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158 posts categorized "Music"

23 July 2021

Persian choral album surfaces after four decades in limbo

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Choral Music from Persia CD coverCD cover courtesy of Persian Dutch Network

Guest blog by Pejman Akbarzadeh

In 1973, the Empress of Persia, Farah Pahlavi, commissioned the choral conductor Evlin Baghcheban to establish a conservatory of music for orphaned children. In this school, Baghcheban organised a choral group called the Farah Choir. The group gave regular concerts throughout the country and in the autumn of 1978 went to Austria to record their debut album. A number of fascinating Persian folk songs were recorded in Vienna, with a plan to release them in Tehran. However, the victory of the Islamic Revolution disrupted all plans, the choir was dissolved, and its conductor went into exile. 

The master tapes of the 1978 recording session remained silent at Baghcheban's house for decades. The name of the choral group 'Farah' was a reference to the name of the former queen of Persia, so releasing an album under her name was out of question in post-revolutionary Iran. However, shortly after the death of Baghcheban the tapes were transferred to Holland, where they were restored and released by the Persian Dutch Network.

This recording has a key historical value for Persian choral music. It features the first attempt, by Ruben Gregorian (1915-1991), to arrange Persian folk songs for a Western-style choir. Gregorian published the scores of his arrangements in Tehran in 1948, but recordings of his work were not previously available internationally. In his arrangements, he tried to be as faithful as possible to the original melodies, with no intention of changing or developing any part. The rest of the songs in the Farah Choir's recording were arranged by one of the next generation of Persian composers, Samin Baghcheban (1925-2008), husband of Evlin. His style is very different, showing more interest in the use of folk melodies as a starting idea, then developed using various compositional methods. He uses imitation and drone in his arrangements as well.

The British magazine Songlines has featured a four-star review for the recording and Empress Farah has expressed delight that the 1978 recording has been preserved and become available after four decades. The album "Choral Music from Persia" plays a crucial role to raise public awareness of a little known genre in music.

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05 July 2021

‘Violence, shock, life’: the sounds of Pierre Boulez’s formative years

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Pierre Boulez (1968)Pierre Boulez (1968)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Dr Caroline Potter

Pierre Boulez was one of the most important musicians of the 20th and early 21st centuries. His own music is often considered forbiddingly cerebral, not least because musicologists have tended to focus on its construction, but I contend that the French literary and broader intellectual context was at least as important to the composer as musical techniques such as serialism. My research project, generously supported in 2020-21 by a British Library Edison Fellowship, uncovers the crucial impact of this context on Boulez, enhancing our understanding of his work and leading towards a more visceral, emotional response to his work.

Boulez’s reputation as the ‘angry young man’ of European modern music followed him for the rest of his long life. He was angry because music mattered hugely to him. Of course, this anger sprang from his rejection of the conservative French musical culture of his youth, from a desire to wipe the slate clean after the horrors of World War II, and surely also from his rejection of senior male role models, including his father who wanted him to train as an engineer. But, more profoundly, this violence and anger has striking parallels in Parisian artistic culture of the 1930s and 40s, and specifically from artists broadly connected with surrealism.

Antonin Artaud 1926Antonin Artaud (1926)

 One of the most important figures in Boulez’s artistic evolution was Antonin Artaud (1897-1948). He is best known today for writings including The Theatre and its Double, but for Boulez, Artaud was not primarily a cultural theoretician, but a performing artist whose work only truly existed live. It was Paule Thévenin, Artaud’s friend and later his literary executor, who introduced Artaud’s work to Boulez (she later also edited a collection of Boulez’s writings). Artaud’s final public performance took place at the Galerie Loeb in Paris in July 1947, where he read some of his texts surrounded by an exhibition of his drawings. This was an intimate space; ‘Boulez and his friends had to sit in front of the first row of chairs, and they found themselves almost ‘under’ the voice of Artaud when he was reading.’[1] Being within spitting distance of Artaud, still a charismatic performer despite his much reduced physical condition, was an experience that Boulez never forgot. Towards the end of his life, he recalled that Artaud’s performance ‘made an impression on me because what initially seemed to make no sense suddenly made sense very strongly.’[2]

Few Artaud recordings survive: there are copies of Aliénation et la magie noire (1946) and Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947) in the British Library. In Pour en finir… Artaud pushes his voice to its very limits;

Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947) extract

through the extremes of expression, register and dynamics, he sought to transcend the limitations of human utterances. Listening to Artaud’s vocal performance alongside the final movement of Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata played by Maurizio Pollini, with its aggressive performance directions such as ‘pulvériser le son’, shows that they both inhabit a sound world where no holds are barred.

