.

I must not be cynical, I say to myself that is not useful. I must listen to the gaps, hear the rehearsed speech, and hear the guilt and pleasure and joy beneath this tone of ‘one must be loyal to the office’.

I must listen to the rhythms of this voice just as I want to answer back with the rhythm of my own experiences, powered by a hunger to better understand. In many of our native and local communities here in Sabah, our history is told through oral storytelling, and I have belief and loyalty to the power of that.

Mr Saville ends his interview with a tone of regret directed towards his wife and two older children:

I think going out there was incredibly selfish… I enjoyed myself immensely but it was my life and my career, and the people who suffered from it were my two older children.

Perhaps this is my favourite part of the interview because he allowed himself to be vulnerable, to allude to other people’s trauma. I am reminded, as I sit here amongst threads and threads of that ‘one piece of cloth’ to untangle, that his people too were impacted by our shared histories. Perhaps we all need to start again from here, where we each are now, and re-weave anew.

04 October 2021

Recording of the week: Dog team or engine power? Sleds and other subjects in 1940s Alaska

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

During my time working as a cataloguer on the Unlocking our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project, I have been fortunate to catalogue a diverse range of oral history collections. The majority of the interviews in these collections are several hours long, recorded across a number of tapes and over a number of days. Occasionally, you will come across a short but sweet recording like this one.

This recording is a ten minute conversation between Abraham Lincoln, an Inuit fisherman (not the 16th president of the United States) and Pete Severnay, a Norwegian sailor. It took place in the city of Kotzebue, Alaska, just above the Arctic Circle, in the winter of 1948.

Despite its short length, the recording covers quite wide ground.

We discover that Abraham has been staying with Pete, who has been travelling across North America for the past few years.

The men discuss several topics. Pete thinks that he might stay in Kotzebue, but it all depends on the fishing. He also complains about the lack of employment opportunities in the area, and that any available jobs pay too little - one dollar an hour.

Abraham has a different outlook; one dollar an hour is a perfectly reasonable wage for the locals to live on. Pete is fishing to keep himself busy, but his main interest is gold prospecting – he believes that there are large amounts of gold in the area.

Unsurprisingly, the two men discuss the weather. Pete isn’t too bothered by the cold. After all, he’s been travelling in wind and storms during his entire time in Alaska, with visibility so poor that he hasn’t been able to see his hand in front of his face at times. He has also built his own sled.

In the audio excerpt below, Abraham amusingly mistakes Pete’s sled for a table, and they start a lively discussion about dog team sleds versus engine-powered sleds.

You will be able to hear a slight hum in the background which comes from the recording device:

A discussion about sleds [BL REF C1603/01 S1]

Download Transcript - A discussion about sleds

Inuit family with MalamuteAn Inuit family with an Alaskan Malamute, c. 1915. Photograph from Wikipedia. Original source: W. E. Mason. Malamutes are the sled dogs that are mentioned by Abraham.

We know little about the background of this recording – the open reel tape travelled from Kotzebue to Anchorage, before arriving in the United Kingdom and ending up at the British Library. We also know little about the two men in conversation.

I could not find any information about Pete Severnay online, although I did find some more information about Abraham. He lived in Kotzebue with his wife, Blanche, where they raised two sons and two daughters. His birth date is listed as around 1887, so he would have been in his early sixties at the time of this recording.

The fact that we know so little about the two men and the recording is irrelevant. In fact, the anonymity adds to the overall appeal. The important thing is that the two men have come together to share their unique knowledge and experiences. They may be different in terms of age and culture, but it is clear from their words that they have respect for each other’s differences.

This recording offers a glimpse into what life was like for the inhabitants of Alaska during the time but also gives insight into the life of an outsider venturing into an isolated community. Who knows? Perhaps this conversation was the start of a friendship lasting the rest of their lives.

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

22 June 2021

Windrush Day: Bristol’s Princess Campbell

Today is Windrush Day, a day which honours the contributions and hardships of the British Caribbean community and those who travelled to the UK after the Second World War to help rebuild Britain and start a new life. To mark the day we have a guest blog from one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’s (UOSH) hub partners Bristol Archives, to tell the inspiring story of one of Bristol’s members of the Windrush generation, Princess Campbell.

Princess Campbell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1939. As a young woman, she became one of the estimated half-a-million people from Commonwealth countries who answered the call for migrant workers in England. She came to Bristol in 1962, where she trained as a nurse and became the city’s first black ward sister.

In recent years, she became one of Bristol’s best-known members of the Windrush generation. Through the UOSH project, we can now hear about Princess’s life in England in her own words.

Photo of Princess Campbell

Pictured above: Princess Campbell in her nurse’s uniform (Bristol Archives, 44459/Ph/2/4).

