THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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81 posts categorized "World & traditional music"

12 November 2018

Recording of the week: a duet for Ugandan lyres

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This week's selection comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Coordinator for Europeana Sounds.

This song, recorded in Kamuli, Uganda in 1954 by the pioneering ethnomusicologist Klaus Wachsmann, is of two ntongoli players, Kaija and Isake Ibande, from the Soga culture.

Abe Waife (BL reference C4/39)

The ntongoli is a type of lyre, a stringed instrument. The Hornbostel Sachs musical instrument classification system defines the lyre as a “yoke lute” – that is, the strings are borne by a beam connecting two prongs that emerge from the resonator. Thus, the shape of the lyre generally resembles the head of a horned animal. But a search for “lyre” on Europeana shows that lyres come in many different shapes and sizes, some very simply made, some with ornate and colourful decorations.

The lyre is most closely associated with the mythological character of Ancient Greece, Orpheus, who played so beautifully that he charmed the animals who heard him.

Lyre (ntongoli) UofEdin CC-BY-NC-SAA late 20th century ntongoli (University of Edinburgh via Europeana, CC-BY-NC-SA)

Although the image of this beautiful ntongoli, held at the University of Edinburgh, is taken from an upright position, the instrument is actually played tilted over so that the strings are more or less horizontal, rather like a guitar. You can hear from this recording that the singing and playing is very intense and powerful, with rhythmic patterns from one instrument following the other in rapid succession.

Visit British Library Sounds to hear more recordings from the Klaus Wachsmann Uganda collection.

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

22 October 2018

Recording of the week: West Africa Lagos Digital Edition

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Visitors to the Ake Arts and Book Festival to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, from 25-28 October 2018 will be able to see a new digital edition of the British Library's West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song exhibition. Held in 2015-16 at the British Library in London, the exhibition focused on literature, written and oral, and music from West African countries, helping to '[explode] the myth of the dark continent' (Nigerian Watch).

Some of the many recordings from the Library's collections used in the exhibition will be included in the digital edition. This one features Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti, grandfather of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti, singing a hymn in Yoruba. The hymn is called ‘Jesu olugbala ni mo f’ori fun ẹ’ (I give myself to Jesus the Saviour).

Jesu olugbala ni mo f’ori fun ẹ, performed by J. J. Ransome-Kuti [Zonophone 3394. BL Reference T8357W]

A-1922-editorial-on-Jesses-music-source-dw.com_

More about the piece and other representation of the Ransome-Kuti 'dynasty' as displayed in the exhibition can be seen at https://www.bl.uk/west-africa/articles/the-ransome-kuti-dynasty.

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

01 October 2018

Recording of the week: a Tamil lullaby

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

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

Fox Strangways C72/872, song 2: Lālishrīta

Lullabies transcription (Fox Strangways C72-872)

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

Schoolmistress  Tanjore (Fox Strangways C72-872)

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

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

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

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

18 September 2018

Recording of the week: Whistling to the bujɔk - Batek fishing techniques

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Coleridge Research Fellow Dr Alice Rudge writes:

The Batek are a hunting and gathering people who dwell in the lowland rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. When visiting recently, I accompanied Batek friends on a fishing trip and was taught some new techniques.

We left early in the morning, as the river they wanted to get to was a long way from the camp, around three hours walking up and down very steep hills. As we set out, they noticed elephant tracks very close to where we were going, and when we got to the river confluence, ʔEyKtlət went ahead, and found the elephants bathing just upriver from where we had planned to go.  We changed our course and instead of following the main river, we followed one of its smaller tributaries.

DSCF5462Resting and preparing fishing rods after the long walk to the river

Batek people usually make fishing rods (bawɔl) en route to the river by scraping the leaves off palm fronds, leaving only the supple, strong stems. Fishing line and a hook is then attached to one end. For bait, people dig worms from the sides of the riverbank.

With the Batek, fishing trips usually consist of a lot of walking. Having reached the river through the forest, you then wind your way back to the camp via the water, either upstream or downstream, by wading and scrambling up and down the banks. As you walk, you fish in any suitable places that you spot.

DSCF5468Klis and NaʔBɛ̃p walking up a waterfall en route to a new fishing spot.

In one spot that we reached, NaʔSrimjam started whistling. I initially thought nothing of it. Then her sister, NaʔAliw, started whistling the exact same melody… I asked what they were whistling, and they said that they were calling the bĩl fish [unidentified] to them. We had been catching bĩl earlier, and so, knowing that they were biting that day, the sisters were whistling to attract more! They also told me there are other sounds you can do to attract certain fish to you. One of these is a kind of clicking sound made at the back of the throat, which can be used to attract bujɔk (Malay bujuk, of the family Channidae).

NaʔSrimjam evocatively described this process thus:

mɨm ʔajak bujɔk mɨʔ tɔt ʔoʔ haw prmcəm… cɨ̃t! taʔcawɔt kə=mɛt kayil, mɨʔ saŋkɛt

‘when you attract bujɔk you see it coming to get your bait, you see tiny bubbles rising to the surface of the water, then cɨ̃t [expressive of the sudden sound or feeling when a fish bites your bait]! The fish will accidentally hook itself onto your fishing hook, and you lift it out’.

