Sound and vision blog

137 posts categorized "World & traditional music"

10 January 2022

Recording of the week: A new year song from Vanuatu

This week’s selection comes from Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow.

In early 1924, just before leaving the island of Efate due to ill health, the Presbyterian missionary Eric Raff used a phonograph to record around 30 songs on wax cylinders. The performers of these songs came from villages around Port Vila on Efate, the capital of what was then the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides, now the Republic of Vanuatu.

Map of the islands of the Republic of VanuatuMap of Vanuatu © Nations Online Project. Efate circled in red.


These twelve cylinders, now digitised, form the Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83) at the British Library Sound Archive. The collection is being researched as part of the True Echoes project. Fieldworkers from the Vanuatu Cultural Centre/Vanuatu Kaljorel Senta, a project partner, have recently started to take the recordings back to the communities from which they originate.

The second track of cylinder C83/1502 was described as a New Year song, sung by Tavero and Leiboni from Meli, and Turi from Leleppa.

A new year song from Vanuatu [BL REF C83/1502]

Eric Raff’s widow, Ruth, typed up the translations and transcriptions of the recordings shortly after her husband’s death in 1927. The relevant section for this song includes a translation by Nganga, who was probably a Mele chief at that time:

Transcription and translation of the New Year SongA typed transcription and translation of 'New Year Song' produced by Ruth Raff and held at the British Library Sound Archive (cropped).

Download Transcript

In 1924, 'Meli' referred to the small offshore island of Mele in Mele Bay. In 1950, the government of the New Hebrides ordered the population of Mele Island to relocate to the mainland; today, Mele, or Imere, is a large village a few miles north-west of Port Vila. Around 2000 people speak the Mele language, which is of Polynesian origin. Leleppa, or Lelepa, is an island off the northwest coast of Efate.

Map of Efate, Vanuatu, showing the locations of Mele and Lelepa islands, and Mele village today.Map of Efate, Vanuatu, showing the locations of Mele and Lelepa islands, and Mele village today. Map data ©2021 Google.

Ambong Thompson, Manager of the National Film, Sound and Photo Unit at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, spoke to Jimmy Lulu Subuso, the fieldworker at Mele village, to ask him about this New Year song. Ambong shared the following via email on 7th December 2021:

Jimmy Lulu Subuso […] confirmed that the singers on C83/1502 were from Mele village. The two singers were Leiboni Sael Taravaki and Tavero Sarapera whose generations are still living today at Mele village. The people of Mele were excited to hear the old voices and Jimmy told me this morning that they are working on recording the same song with more people taking part in the singing. The people of Mele are very well known for singing old and new songs celebrating the new year. They can sing for whole night till dawn. Between Christmas and New Year they can also visit surrounding villages on Efate including some parts of Port Vila capital with their singing and at the same time welcoming new year 2022.

A photo of Jimmy Lulu Subuso holding a guitar at the Vanuatu Cultural CentreJimmy Lulu Subuso, Vanuatu Cultural Centre fieldworker for Mele village.

The song is interesting for many reasons. It shows how concepts introduced through colonial government and Christian churches, such as the Gregorian calendar and the New Year, were celebrated in local languages and local music styles. We do not know exactly when the people of Mele started their tradition of singing in the New Year like this, but it may have been well-established by 1924. To welcome in 2022, we are proud to share with you, 98 years after it was recorded, the song sung by Tavero, Leiboni, and Turi.We thank Ambong, Jimmy Lulu, and the villagers of Mele for their support in producing this recording of the week.

True Echoes – funded by the Leverhulme Trust and BEIS – is a three-year research project centred on the British Library’s collection of Oceanic wax cylinders. These cylinders were recorded between 1898 and 1924 in the Torres Strait Islands (Australia), Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. True Echoes is working with national cultural institutions in Australia and the Pacific to increase the visibility and accessibility of the collections and reconnect the digitised sound recordings with the communities from which they originate.

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27 December 2021

Recording of the week: 'Kuli milimo', there is work in the house of the Lord

This week’s selection comes from Edoardo Marcarini, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Inspired by the festive atmosphere, I bring you not one but two recordings this week. These are meant to be appreciated together just like the turkey and gravy some people will have indulged themselves with this Christmas.

It’s 1973 and we are in Zambia, Brian Stubbings is currently spending his second year among the Tonga people of Kafue and surrounding areas. Over the course of seven years Stubbings will record many traditional songs sung on different occasions. This is the case of our first recording, a kutwa song sung by two women pounding grains using a mortar and pestle.

Women pound maize with a pestle in a mortar Women pounding grains with a pestle in Kalabaya village, Chief Sinadambwe chieftancy, Gwembe Valley, Zambia, 1973. Photo by Brian Stubbings.

They sing:

Kuli milimo (4x), kun'ganda ya ba nasi kulimilimo, alimwi cilabilikita yalila, wailesi njemilimo

[There is work, there is work in the house of the nurse there is work]

Kutwa Song [BL REF C1417/2 BD1]

The pounding of the mortar provides a rhythmical framework for the song, while singing makes the pounding more regular and the workload lighter.
You would probably be surprised to hear the same tune sung in a church, yet, that same melody was arranged into a Christian song by the Kafue Composer's Club, a group of dedicated students who worked closely with Stubbings.