Boulez Piano Sonata No.2 extract

In the 1920s, Artaud was briefly associated with André Breton, the self-appointed leader of the surrealist movement. The French surrealist circle was a pluridisciplinary environment whose members had wide-ranging artistic and intellectual interests. Often these coexisted in one publication, as in the reviews Documents and Minotaure, whose pages provide a complete portrait of contemporary surrealism, from psychoanalytical studies of delirium to images provoking new ideas through incongruous juxtapositions. And Breton himself frequently combined photography, autobiography and fiction in a single publication; he also had a strong interest in ethnography and amassed an impressive collection of non-Western and esoteric objects.

One obvious connection between Breton’s stories – one that was particularly resonant for Boulez – is the recycling of the last phrase of his novella Nadja (1928), ‘La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas’ (Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not be). At the end of ‘La beauté sera convulsive’, a short story published in Minotaure in 1934, we read this extension: ‘La beauté convulsive sera érotique-voilée, explosante-fixe, magique-circonstancielle ou ne sera pas’ (Convulsive beauty will be erotic-veiled, exploding-fixed, magic-circumstantial or it will not be).[3] Convulsive beauty is a physical shock, an instant unmediated reaction which has the power to reunite supposed opposites. It provokes profound sensations instantaneously which according to Breton, ‘could not come to us via ordinary logical paths.’

‘La beauté sera convulsive’ is illustrated by a photo by Man Ray captioned ‘explosante-fixe’: a female dancer wearing a full skirt and sleeves, perhaps a flamenco dancer in a trance, captured in a freeze frame with her arms, sleeves and skirt suspended in mid-whirling motion. This fleeting instant captured on film exemplifies ‘convulsive beauty.’ Images, it is suggested, are superior to words as conduits of convulsive beauty, provoking as they do an instant, unmediated reaction. And moving beyond Breton, I contend that music has an even stronger power to convey convulsive beauty. Music can only exist in time and in sound; its action on our senses is literally ‘moving.’ Unlike Breton, the Belgian composer André Souris, a friend and early supporter of Boulez, understood the unique power of music; he believed that ‘the language of music was more apt than any other to faithfully relay the deepest feelings’ and that music was ‘perhaps the medium most suited to surrealist expression.’[4]

The impact of surrealism on Boulez has been underplayed: most obviously, he used a Breton fragment, …explosante-fixe…, as the title of several related works in the 1970s-90s, and this fusion of apparent opposites – explosion and stasis – is a highly apt metaphor for his music. A recording of an early version conducted by Boulez at the Proms on 17 August 1973, when compared with later versions, shows that its musical identity remained remarkably stable. This extract was recycled in later iterations of …explosante-fixe…, including the offshoot Mémoriale (1985).

Explosante Fixe (1973) extract

In a letter to Souris written in 1947, Boulez wrote that his music was about ‘violence, shock, life’ and he believed ‘this is what is most lacking, it seems to me, in every work by the serial “school”.’[5] In the work of Artaud and Breton, Boulez discovered the ‘violence, shock, life’ which is the defining characteristic of his first compositions.

[1] Sarah Barbedette, ‘Différentes façons d’être voyant’ in Barbedette (ed.) Pierre Boulez [exhibition catalogue]. Paris: Actes Sud, 2015: pp. 23-37, at p. 25: ‘Boulez et ses amis doivent s’asseoir devant le premier rang de chaises, et c’est presque « sous » la voix d’Antonin Artaud qu’ils se trouvent lorsque celui-ci profère ses poèmes.’

[2] François Meïmoun, Pierre Boulez: La Naissance d’un compositeur. Paris: Aedam musicae, 2010, p. 59: ‘[…] ce qui n’avait initialement aucun sens prenait d’un coup un sens, et un sens très fort.’

[3] André Breton, ‘La beauté sera convulsive’, in Minotaure, 5 (May 1934): pp. 8-16, at p. 16.