In 2007, schoolchildren, involved in the ‘Easton and Us’ local heritage project, interviewed local residents to find out about their lives in Easton from the 1930s to the present day.

These oral histories, held at Bristol Archives, were recently made available for research through UOSH. Originally held on minicassettes, the recordings have been digitised so that we can once again hear the voices and experiences of the people who took part.

Princess Campbell was one of those interviewed and her story is compelling, from her experiences of racism to the many ways she fought against discrimination.

Keen to establish herself in a profession, Princess considered becoming a teacher before choosing to train as a nurse. Once qualified, she worked for years but encountered barriers when she sought to progress her career. She tells the children who interviewed her how hard black people have to work to prove themselves; in this clip, she talks about working hard to gain as many qualifications as she could.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip one

Download Princess Campbell clip one transcript

Despite her skills in both general nursing and psychiatric nursing, Princess was passed over for promotion to ward sister. She describes how support from fellow staff helped her to overcome resistance to appointing a black woman and she was eventually appointed to this role.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip two

Download Princess Campbell clip two transcript

Princess also talks about wider problems of discrimination for the growing black community. As she explains in this clip, she arrived in Bristol to find black people had little access to good jobs or decent homes. To solve the housing problem, she was involved in setting up a housing association to help both black and white people to find affordable accommodation.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip three

Download Princess Campbell clip three transcript

Through her determination to bring about change, Princess was also involved in other movements. Soon after her arrival in England, she was involved in the Bristol bus boycott, a campaign against the local bus company’s refusal to employ black drivers and conductors.

The boycott was led by the activist Paul Stephenson but as Princess says, ‘I was one of the protestors - I can't help it... we would have our banners out there and protest peacefully and decently’. Ultimately, the bus company changed their policy and began to recruit black staff, although racism from other passengers was also a common experience.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip four

Download Princess Campbell clip four transcript

Later on, Princess was also active in the aftermath of another high-profile protest. In April 1980, the St Paul’s riots in Bristol were a response to police treatment of young black people. Princess described attending Parliament to lobby MPs for improved facilities to young people, leading to the creation of a new youth centre.

Towards the end of her life, Princess’s achievements were recognised and celebrated. A few years after this interview was recorded, she received an OBE for services to the community. In Bristol, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol and a nurses’ training centre was named after her at the University of the West of England. When she died in 2015, crowds lined the streets of Easton for her funeral procession.

This recording complements other material documenting the experiences of black people that can be found in the collections at Bristol Archives. Princess was a founder member of the Bristol Black Archives Partnership. Through this venture, people and organisations from Bristol’s African-Caribbean community - including people involved in the bus boycott - deposited records and personal papers with the archives. Available for research alongside these records, Princess’s interview adds a personal insight into the lives of people from the Windrush generation who made their home here.

Three logos - UOSH - Heritage Fund - Bristol Archives

This post was written by Allie Dillon from Bristol Archives.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @bristolarchives for more updates from the UOSH project teams.

21 June 2021

Recording of the week: Carol Ann Duffy reads ‘Mrs Midas’

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

I have been listening to Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem ‘Mrs Midas’ at an English PEN event held in London in 1994.

King Midas is known in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is set in modern times and is written from the perspective of the King’s wife, Mrs Midas. The story starts with a perplexed Mrs Midas at their home where there is something odd going on with the King. Through a sequence of incidents at dinner time the King makes a confession. On seeing the food and homeware turned into gold Mrs Midas recounts:

___________________________________ I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:
how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst.

Listen to the recording to find out what happens next.

'Mrs Midas' [BL REF C125/347 C7]

Read poem transcript

‘Mrs Midas’ is part of Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, published by Picador and Anvil Press Poetry in 1999. Each poem engages with a mythological or historical male figure. The poems are always written from a female perspective and in monologue form. Several of these women are spouses. The collection provides a revised outlook on familiar narratives but all of them place women centre stage.

There are five years between Duffy’s reading at PEN and the publication of The World’s Wife, yet the poem did not change. There are four other poems from this collection in the recording, ‘Mrs Tiresias’, ‘Mrs Aesop’, ‘Queen Kong’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’.

The English PEN collection consists of literary talks and readings hosted and recorded by PEN between 1953 and 2006. It also includes the International Writers Day events, recorded by the British Library. Most of the events took place either in London or different parts of the UK.

This collection has been preserved by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project. It includes a total of 1184 recordings from over 400 tapes, which are now accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms. In due course, from early 2021, you will be able to listen to up to 325 English PEN recordings online.

Since I am still working from home in London, I have included this picture of King Midas from a children’s book my mother gave me as a child growing up in Spain. This was my first encounter with the King Midas story. The story feels more complete now with the addition of Mrs Midas’ views.