The lyrics have been changed, and the rhythmical pounding of the mortar has been replaced by handclaps and single notes played on a kalimba, a wooden idiophone – not to be confused with the homonym lamellophone!

Here, they sing:

There is work, there is work in the house of the Lord there is work

Christian song based on a pounding tune [BL REF C1417/2 BD2]

Re-arranging popular and traditional melodies for religious purposes is a fairly common practice around the world. In fact, I was very surprised when, as a child, I found out Simon and Garfunkel’s 'The Sound of Silence' wasn’t originally an Italian Catholic song.

In this specific case the use of a traditional tune is rather important, as it signals a necessary transition from a purely European form to a more grassroots approach to Christian music that uses local tunes.

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08 December 2021

Documenting Bengali music in Britain

Written by Val Harding and Julie Begum from the Swadhinata Trust ahead of their British Library event 'Songs of Freedom: Celebrating Fifty Years of Bangladesh' on 16 December 2021.

In 2016 we set up an oral history project at the Swadhinata Trust aiming to document multi-generational experiences of Bengali music in Britain. The Swadhinata Trust is based in East London and is a secular group that works to promote Bengali history and heritage amongst young people. To date we have collected 30 interviews and various musical recordings that are now available to listen to in British Library Reading Rooms as the 'Bengali music and musicians in the UK Collection' (BL REF C1796).

Swadhinata Trust OrganisationBengali Women and children at Shahid Minar at Altab Ali Park in Tower Hamlets, London, for a trans-national commemoration event © Swadhinata Trust

There has been a South Asian presence in Britain for over 400 years, and music has inevitably played a part in this presence. In the first half of the 20th century lascars and seamen from the north east of India who worked for British owned ships and the Merchant Navy began to settle in London’s East End, the Midlands and Northern cities. The Bangladeshi community of today grew from these roots.

In 1971 the nation of Bangladesh was born after a war of liberation from the rule of West Pakistan, and this year, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of independence. The suppression of Bengali language and culture by West Pakistan was a key trigger in the liberation struggle. The celebration of Bengali language and culture is thus an essential and prominent aspect of Bengali identity in the UK today.

In his interview from our 'Bengali Music and Musicians in the UK' collection, Mahmudur Rahman Benu tells the story of the troupe of artists he led singing liberation songs in 1971. Like many of the interviews in this collection, it is in English and Bengali language and includes many musical demonstrations.

The history of 1971 is again reflected in an interview with singer and songwriter Moushumi Bhowmik who wrote the well known song 'Jessore Road' - inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s 1971 poem 'September on Jessore Road'. Other stories from 1971 come from two sisters, Yasmin Rahman and Rumana Khair, whose parents were activists in London during 1971.  Yasmin and Rumana sang as children at meetings and rallies supporting the war effort. They describe their experience in this excerpt from an interview:

excerpt of interview with Yasmin Rahman and Rumana Khair [BL REF C1796/15]

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From the mid-1950s through to the 1970s Bengali migrants to the UK faced many barriers. The late 1970s saw the emergence of community activism to fight racism, and with it, a gradual emergence of music that hitherto had been kept hidden behind closed doors. In her interview, Julie Begum explains how her experience of music started when she was a teenager in London, living in Tower Hamlets in the late 80s and early 90s. She describes how her and her Bengali friends were part of the community around the 'Asian underground sound', going to raves in warehouses where artists such as brothers Farook and Haroon Shamsher began to DJ as 'Joi'.

Since then, there has been a prolific growth of music making. Our interviews document migration and musical development in the UK, annual cultural events such as the Boishaki Mela (Spring Festival), music history from Bangladesh and West Bengal, theatre, and the music of the younger generations in the UK and in Bangladesh itself.

These areas are illustrated across various interviews in the collection. An interview with Mukul Ahmed, director of the theatre group Mukul and the Ghetto Tigers, demonstrates the integration of Bengali music and song into theatre. Present-day interest and innovation from the younger generation is illustrated in the interview with a ten-year-old performer, Anvita Gupta. The sound artist Abdul Shohid Jalil talks about his composition of Bengali inspired electronic music. The history of music in Bengal itself is also reflected in the interview with sarod player Somjit Dasgupta.

Bengali music is a broad term that encompasses musical practices in both Bangladesh and West Bengal in India. Before partition in 1947 this was one region, Bengal, sharing the same language, culture and music. The music of this region includes classical, folk and modern traditions, and notable composers of songs such as Rabindranath Tagore and Kobi Nazrul Islam. Our interviews include those who learn and perform these genres, and even present-day songwriters and composers, and the younger generation who are producing a fusion of music that reflects their Bengali and British backgrounds.

Our aim is to document music in the community and the culture that surrounds music. Our interviews are with community members and community music schools. The more professional and well-known musicians that we have interviewed are musicians working with the community, running classes and teaching, and involved in everyday community music making, such as Himangshu Goswami, Mahmudur Rahman Benubhai, tabla player Yousuf Ali Khan, singer Alaur Rahman, and teachers at the Udichi School of Performing Arts. Some of our interviewees are also people from other South Asian and non-Bengali backgrounds who participate and enjoy Bengali music.