[4] Cited in Robert Wangermée, André Souris et le complexe d’Orphée. Entre surréalisme et musique sérielle, Liège, Mardaga (1995), p. 6; ‘la matière musicale était plus propre qu’aucune autre à épouser fidèlement les mouvements intérieurs […] [la musique constituait ‘peut-être le moyen le plus conforme aux démonstrations surréalistes.’

[5] Wangermée (1995), p. 272; ‘Boulez disait ensuite ce qu’apportait sa propre musique: la violence, le choc, la vie. “C’est ce qui manque le plus, me semble-t-il, à toutes les œuvres de ‘l’école’ atonale”, ajoutait-il.’

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07 June 2021

Recording of the week: Efe honey gathering in the Ituri Forest

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

For about two months a year in the Ituri Forest, it is honey gathering season for the Efe people of north eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This season is an important and exciting time for the Efe, in which their energy is focused intensely on gathering honey, a favourite and staple part of their diet and livelihood.

The gathering occurs when honey is most abundant, between May and September. There are many different Efe songs and dances associated with honey gathering, performed before, during and after collection.

Climbing for honey
'Climbing for honey' by Terese Hart is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Honey gathering song [BL REF C423_1 S2 C2]

This particular group song is sung when the men are gathering honey from trees. The song is a beautifully intricate texture of polyphonic singing, hand clapping and likembe (a small lamellophone). Yodelling voices gradually emerge over the men’s bass humming. Listen closely and you can hear how the amorphous singing and humming imitates the swarm of honeybees flying around them. By ‘yodel’ we mean a vocal technique that involves alternating a ‘chest voice’ with a ‘head voice’, as recordist Didier Demolin explains in the liner notes to a CD release of his recordings.

The honey usually has to be gathered by climbing high into the trees, where the hive is often located twenty metres or more above. The men smoke out the bees and collect the honey in a basket or pack of leaves.

This song was recorded by Didier Demolin at the edge of the Ituri Forest in 1987, when the Efe were camping near the Lese villages of Ngodingodi and Digbo. The recording is part of the C423 Didier Demolin Collection and can be listened to in British Library Reading Rooms at C423/1 S2 C2.

The collection is of particular significance because the recordings were made shortly before warfare and deforestation inflicted profound damage upon Efe and Mbuti communities and their environment.

This Efe honey gathering song features in the British Library Sound Archive’s latest NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The show's selection also includes the songs of pearl divers from Bahrain, Somalian women singing to the rhythm of corn pounding, Scottish waulking songs and miners’ songs from Venezuela and the U.K., amongst many more.

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04 May 2021

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the Earth': revisiting a Buddhist temple in Fukushima

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This week (29 April – 5 May) in Japan welcomes the arrival of a cluster of national holidays known as Golden Week. Today (4 May) is celebrated as Greenery Day or Midori-no-hi (みどりの日). This is a day that encourages the people of Japan to embrace the environment and take a moment to reconnect with the natural world.

Dokeiji Temple entrance
'May Peace Prevail On Earth' - An inscription written in both Japanese and English on a sekitō (石塔), a stone pagoda that welcomes visitors at the entrance of Dokeiji Temple, a Buddhist temple located in Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the earth', says Tokuun Tanaka – head priest of Dokeiji Temple, an 800-year old Sōtō Zen temple situated in the Odaka district of Minamisōma, roughly 20km from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the north eastern coast of Japan. After the Tōhoku earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, the tsunami and nuclear disaster which followed devastated this region.

A 30km mandatory evacuation zone left many residents with no choice but to leave immediately. Their homes, their communities and their environment were all damaged irreparably. The evacuation order was lifted in 2016 but there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the long-term effects of the radiation damage there, much of which is still present in the towns and villages surrounding Fukushima, as well as in the marine and forest environments. The forests occupy 75% of the fallout zone and are still considered too dangerous to begin the process of decontamination. What is certain is that it could take many years, if not generations, before the regenerative healing powers of nature begin to take effect.

Tokuun Tanaka - Buddha's Word [BL REF C1872/48/1]

With this humble song, titled Itsukushimi (慈しみ) - a word that can be interpreted as compassion, love and mercy - Tokuun brings together Buddhist scripture from the Sutta Nipata, an ancient text considered to be over 2500 years old, with the modern stylings of folk spirituals on his acoustic guitar. 'The singer-songwriter is Buddha' he tells me in a friendly, jovial tone whilst seated on the tatami floor of Dokeiji temple’s Butsu-dō (main hall). It is a song that Tokuun sings alone at night, surrounded by a gentle chorus of night crickets on this particular late summer evening of 5 September 2019.