Illustration of King Midas
Illustration of King Midas from the book 'El rey Midas. Mis cuentos favoritos' published by Editorial Vasco Americana, 1967

English PEN is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (1921-2021). To mark this important occasion they are running Common Currency, a year-long programme of events, residencies and workshops, which includes a three-day festival at the Southbank Centre, London, 24-26 September 2021.

To tie in with PEN’s centenary I will be featuring more recordings from the collection in the coming months.

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

14 June 2021

Recording of the week: A Yanomami ceremonial dialogue

This week's selection comes from Finlay McIntosh, World & Traditional Rights intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In 1978, the writer, musician and scholar David Toop travelled to the Upper Orinoco region in the Venezuelan Amazon to record the Yanomami indigenous people and their songs, rituals and ceremonies.

While these recordings were released on the album Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978), Toop also kindly donated the unedited field recordings to the British Library, where they have been digitised through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Toop writes:

I’m very happy that my Yanomami recordings will be available for digital access for two reasons. One is that the Yanomami are again undergoing a crisis due to the combined effects of the pandemic and a ruthless encroachment into their territory by illegal mining, so any attention focused on the Yanomami is a good thing. The second reason is connected to the first. I believe all people can benefit from exposure to the rich and diverse forms of encounter, counsel and negotiation that exist or have existed in world cultures, unfamiliar or strange as they may seem, because they can suggest alternate ways of listening to others, gaining understanding and resolving apparently intractable problems. Any narrowing of listening models is a bad thing.

Torokoiwa and daughter
Torokoiwa (a Yanomami shaman) and daughter. Photograph by Odile Laperche.

One of the recordings that stood out to me was his recording of wayamou – a type of ceremonial dialogue that the Yanomami use to negotiate relationships, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between different communities.

Wayamou is conducted at night and is performed in pairs, with one member from each community taking part. One participant will lead, and depending on whether the communities are on good or bad terms, he will criticise and reprimand the other participant, or submit requests and proposals to them.

The speaker will adopt a heavily metaphorical manner of speaking to conduct these conversations diplomatically and avoid addressing sensitive subjects too directly. The other participant will then repeat the phrases, words and syllables uttered by the speaker – sometimes identically and sometimes with slight variations – to show agreement with the speaker or at least an understanding of his point of view.

Afterwards, the participants swap roles so both have a chance to speak. The pair is then replaced by series of other pairs and discussions continue throughout the night.

It is a duel of persuasion and negotiation, where participants have the opportunity to put words, ideas and desires in each other’s mouth. Ideally, by dawn, solutions or compromises to the communities’ problems will have been reached.

Wayamou, recorded by David Toop [BL REF C1162/8 C1]

The controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon once described wayamou as: “something like a fast game of Ping-Pong, with the melodic, staccato phrases as the ball.”

We hear how the speakers throw these words and phrases between each other, creating colliding rhythms and echoing crescendos that are abruptly punctuated with sharp accents.

At certain points, you can even hear the respondent replying so fast that he is speaking at the same time as the lead participant, guessing what the lead is saying before he has even said it.

I was so enthralled by this amazingly fast and complex dialogue that I didn’t even stop to think about what they could be saying. However, when reading the liner notes to Lost Shadows, I was surprised to learn that there was a false start to the recording:

The recording seems to be going well, but Emilio jumps up, clearly angry, and stops them. What they have been saying is that the foreigners are stupid to want to record their music and they are going to trick us out of many gifts.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. Here the wayamou had been stripped of its social function: there was no relationship to negotiate, no conflict to resolve or peace to maintain. When asked to perform under these conditions, what would there be to speak about?

Even if they are just talking about how foreigners are stupid to want to record their music, it is still an undeniably captivating recording ... and I don’t think we are stupid for wanting to listen to it!

If you are interested in learning more about the Yanomami, photographer Claudia Andujar’s exhibition The Yanomami Struggle will be running at the Barbican from June 17 to August 29 2021. Filmmaker and anthropologist Luiz Bolognesi’s film A Última Floresta (The Last Forest) will also be showing at the Berlinale on 19 and 20 June, 2021.

Further reading and listening:

Kelly Luciani, José Antonio. 2017. “On Yanomami Ceremonial Dialogues: A Political Aesthetic of Metaphorical Agency.” Journal de la Société des Américanistes 103, no. 1: 179-214.

Chagnon, Napoleon A. 1992. Yanomamö: The Last Days of Eden. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Toop, David. 2015. Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978). Sub Rosa.

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

13 May 2021

Eid Mubarak: Celebrations marking the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new month

In today’s blog, Charlotte Wardley, Project Support Officer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH), shares some recordings from our sound archive related to Eid. Charlotte is joined by Saba Syed, Chair of the British Library’s BAME Network, to talk about Ramadan and Eid.

Today is Eid, marking the end of Ramadan. Eid Mubarak!

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and each month is 29 or 30 days long. Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is observed by Muslims across the UK and worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, community and reflection.