Amongst those interviewed who migrated to this country, either as children or adults, there is often an expression of the hardship of psychological adjustment to living in the UK. For some who were practicing musicians or students of music back in Bangladesh and or India there was a period of time on arrival here when they could not find their voice and found themselves unable to express themselves through singing or music in the way they did back home. The process of overcoming this has been gradual, and only achieved through the encouragement of friends and family. These processes are succinctly expressed in interviews with Alaur Rahman, Moushumi Bhowmik and Nadia Wahhab.

We hope you will enjoy the interviews in the 'Bengali Music and Musicians in the UK' collection both at the British Library and also at the Swadhinata Trust. Please get in touch as we are always happy to hear from you regarding any aspect of our project.

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29 November 2021

Recording of the Week: The musical pillars of a medieval Indian temple

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

In the British Library's sound archive collections, we have a lot of recordings of temple music – various types of song and music in dedication to any number of religions across the world, performed in a holy space.

Today’s Recording of the Week is temple music with a slight difference –music performed not only in a temple, but also on a temple.

Hampi030Some of the musical pillars of the Vittala Temple. Photo by Tom Vater’s travel companion Aroon Thaewchatturat.

The Shri Vijaya Vittala Temple sits among the breath-taking and sprawling ruins of the ancient city of Hampi, in Karnataka, India. Dedicated to Vittala, a manifestation of the god Vishnu and his avatar Krishna, the temple began construction sometime in the 15th or 16th centuries but was never finished – the city was destroyed in 1565.

The impressive temple is famous for many reasons, including a giant stone shrine in the shape of a chariot, which is pictured on the ₹50 note. It is also known for its 56 musical pillars.

Each of the temple’s eight main pillars are surrounded by seven smaller pillars. When these small pillars are struck with the hand or a wooden beater, they ring in a clear, bell-like tone. Not only that, but each pillar in a set is tuned to a different note, meaning that together they sound a scale on which music can be performed.

Vittala Temple C799/6 S1 C2 [BL REF]

The pillars are made from solid granite, with minute differences in size and shape to give them their clear and perfectly-tuned tones. Different pillars are also said to represent different instruments, some representing melody instruments such as the veena and some representing percussion such as the mridangam.

This recording – which can be found in the sound archive's catalogue, was made by Tom Vater in 1995, and it’s one of the clearest and most detailed recording of a ‘performance’ of the Vittala Temple pillars. While most other recordings demonstrate the sound of just one or two pillars, Vater’s captures the sound of several sets of notes, while insects and birds fill the soundscape behind.

The entirety of the ruined city of Hampi is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and in order to protect the temple and its pillars, it is no longer permitted to play the musical pillars. Vater’s recording gives a valuable insight into this fascinating monument of the medieval world as well as being an outstanding and intriguing document in its own right: where temple music meets 'architecturomusicology'!

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18 November 2021

Introducing the Collections in Dialogue commission with Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library

Written by Jill McKnight, Artist-in-Residence.

I am an artist based in Leeds working across sculpture, writing, installation, drawing and print and I’ve been selected as the artist in residency for Collections in Dialogue, a co-commission project by the British Library and Leeds Art Gallery. The project brief particularly interested me because it focused on cultural identity which is one of my central artistic concerns, particularly the representation of working-class people in Northern England and lesser-heard voices that would otherwise be lost or overlooked. This opportunity has been incredibly timely, enabling me to develop these interests through researching the Library’s and Leeds Art Gallery’s digitised collections. My research will culminate in an exhibition of new artwork at Leeds Art Gallery next year.

I am exploring specific areas of the two collections; World & Traditional Music and Accents and Dialects collections in the British Library’s sound archive and Works on Paper at Leeds Art Gallery. As both collections are vast – 6.5 million recordings in the sound archive, and over 10,000 works on paper – I established key themes to direct my research. As an artist working in the city, I chose to explore how people in the Leeds region have represented themselves and others in the two collections. Where there are gaps in representation in one collection, particularly of people traditionally underrepresented in the arts, I plan to bring them into conversation with representations in the other collection through my work.

Following meetings with British Library Curators Jonnie Robinson and Andrea Zarza and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team, I have been searching the Library’s Sound & Moving Image Catalogue to identify relevant recordings.

The Opie Collection of Children’s Games & Songs fascinates me because rhymes passed down by word of mouth tell collective stories about society. Rowland Kellet was a folklorist born in Leeds, who I learned about from this collection. Kellet collected children’s games, songs and jingles from across the UK, including variations of the same song in different parts of Leeds. Although many different versions of folk songs exist, each version is unique to the performer. These communal songs share a relationship with work songs and folk songs, which connect with Leeds’ industrial history.