I had the opportunity to visit Tokuun and make this recording whilst doing field work supported by the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library Sound Archive. The resulting recordings can now be browsed on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue as the Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872)

Slowly, the members of this temple community are returning, some after many years of having been displaced, but sadly there are also those who will never return. Every month, Tokuun welcomes visitors to Dokeiji Temple, inviting them to sing together with him this song of compassion, love and healing.

In Tokuun’s own words: 'Our way of life is being challenged. From growth to maturity, let us be part of the change. Let us take the right path without concern for profit or loss. It is time for the whole of humanity to evolve based on solidarity and harmony beyond self and society.'

Written by Mat Eric Hart

The Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872) explores contemporary practices and rituals of spiritual Japanese individuals and communities, and further aims to examine, from a sonic and artistic perspective, the relationship that exists between nature and spirituality within Japanese culture. The collection includes field recordings of both traditional, contemporary and classical Japanese and Ainu music, Buddhist chants, Shinto rituals, Shugendo and Yamabushi ceremonies. These recordings were made between August and November 2019 at various locations across Japan and her islands.

26 April 2021

Recording of the Week: The world’s rarest traditional musical instrument?

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

Musicians playing the biram
Buduma musicians playing the biram, 1967. Photo courtesy of Guy Immega.

The focus of this week’s recording is unusual in a few different ways. It’s a recording of the biram, made in the city of N'guigmi in Niger, probably in the mid- to late-80s. The biram is a large boat-shaped arched harp played by the Buduma people, traditionally fishermen and cattle-herders on the shores and islands of Lake Chad. While similar harps are fairly common in Central Africa, the biram is the only one of its type in West Africa, and may have even evolved from an instrument of the Ancient Egyptians1.

Here is just an excerpt; the full (22 min. 23 sec.) recording can be listened to in British Library Reading Rooms at C617/3 S1 C1.

Buduma songs (BL REF C617/3 S1 C1)

For most instruments, the relationship between object and operator is simple – one instrument has one player. The biram is not quite so simple. In fact, it has two players, both making a completely different sound. One musician, the master, holds the neck of the harp and plucks the melody on its five strings. The other musician, usually a pupil, holds its body and drums a rhythm on the instrument’s skin soundboard and wooden trough. The combination of the deep thrum of the strings and the sharp clack of the body means that often the biram doesn’t sound like a harp at all, but more akin to the ngoni bass-lute of the Malian Bamana people. The biram is both a string instrument and a percussion instrument, literally depending on where you sit.

Musicians playing the biram
Buduma musicians playing the biram, 1967. Photo courtesy of Guy Immega.

Since this recording was made, however, the biram very nearly became extinct. As Lake Niger shrinks and its shores recede, the Buduma people are dispersing and their traditional culture and music are being lost. By the early 2000s, there was just one biram player left, a man named Boukar Tar. With no young Buduma musicians interested in learning the instrument, it seemed as if it would die with him. However, in 2002, Tar was approached by Mamane Barka, a Toubou musician already famous as a player of the gurumi lute. Tar taught Barka all he knew in the four years before his death on the condition that Barka would show the biram around the world. And he did: he performed the biram across Europe and the US2 and released the instrument’s very first album3. Barka himself died in 2018, but not before teaching the art of playing and making the biram to several students – this fantastic instrument has been pulled from the brink, although its future remains in the balance. Only time will tell if the biram will continue to recover.

Footnotes:

1 Immega, Guy (2012). Ancient Egypt’s Lost Legacy: The Buduma Culture of Lake Chad. Self-published: Vancouver.
2 Including a performance at the WOMAD festival in 2008, which can be heard at C203/1515.
3 Introducing Mamane Barka, World Music Network, 2009.

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23 April 2021

Clearing the noise surrounding copyright

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For World Copyright Day, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer Kirsten Newell examines some of the copyright law surrounding sound recordings and its implications for rights clearance on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.

The UOSH project aims to provide public access to hundreds-of-thousands of the nation’s most at-risk recordings. By working with contributors to clear their copyright, UOSH strives to promote open access to these incredible recordings whilst protecting and respecting the rights of the artists.