Eid al-Fitr is the celebratory festival which marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new month. That makes ‘Eid eve’, otherwise called ‘Chand Raat’ (meaning ‘night of the moon’) in the Indian sub-continent, an exciting time. Everyone checks in with each other to see whether a new moon - which marks the new month and start of Eid - has been sighted.

New moon at sunset - photo by bartb_pt

Above: New moon at sunset,  'Ramadan رمضان' by bartb_pt  - licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In some Islamic communities you will find people on the rooftops, eagerly scouting the sky for signs of a thin new crescent moon. If it is sighted, then Eid is declared for the following day by local mosques. If a new moon hasn’t been sighted, then it’s another day of fasting with confirmation that Eid will follow the day after.

In the following recording from 2008 from the Moroccan Memories in Britain collection (C1237), interviewee Fatima Serroukh recalls how Ramadan was an exciting time for her as a young girl and she describes the traditional Moroccan foods her family would eat during Iftar. These include dishes such as ‘harira’, which is a soup with lentils, tomato and chickpeas, and ‘chebakia’ which are sesame and honey cookies. Iftar is the meal served after sunset during Ramadan, to break the day’s fast. Iftar is often a social event where many friends and family come together.

Listen to Fatima Serroukh interview - clip 1

Shelfmark: C1237/118 © Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum, now called Migrants Organise. Download Transcript - clip 1

Fatima then describes the anticipation of Eid and how her family would prepare for celebrations. She describes the traditional Moroccan outfit called ‘takchita’ that she would plan on wearing. Then on the day of Eid her family would celebrate together by eating breakfast and going to meet friends and family.

Listen to Fatima Serroukh interview - clip 2

Shelfmark: C1237/118 © Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum, now called Migrants Organise. Download Transcript - clip 2

Saba recalls similar feelings of excitement ahead of Eid and when the new moon sighting was finally announced and celebrations would begin:

Growing up, I remember the flurry of activity and excitement that would follow the declaration of the sighting of the moon. My sister and I would pull out new clothes and set about ironing them for the family. My mum would be in the kitchen preparing favourite food items for the next day. New outfit, new underwear and bangles, and anything else festive would be laid out in preparation. Then we would sit down to apply henna on each other’s hands. My dad would be liaising with friends as to which morning service we would all aim for. When I was younger, we would all attend Eid prayer at London Central Mosque on Regent Street, and the car journey there would be an event in itself. More recently, we coordinate and attend one of the hourly services at Harrow mosque, or one of the prayers organised in a local park.

Following the prayer we gather and meet other friends and families, enjoy the food stalls and ice cream. Then we head off to the graveyard, to pay our respects and offer a prayer to the recently deceased, followed by visiting loads of people and eating lots of lovely delicious food. As children we would also look forward to ‘Eidi’ – money handed out by the elders. Now our tradition has shifted and my family buys each other gifts, and so there will be one point in the day when immediate family will get together, hand out gifts and enjoy watching everyone rip off the wrapping and delight in their new presents.

The final recording featured on this blog comes from our Head of Sound and Vision, Janet Topp Fargion’s collection, which was recently digitised by the UOSH project. It was recorded at a fairground in Zanzibar in 1989 during Iddi Mossi (Eid al-Fitr) celebrations, where many people from the town and rural areas gathered for festivities, food and lots of fun. You can hear the celebratory atmosphere, with the adhan in the background, which is the Islamic call to prayer, and the Beni brass band in procession around the fairground. Beni is one of Zanzibar’s best-loved celebratory musics and is performed at special occasions.

Listen to Iddi Mossi fairground - Janet Topp Fargion collection

Shelfmark: C724/2/6 © Janet Topp Fargion.

It is the second year Eid celebrations will be different for many Muslims across the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Saba reflects on the ways in which her family have been finding moments to celebrate together during the lockdown:

This is the second year Ramadan has passed during lockdown, and last year there was no congregational prayers in mosques. Instead, we had our own family prayer with our immediate families socially distanced in the garden. Last year, my parents stayed indoors and observed us in the garden through the window of their house, until the final moment when they came out to pray before dashing back inside afterwards. My mum had prepared her usual feast for us, which was laid out in the conservatory, and we all helped ourselves and sat in the garden to eat as she watched us through the window, happy in the knowledge that her children were still with her on Eid, even with social distancing.

We wish our Muslim friends and family Eid Mubarak and despite the sadness, loss and difficulties many have experienced since last Eid, we hope those of you reading this blog and listening to these recordings will come together in a moment of celebration.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage for updates from the UOSH Project team.

Thank you to Saba Syed for generously sharing her memories and knowledge, to those who feature in the sound recordings, and thank you to Jonnie Robinson, Andrea Zarza, Janet Topp Fargion and Mary Stewart for their help preparing this blog.

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