Kellett comments on the timelessness of these songs in his interview with Iona Opie, saying, ‘There is no life, there’s no deaths of these songs. To me they are eternal. You can’t kill them because, because if you try to kill it you bring a different variant of it.’ I have been fortunate to view some of Kellet’s paper archives held at Leeds Central Library, and will be listening to folk songs performed by Kellet, recently catalogued as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Leeds is a city that has thrived due to the diversity of its population. In recordings like 'Conversation in Leeds about accent, dialect and attitudes to language', part of BBC Voices, six interviewees from Moortown, Leeds, talk about their own accents, Yorkshire dialect and the Punjabi language – one interviewee recognises both regions as being rooted in common industrial identities, saying, ‘you could say they were twin cities basically, twin states Yorkshire and Punjab.’

In 'Leeds - Millennium Memory Bank' six teenagers from South Leeds talk about being proud of working-class, with one explaining, ‘Even when my dad gives me pocket money I don’t like it, because you know like I ending washing up for him or something, because I like earning money because then I know I’ve worked for it.’ This same work ethic in 1999 connects with lines from folk song The Maid’s Lament, performed by Mrs Johnstone and recorded in 1967, by Fred Hamer.

Excerpt of The Maid's Lament sung by Mrs Johnstone [BL REF C433/7]

At Leeds Art Gallery, I chose to focus on the works on paper collection due to its range – from sketches to finished compositions; watercolours to photography; large quantity and conservation considerations that have meant some works have never been on display.

Works of art on paper spread out across a wooden table.            Selection of works on paper that I viewed in person at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

I met with Assistant Curator Laura Claveria to discuss key words and themes, including working-class culture, women, children and Leeds-related artists, from which Laura sent an initial longlist of relevant works from the collection. From this, I made a shortlist to view in person. It was fantastic to see the works up close, where intricacies and details conveying the hand of the artist often jump out more directly than in digital form.

Artist sitting at a wooden table consulting paper files and writing with pencil in notebook.                 Researching Edna Lumb’s artist file archive at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

So far I have discovered a number of artists unknown to me, including Edna Lumb (1931-1992) and Effie Hummerston (1891-1982). Both artists were born and studied in Leeds and went on to capture some of the area’s male-dominated industrial landscapes in their paintings. Edna Lumb’s work achieved national recognition during her lifetime. This is reflected in the large amount of material in Lumb’s artist file. However, critics noted that it was the scientific community, rather than artistic, who more frequently celebrated the work due to its realist depiction of industrial technology.

Painting of Tingley Gas Works in the distant horizon above green fields.                Edna Lumb, Tingley Gas Works, oil on canvas, 1964. © Leeds Museums & Galleries.

Another fascinating part of the collection are works on paper by seven artists that were ideas for a mural scheme for Leeds Town Hall, a commission in 1920 led by Michael Sadler, which was also intended as a commemorative response to the First World War. Artists selected were local and national including Percy Hague Jowett, Jacob Kramer and Albert Rutherston. The mural designs took into account the architecture of the Town Hall, with features such as doorways represented by blank spaces. The majority of the works feature industrial or pastoral scenes of Leeds, including woollen mills, the canal and Kirkstall Abbey. Perhaps this is how the artists thought the people of Leeds would want their city represented, however the designs were heavily criticised and the murals were never realised, providing an insight into the politics of that time.

My first few weeks of research have unearthed an abundance of stories, which I am now responding to through initial sketches and writing of my own. This will further direct my ongoing research and inform my final proposal at the start of next year for the exhibition in spring.

Collections in Dialogue

Collections in Dialogue is a new artist co-commission project between Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library.

It is formed around the commissioning an artist based in the North of England to work with collections at both institutions as a catalyst to produce new work that creates a dialogue between them. Following a recruitment process, the commission was awarded to Jill McKnight in summer 2021. The work Jill creates will be exhibited at Leeds Art Gallery from March – October 2022 with some digital elements shown online.

Collections in Dialogue is part of the British Library’s growing culture programme in Leeds and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.

01 November 2021

Recording of the week: Preserving the Peruvian jarija

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

Last autumn, while cataloguing the Neil Stevenson Collection made in Peru in the early seventies, I gradually started to develop a mental image of Santiago de Chocorvos, a village in the central Peruvian highlands. A few weeks ago, this image was unexpectedly brought into focus by an email containing photographs and accompanying comments sent by Neil himself. It was surprisingly moving to put faces to the voices that had become so familiar.C1103 Neil Stevenson - Men ploughingMaize sowing on terraces in Peru. Men work in groups of three or four turning the earth with a foot-plough - the leaf of a lorry spring lashed to a wooden stick. They chant in rhythm to synchronise the back-breaking work. © Neil Stevenson

The collection consists of Dr Neil Stevenson’s field recordings recorded in and around the village of Santiago de Chocorvos, Huaytará, Huancavelica, Peru, between 1971 and 1972. He was there conducting research on concepts of disease and the recordings mostly document the music and traditions of the region’s various annual agricultural ceremonies and religious festivities throughout the year.

Today’s recording of the week is a jarija work chant, sung during ploughing as part of a Minga ceremony in October 1971. Minga, or Minka, from the Quechua word 'minccacuni' means 'to ask for help promising something in return'. This is a tradition of community work dating back to the Incas. The Minga recorded by Stevenson is the annual maize sowing ceremony held in September and October, to coincide with the rainy season.