Copyright is complex and often misunderstood. Put simply, copyright is the owner’s legal right to create copies of their creative work and share it with the public. Under UK law, any time you create a work that originates from you, and you have exercised some skill and judgement in creating it, you hold a copyright over that work.

The UOSH project has a dedicated Rights Clearance team, committed to clearing the different layers of copyright in our recordings. A common misconception is that copyright only extends to the artistic works within a recording, such as a recorded song or monologue. However, recordings can contain multiple copyrighted works. A recorded song might consist of a musical right to a melody, a literary right to the lyrics, a performance right for the speaker or musician and the master right to the actual recording. These separate works might have different owners and often their copyright lasts for different durations.

Copyright Symbol – Image taken from CC ImagesCopyright symbol - Image taken from CC images

It is often assumed that sound effects are always in the public domain, meaning that no copyright applies, because they don’t contain another copyrighted work. However, since sound recordings give rise to their own copyright, the subject matter of a recording is irrelevant; a right exists in the recording itself. Copyright law recognises the skill that goes into collecting and editing these sounds. Audio engineers spend hours working on their recordings, to ensure the highest possible sound quality. It makes sense that their work is recognised with a copyright.

Listen to a football crowd C521/3 C1

British Library sound recordist, Nigel Bewley’s recording captures the ambience of the old West Ham FC stadium at Upton Park. Since made in the course of his employment, the copyright sits with the British Library.

Under S.16 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, copyright infringement occurs when someone commits a restricted act (such as copying or issuing copies of a work) without the owner’s consent, taking a substantial part of the work from which it is directly or indirectly derived from. But what counts as a ‘substantial’ part of a work?

In the case of Hawkes & Son v Paramount Film Service (1934), the authors of the Colonel Bogey March brought an infringement action against Paramount Film Service for including 20 seconds of the 4-minute song in their newsreel. The court concluded that the length of the segment should not be the only factor when determining whether a ‘substantial’ part of the song had been included. In one Judge’s words, since ‘anyone hearing it would know that it was the march, it is clearly a substantial, a vital, and an essential part which is being reproduced.’ For this reason, both the quantitative and qualitative merits of a segment from a copyrighted work must be considered before it is shared online.

Listen to Colonel Bogey 1CYL0000719

The ‘substantial’ part of Colonel Bogey, considered in the case. The song entered the public domain in 2015, 70 years after the death of the composer F. J. Rickets, as is the copyright duration for musical works. This means the song is now free to use, edit, adapt and reproduce.

However, there are a handful of defences, known as exceptions, which serve to justify certain uses of copyrighted material. When promoting our copyrighted recordings online for UOSH, we often rely on the Fair Dealing exception of Criticism, Review, Quotation and News Reporting. This defence allows people to take quotations from copyrighted material for the purpose of review or otherwise, provided the extract is no longer than necessary. The leading case for this defence is Hubbard v Vosper (1971) in which the Church of Scientology brought an action against Cyril Vosper, for publishing a book criticising Scientology. Vosper’s book borrowed heavily from the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church. However, it was held in this instance that since the extracts needed to be included for Vosper to make his criticisms and comments, the fair dealing exception could apply.

During the case, one Judge commented on the subjective nature of the fair dealing test, arguing ‘it is impossible to define what is “fair dealing”, it must be a question of degree’. Although the case set out many of the factors that help determine fair dealing, such as the purpose, amount and use of the reproduced work, UK law on fair dealing requires that the UOSH team assess releasing recordings under this fair dealing exception on a case-by-case basis.

Listen to Freed C1238/2558 BD2

Don't be afraid to be in love with me

You know I never do anything to hurt you, baby

Don't pull away from this good love with me

You're gonna have the time of your life if you let it, baby

I've been so understanding...

An extract from Dr Meaker’s song ‘Freed’, from our Glastonbury Festival New Bands Competition collection. Since this work is copyrighted, we have relied on the Fair Dealing exception to include a segment here. ©Dr Meaker

Copyright law is constantly evolving to best strike a balance between the rights and interests of the authors and those of the users. Having looked at some of the case law, and the precedent they set, we can better understand the laws and protocols we have in place to respect the rights that artists have over their work. Since it was made in the course of my employment, all literary rights in this article reserved to ©British Library!

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The contents of this article should not be construed as legal advice and we disclaim any liability in relation to its use.