The terraced plots on the valley sides are ploughed and sown by a system of reciprocal labour, carried out cooperatively by the landowners. Each owner's plot is ploughed and seeded by his relatives and neighbours. The men plough in groups of three or four, using an Andean foot-plough, called a chakitaklla. The song is intoned by the captain who receives responses from his 'soldiers' [1]. The continuous rhythm of the jarija work chant, along with the chewing of kuka (Quechua for coca leaves) and ‘frequent nips of cane alcohol’ [2] enables the ploughing to carry on at a vigorous pace for several hours.

This excerpt of a jarija, recorded in 1971, is chanted by Faustino Gutiérrez, Justiniano Bautista and accompanying workers:

Jarija chant during ploughing. Minga of Maximo Soto [BL REF C110314 C2]

Meanwhile, women follow the ploughing, breaking up clods of earth with heavy sticks called maqana. They pause from time to time to stand in a group and sing a song called the yarawi into their cupped hands.Women sowing maize on terraced plot in PeruMaize sowing on terraces in Peru. Following the men's ploughing women break up the clods of earth with wooden sticks. Periodically they pause to sing a traditional call and response entreating the fertility of the seeds. © Neil Stevenson

When the ploughing is completed, the workers gather in the corner of a terrace for a maize seed ceremony, during which the women sing the yarawi de semilla (semilla means seed in Spanish). This is followed by a fertility rite, involving the exchanging of flowers. As Stevenson puts it, ‘from this point on there is a general air of licentiousness about the proceedings’ [3]. The men then dig furrows to the rhythm of a slower jarija chant and the women sow the seed.

The work is completed by nightfall and, after further rites, the workers carry the plot owner ‘perched on top of a platform made from crossed foot ploughs’[4] back to his home where they enjoy a large meal of traditional dishes, including one example of each food that the earth provides [5]. After the meal, there is a party involving a singing and dancing competition called the jachua, recordings of which are also in Stevenson’s collection. The songs and joking continue well into the night.

In a letter to the BBC Sound Archive written in 1974, Stevenson indicated that these are rare and ‘probably unique’ recordings of the Minga tradition at this time: ‘the ceremony was previously widely celebrated in this form in Peru but is now found only in a very few places and the complete form, as I have recorded, has not been discovered anywhere else.’ [6]

The ceremony has in fact continued to this day in Santiago de Chocorvos, as this video demonstrates. In this other YouTube video, made by the organisation ‘Quechuata Rimay’, Juan Huachin gives further insight into the tradition. Juan and the interviewer demonstrate a jarija chant at 8 minutes 06 seconds.

Stevenson’s recordings inspired my contribution to the British Library Sound Archive’s NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The hour-long selection includes the jarija work chant featured in this post, followed by the equally haunting, yet energetic women’s yarawi song. Like in this modern recording of the ceremony (at 2 minutes 02 seconds), we can hear the men’s jarija in the background whilst the women sing.

Should Dr Neil Stevenson see any of these videos, I can’t help wondering if he might recognise some of the families from fifty years ago. Thank you Neil, for the wonderful recordings, photographs and insights.

Further reading and listening:

[1] Neil I. Stevenson. Andean Village Technology: An Introduction to a Collection of Manufactured Articles from Santiago de Chocorvos, Peru. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1974.

[2] Neil Stevenson. Music from Highland Peru. BBC Radio 3, 1974. [BL REF C1103/29 S1 C1]

[3] Ibid.

[4] Neil I. Stevenson. Andean Village Technology: An Introduction to a Collection of Manufactured Articles from Santiago de Chocorvos, Peru. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1974.

[5] Neil Stevenson. Music from Highland Peru. BBC Radio 3, 1974. [BL REF C1103/29 S1 C1]

[6] Neil Stevenson. Letter to Jillian M. White, BBC Sound Archive. 25 July 1974.

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21 October 2021

True Echoes: Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides cylinder collection (C83)

The Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83) is a set of twelve black wax cylinders recorded in 1924 on the island of Efate in Vanuatu. The collection was previously known as the RAI Vanuatu Cylinder Collection as the cylinders came into the Library from the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1983, but with no documentation as to when they were recorded or by whom.

Their British Library shelfmarks are C83/1498 to C83/1509. Three cylinders, C83/1504, C83/1506, and C83/1508, are badly broken and so could not be dubbed. It is one of two collections from Vanuatu within the True Echoes project at the British Library; the other is the John Layard 1914-1915 Atchin, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C177).

The cylinders of the Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83)

Above: The cylinders of the Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83)

The cylinders were accompanied by 28 sheets, formerly held together by small rusty pins, but there was no information about the recordist or the date. The papers are carefully typed out translations and transcriptions of songs and stories from various villages on Efate.

A transcript of the recording 'The song to warn Iakokae-Iako' as performed by Miriam of Malavau

Above: A transcript of the recording "The song to warn Iakokae-Iako" as performed by Miriam of Malavau. This is the third page of the original documentation for the cylinder collection. Held by the British Library's World and Traditional Music section.

We started the historical research by compiling a document of everything we knew about the collection, and a list of any possible recordists, from anthropologists to government officials, from missionaries to traders, who spent time on Efate between 1898 and the 1930s. We circulated this document to researchers working in Vanuatu today.  We looked at handwriting, and other likely characteristics of the recordist. Chris Ballard at the Australian National University helped us to deduce who the recordist was. We can now say that the cylinders were recorded by Eric Maitland Kirk Raff (1892–1927), an Australian Presbyterian missionary who was based at Vila on Efate from 1917 to 1924.

Eric was born in Victoria, Australia, on 29 March 1892. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Melbourne on 18 October 1916, and formally appointed as minister of the Margaret Whitecross Paton Memorial Church in Vila on the same day. On 9 December 1916, he married Ruth (née Baird), and on 17 January 1917, they left Australia for Vanuatu, then called the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides.

Sarah Walpole, archivist at the RAI, found correspondence from 1927 between Ruth Raff and Sir Everard im Thurn, a former President of the RAI, which gave us a much better understanding of this collection. Ruth noted that Eric made thirteen 4-minute Edison phonograph records “in Vila … early in 1924” (Raff 1927b). The collection only comprises twelve cylinders now; we do not know what happened to the thirteenth. The cylinders are unusual as they hold 4 minutes of recording as opposed to the more usual 2 minutes; the phonograph used to record them operated at a faster turning speed. These particular kind of cylinders were very fragile, which explains why three of the twelve surviving cylinders are badly broken. We do not know how or where Eric obtained the phonograph or the cylinders.

The Raffs left Efate in 1924 due to Eric’s ill health, and travelled to Scotland. Later that year, Eric wrote to both the Edison Bell Works and the Gramophone Company as he wanted to have permanent copies of the cylinders made; neither company could help. Ruth also noted that they tried to enlist the help of Alfred Cort Haddon – “a friend at Cambridge (an ethnologist whom we had met in the Islands) tried to interest Dr Haddon, but apparently nothing came of it – I think they said their funds were low!” (Raff 1927b). Haddon led the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits and the cylinders produced during this expedition are now in the collections of the British Library’s Sound Archive. Further information on this collection, known as C80, can be found in this Sound & Vision blog post.

In July 1926, Eric received a reply from Thomas Joyce, Deputy Keeper of the Department of Ceramics and Ethnography at the British Museum, indicating that he would purchase Raff’s “New Hebrides Records” at 5 shillings a piece (Joyce 1926).

Eric died on 22 March 1927 in Bournemouth at the age of 34. Ruth was determined that the “valuable phonographic records of old native songs (both legends & songs fast dying out)” collected by her husband should not be lost to science (Raff 1927a). During a stay in Edinburgh in April and May 1927, she typed up all of the legends to give to Thurn; she mentioned “more interesting notes on early Efate” that she could send to him later (Raff 1927d). It is not clear whether this material has survived. It is also not clear what happened to the cylinders. Ruth may have sold them to the British Museum when she visited London in early June before her departure for Australia on the 16th June (Raff 1927c).

The level of detail on the accompanying documentation, including corrections on the covering List of Records as well as on the transcriptions and translations, indicates that both Eric and Ruth were familiar with the languages represented in the collection.  This documentation indicates that there were originally 30 songs recorded. Six performers are noted by name and village: Miriam of Malavau, Meny of Fila, Turi of Leleppa, and Kaltaban, Leiboni, and Tavero of Meli. Four songs were performed by “Pango women.” Nganga, probably a chief of Meli, is noted as the translator of three songs. Initial research indicates that most of the songs are from the languages of North Efate (Nakanamanga), South Efate (Nafsan) and Mele-Fila (specifically the Meli dialect).

A map of Efate highlighting Port Vila and the villages of the C83 Vanuatu performers. Map data ©2021 Google.

Above: A map of Efate highlighting Port Vila and the villages of the C83 Vanuatu performers. Map data ©2021 Google.

The clip that we would like to share with you today is from the first song on cylinder C83/1498, Iakokae-Iako, by Miriam of Malavau.

Clip from C83/1498, Iakokae-Iako by Miriam of Malavau

Research to find out more information about the performers and the genres of the songs and stories told, as well as the languages featured in the recordings, will be done by our project partners at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre / Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VCC / VKS). Ambong Thompson is Manager of the National Film, Sound and Photo Unit that manages the Vanuatu Cultural Centre’s collection of film and audio recordings and photographic collections of cultural events, ceremonies, celebrations, performance, practices and activities. Through the True Echoes project, digital copies of Eric Raff's 1924 recordings will be accessioned into the VCC collection.

Ambong Thompson, Manager of National Film, Sound and Photo Unit at Vanuatu Cultural Centre

Above: Ambong Thompson, Manager of National Film, Sound and Photo Unit at Vanuatu Cultural Centre.

Ambong said,  

“We have already identified three fieldworkers from Mele, Ifira and Pango to work with staff from Vanuatu Cultural Centre… We have already spoken to, and had a good response, from Mele village. Some people from Mele Village have heard about the project and were very delighted.”

The VCC is working to identify the right people and equipment to undertake participatory research for this project. Ambong noted that these are “very old recordings and will make a major contribution towards our collections”.