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15 March 2021

Recording of the week: A different kind of national anthem

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

Flag of Maldives 1926-1953
The flag of the Sultanate of Maldives, as used between 1926 and 1953

When we think of national anthems, we usually have in mind grandiose compositions performed by orchestras or brass bands; epic pieces based on European art music styles such as operas, marches and fanfares accompanying sincere and stirring songs of patriotism. Today’s 'Recording of the Week' is a national anthem with a bit of a difference.

‘Salaamathi’ is the earliest known national anthem of Maldives – the small island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was originally an instrumental piece, performed by the Sultan’s band during official and state occasions at the royal palace, accompanied by a seven-gun salute. No-one knows when it was written.

Salaamathi national anthem (BL REF C996/2 BD 2)

This recording of ‘Salaamathi’ is played in its traditional style – no big European orchestra here. Unlike modern anthems, the tune of this version is not set in stone; instead, the player of the flageolet (a type of shawm, a woodwind instrument similar to an oboe) elaborates extensively on the core melody, with many extravagant ornamentations and improvised elements that make each performance unique. This melody is accompanied by a trumpet and two types of double-headed barrel drums, the funa beru and the maana beru. In Maldivian court music, the drum rhythms are often as important as the melody, and can confer meaning all on their own.

The ‘Salaamathi’ was rewritten in 1948, with lyrics and a tune based on ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and eventually replaced altogether with the current anthem, ‘Qaumee Salaam’, which was adopted in 1972. This particular recording is therefore very rare – it is possibly one of only two recordings of the original ‘Salaamathi’ ever made.

The musicians that you can hear are the surviving members of the royal band of the Sultanate of Maldives, recorded in 1979 by Hassan Ahmed Maniku. The Hassan Ahmed Maniku Collection (C996) is made up of 28 recordings by these musicians and includes pieces to accompany martial arts, military parades and official events, as well as to announce curfews and various Islamic calendar events. The Sultanate and its royal court were dissolved in 1968 when the country became a republic, and it is thought that these are the only recordings made of this music – including two versions of the original ‘Salaamathi’.

The music of Maldives is rarely heard on the world stage. With a population of about 500,000 people, its culture is often overlooked in favour of its larger South Asian neighbours. The Hassan Ahmed Maniku Collection is an invaluable resource to shed light on traditional Maldivian culture, including aspects of it that may no longer survive – as well as providing a fascinating look at a national anthem like no other.

Thanks to the Maniku family for their enthusiasm about these recordings and for allowing us to share them in this post.

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01 March 2021

Recording of the week: Friction drum song from Botswana

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This week's selection comes from Dr. Janet Topp Fargion, Head of Sound and Vision.

This song, based on the lyric 'The children of the traditional doctor can kill the medical doctor', is performed by Sebata on the sevuikivuiki friction drum and other Mbukushu villagers in the Tsodilo Hills, in the far north west of Botswana. It was recorded by John Brearley in 1982 during his first field trip to the country, one of many he conducted over the following decades.

The sevuikivuiki is a friction drum constructed over a hole in the ground. A hole is dug, about the size of a bucket, and a fairly flat woven mat is placed over it acting as the drum skin. On top of this sits the core of a corn-cob and a long notched stick kept in place by the performer’s foot. The instrument is played by rubbing two smaller sticks along the notches, producing a percussive sound that is deepened through a resonating hole in the ground.

Performer playing friction drum
Sebata playing the sevuikivuiki friction drum, Botswana, 1982. Photo by John Brearley

Sabata on sevuikivuiki with singing (BL REF C65/4 C5)

John Brearley describes the instrument in detail in his article ‘A musical tour of Botswana’ in Botswana Notes and Records (Volume 16, 1984, pp45-57).

The Tsolido Hills were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001 on account of the roughly 4000 examples of rock art dating back almost 100,000 years. These are beautifully described and illustrated on the British Museum’s African Rock Art website.

Although the Mbukushu, a Bantu people, only moved into this Tsolido Hills region within the last 200 years or so, they live amongst the various hunter-gatherer peoples who would have been responsible for the art works. Indeed hunter-gatherers and farming Bantu peoples have lived in this location for centuries: it is thought that many of the paintings were created by Bantu farmers as early as 800 - 1200 AD.

The recording forms part of the John Brearley Collection (C65). More recordings from this collection can be listened to on British Library Sounds.

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