References:

Joyce, Thomas Atholl. 1926. ’T.A. Joyce, Dept. of Ceramics and Ethnography, British Museum to Rev. E.M. Raff.’ Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. No Date. http://WDAgo.com/s/5bb00889. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927a. Letter from Mrs Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 27 March 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/47577a34. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927b. Letter from Mrs. Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 14 April 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/3bf69adf. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927c. Letter from Mrs. Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 8 May 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/4ccaadc9. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927d. Letter from Mrs Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 10 May 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/211a4c36. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow

29 June 2021

True Echoes: Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Strait Islands, 1898

The Alfred Cort Haddon 1898 Expedition (Torres Strait and New Guinea) cylinder collection (C80) is a collection of 140 wax cylinders recorded as part of the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. The collection is made up of two parts; 101 cylinders recorded in the Torres Strait Islands in Australia and 39 recorded in what is today Papua New Guinea.

Members of the 1898 Cambridge Expedition on Mabuiag, Torres Strait. From L – R: WHR Rivers, Charles Seligmann, Alfred Cort Haddon (seated), Sidney Ray and Anthony Wilkin

Above: Members of the 1898 Cambridge Expedition on Mabuiag, Torres Strait. From L – R: WHR Rivers, Charles Seligmann, Alfred Cort Haddon (seated), Sidney Ray and Anthony Wilkin. Reproduced by permission of University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology N.23035.ACH2

I am currently researching the cylinders recorded in the Torres Strait Islands as part of True Echoes, a three-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This collection of wax cylinders is hugely significant; they are the earliest ethnographic sound recordings in the British Library’s Sound Archive and the earliest recordings made in Oceania.

Of these 101 Torres Strait cylinders, 92 have been digitised, including three probable Torres Strait cylinders recently identified within other collections at the British Library. Unfortunately, some cylinders cannot be digitised because they are broken or have been damaged by mildew or mould.

The expedition was organised by Professor Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940), a distinguished natural scientist and ethnologist who was instrumental in establishing anthropology as a discipline at the University of Cambridge. Although trained as a marine biologist, his first visit to the Torres Strait Islands in 1888 was “the turning point in his life”, reshaping both his career and the field of anthropology (Quiggin 1942:81). He returned to the Torres Strait Islands in 1898 to focus on ethnology and to document traditional knowledge, including music and dance, which he noted was impacted by the effects of colonialism in the region.

The Torres Strait Islands were of particular interest to researchers of the time due to their location between the “distinctive cultural, geographical and biological zones” of Australia and New Guinea, enabling researchers to develop “European theories in both natural history and ethnology” (Herle & Rouse 1998:12).

Expedition members included William Halse Rivers Rivers (1864–1922), a physician specialising in experimental psychology and physiology; Charles Seligmann (1873–1940), a pathologist specialising in tropical diseases; Charles Samuel Myers (1873–1946), a physician who specialised in psychology and music; William McDougall (1871–1938), also a physician; linguist Sidney Ray (1858–1939), and Anthony Wilkin (1877?–1901), the expedition’s photographer.

The cylinders came into the British Library as part of the larger Sir James Frazer collection from the University of Cambridge. They were re-identified in 1978 following a visit to the British Institute of Recorded Sound (BIRS) by Alice Moyle (1908–2005). The BIRS later became the British Library's sound collections. Moyle was formerly the Ethnomusicology Research Officer at Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS), now Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). She spent a month in England from 23 August 1978, following retirement from her position at AIAS. During this trip, she spent two weeks at BIRS to discuss the plans for transferring the Torres Strait (“Myers”) cylinders to tape. She also offered assistance in sorting the Australian cylinders. She completed a “preliminary sort” of the cylinders, and later wrote about “scaling ladders and investigating the dusty corners” of the BIRS.

The 1898 cylinders have little accompanying documentation, aside from inscriptions on the cylinder containers and some small paper inserts. However, many of the recordings correspond to songs and ceremonies described in the six Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits published between 1901 and 1935. Historical research conducted by myself and Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow, as well as Alice Moyle’s findings have enabled us to enhance the metadata and documentation for this important cylinder collection. This has included re-instating attribution for many of the recordings, which feature a variety of performers from at least four of the Torres Strait Islands, including Mer / Murray Island, Mabuiag / Jervis Island, Saibai Island, and Iama / Yam Island. The expedition members often named and directly quoted Torres Strait Islanders in their publications, helping me to identify individuals featured in the recordings. For example, Peter, Tom Noboa and Waria (hereditary chief of Mabuiag) worked as Sidney Ray’s main consultants on Mabuiag, and Ulai and Gasu are featured in many of the recordings made by Myers on Mer / Murray Island.

Both Ray and Myers have been identified as the sound recordists of the Torres Strait cylinders. Myers spent most of his time on Mer / Murray Island and many of his recordings can be categorised into three groupings; Malu, keber and secular songs. The Malu and keber songs are ceremonial songs. Malu (or Malo) refers to the Malu-Bomai belief system, which was the “major religious belief system on Murray Island before the London Missionary Society arrived in the Torres Strait in 1871” (Koch 2013:15). The Keber songs are associated with the Waiet belief system and were “performed during periods of mourning” (Lawrence 2004:49) and as part of “funeral preparations” (Philp 1999:69).

The secular songs include kolap wed or “spinning top songs”; Myers noted that kolap spinning had "recently been the fashionable excuse for an island gathering" and these songs were performed while sitting in a circle and spinning the tops (Myers 1898:87; 1912:240).

C80/1032 is an example of a kolap song. The inscription on the cylinder lid and the note inside the cylinder box indicate that this is an older song, possibly composed by Joe Brown (also known as Poloaii) and sung by Ulai. These men were both from Mer / Murray Island and contributed to a number of the recordings in the cylinder collection.

A kolap (spinning top) song, Mer / Murray Island (C80/1032)

Top spinning on Murray Island / Mer, 1898

Above: Top spinning on Murray Island / Mer, 1898. Photograph taken by Anthony Wilkin. Reproduced by permission of University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology N.23184.ACH2

Ray produced recordings on Mabuiag, Saibai and Iama / Yam Island. His linguistic research was published in Volume III of the Reports. This includes a transcription and translation of the Story of Amipuru as told by Waria, which can be heard on cylinder C80/1041.

The Torres Strait collection contains recordings of songs from other cultures, including those from Samoa (C80/1055, 1488), Rotuma (C680/722, C80/1061) and Japan (C80/1049-1051). We think that these were recorded on the Torres Strait Islands.

The Torres Strait cylinder collection is large and complex. True Echoes is working in partnership with AIATSIS, as well as local communities in the Torres Strait Islands, in order to understand the collection more fully. Participatory research in the Torres Strait Islands is being planned for later this year and we hope that the sharing of local knowledge and cultural memory will enable the cylinder collection to be accurately catalogued and made more visible and accessible for the communities from which the recordings originate. Following participatory research, we hope to share the cylinder recordings and research findings via the True Echoes website.

Grace Koch (History Researcher) and Lara McLellan (Manager, International Engagement) from AIATSIS travelled to Thursday Island, Torres Strait, from 1–8 May 2021 in order to make contacts with relevant people and organisations that will be involved in the project and to learn the best ways to observe cultural protocols. Grace writes:

“Before the trip, we had circulated information about the project and had made printouts of the research documents compiled by Rebekah Hayes, listings of people recorded on the cylinders, and bibliographies of all of the Torres Strait material held in the AIATSIS collections.

“Meetings were held with staff and representatives from the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and Gur a Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK) as well as with Flora Warrior, a descendant of Net (Ned) Waria (Mabuiag I.). The Chair of GBK, Lui Ned David, is a descendant of Maino (Iama and Tudu Islands), who was a friend and mentor to Haddon on both the 1888 and 1898 trips. We also located descendants of Noboa (spelt today as Nubuwa) and Nomoa (spelt today as Numa), both of Mabuiag, and Ulai of Mer.

Grace Koch with Lui Ned David, Chair of Gur a Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK). Thursday Island, May 2021

Above: Grace Koch with Lui Ned David, Chair of Gur a Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK). Thursday Island, May 2021.

Above: Lara McLellan (L) and Grace Koch (R) with Flora Warrior, a descendant of Net (Ned) Waria, who features on some of the 1898 wax cylinder recordings. Thursday Island, May 2021.

Above: Lara McLellan (L) and Grace Koch (R) with Flora Warrior, a descendant of Net (Ned) Waria, who features on some of the 1898 wax cylinder recordings. Thursday Island, May 2021.

“All of the people with whom we spoke are involved in cultural maintenance and education, so are enthusiastic about the project. We are partnering with them to shape it in ways that will be most helpful to them and to the British Library. The work will ensure that the connections to specific islands, clans and families will be respected.”

Rebekah Hayes

True Echoes Research Fellow

Bibliography:

Herle, Anita and Rouse, Sandra (eds.) 1998. Cambridge and the Torres Strait: Centenary essays on the 1898 anthropological expedition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.1998.b.5990]

Koch, Grace. 2013. We have the song, so we have the land: song and ceremony as proof of ownership in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land claims. AIATSIS research discussion paper no. 33. Canberra: AIATSIS Research Publications. Available as a PDF online.

Lawrence, Helen Reeves. 2004. “‘The great traffic in tunes’: agents of religious and musical changes in eastern Torres Strait”. In: R. Davis (ed.) Woven Histories, Dancing Lives: Torres Strait Islander Identity, Culture and History. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. [British Library shelfmark Asia, Pacific & Africa YD.2005.a.5328]

Moyle, Alice. 14 November 1986. Letter to Ray Keogh [Held at AIATSIS, MS3501/1/129/18]

Myers, Charles Samuel. 1898-1899. Journal on Torres Straits anthropological expedition. [manuscript] Haddon Papers. ADD 8073. Cambridge: Cambridge University Library.

Myers, Charles Samuel. 1912. “Music”. In: A.C. Haddon (ed.) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, Volume IV, Arts and Crafts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 238-269. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.2011.b.632 vol. 4]

Philp, Jude. 1999. “Everything as it used to be:” Re-creating Torres Strait Islander History in 1898. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 58-78. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23825691

Quiggin, Alison Hingston. 1942. Haddon the Head Hunter: a short sketch of the life of A. C. Haddon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection 10859.n.10.]

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