I didn’t manage to record the sound while they were making it in the forest that day. I was busy fishing myself, and trying not to fall over on the slippery rocks or sink into the mud. So, the next day I went to NaʔSrimjam and asked if she would make the sounds again so I could record them.

DSCF5466Sitting down for a moment to fish

She agreed, but when she tried to whistle, the sound wouldn’t come out, and we both cracked up laughing in hysterics. She kept telling me to just do it because she was laughing too much to whistle, but I said no I wanted to record her, because she was the one who knew how to do it - I had no idea! Eventually she managed to get the sound out. I then asked her to do the clicking sound made in the back of the throat that is used to attract the bujɔk fish. After she made the sound, she then tried to teach me to do it. This meant it was my turn to make a fool of myself as I couldn’t make the sound at all. When I eventually got some sound out, we joked that it was so bad that the fish would just swim away. This whole exchange can be heard in the recording.

Sounds used to attract fish (AR_201808_STE-020)

The Alice Rudge Collection of Batek recordings is currently being deposited and catalogued, and will be held under the shelfmark C1773.

Follow @_Aliz_, @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

13 September 2018

Listening to mammals with the Batek

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Coleridge Research Fellow Dr Alice Rudge writes:

The Batek are hunting and gathering people who dwell in the lowland rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. During my fieldwork with them, I played  some recordings of mammal sounds which are held at the Library. Batek people have extremely detailed ecological knowledge of the rainforest, and this is reflected in their in-depth understanding of its soundscape. I therefore played them these recordings with the idea that hearing these sounds might inspire people to give additional vocabulary or information about these sounds, based on their extensive knowledge.

You can listen to the recordings below:

Siamang duet recorded on Sumatra by Ashley Banwell (BL ref 62323)

White-handed Gibbon calls recorded in Malaysia by Reg Kersley (BL ref 06512)

Clouded Leopard calls recorded in Thailand by John Moore (BL ref 128288)

Binturong calls recorded in Thailand by John Moore (BL ref 61103)

Not only were people aware of what the animals were doing in the recordings I played, but they also accompanied this with cultural information, as well as talking about the emotions that hearing the sounds evoked.

For example, people said that the siamang and white-handed gibbon in the recordings are all running away from predators. In addition, they pointed out that in the siamang recording, the low sounds are the males, but the higher sounds are the females. 

In response to the siamang and white-handed gibbon in particular, people also exclaimed that they felt haʔip ­- an intense feeling of longing, yearning, love, or desire, which is often felt in response to things that are considered beautiful.

Photo credit: cuatrok77 on Visual hunt /  CC BY-SA
Siamang; Symphalangus syndactylus


The beauty of these mammal sounds is reflected in people’s musical instrument playing. The siamang is a favourite sound to recreate on the mouth harp, and the white-handed gibbon is a favourite sound to recreate on the flute. 

However, as well as feeling haʔip,  the white-handed gibbon recording also prompted people to tell the story of the gibbon, including the gruesome part at the end where evil cannibals cook and eat their mother-in-law, which resulted in everyone falling about laughing.

manfredrichter at Pixabay
White-handed gibbon; Hylobates lar

People recognised the sound of the clouded leopard as the yah bintaŋ - yah means ‘tiger’ in Batek, and bintaŋ (or bintang) is the Malay word for ‘stars’, referring to the pattern of its fur.

Photo credit: bobdole369 on Visualhunt /  CC BY-NC-SA
Clouded leopard; Neofelis nebulosa

In the binturong recording, they said that the female binturong is ‘trying to attract male binturongs to mate with’ (ʔoʔ ʔajak tmkal ʔom cycəy).

Photo credit: <a href="https://visualhunt.com/author/e39fc3">jinterwas</a> on <a href="https://visualhunt.com/re/f48d28">Visualhunt</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/"> CC BY</a>
Binturong; Arctictis binturong

As is also the case for recordings of birds, using wildlife recordings of mammals in the field can therefore be useful for anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, or others who may be interested to find out more about how these sounds are experienced!

The Alice Rudge Collection of Batek recordings is currently being deposited and catalogued, and will be held under the shelfmark C1773.

13 August 2018

Recording of the week: Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival

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This week's collection comes from Jowan Collier, Acquisitions Support Officer.

To me, sea shanty singing is as nostalgic and drippingly lovely as a freshly pulled pint of real ale. As a teenager, I used to huddle into the back room of the Jacob’s Ladder Inn in Falmouth with a few friends as part of our own sea shanty group. Taking in turns to be the lead vocalist (or ‘shantyman’) we ran through a whole repertoire of maritime songs that had been preserved (mostly) faithfully from the crews on board British sailing ships throughout the 19th Century.

With this in mind, today's Recording of the Week is the tune Bold Riley (Roud 18160), a traditional tune from the sea shanty group The Press Gang as part of the International Sea Shanty Festival that takes place every year in the height of summer. Like each of the 88 acts involved in the festival, The Press Gang approach shanty singing in their own unique way, mixing traditional British sailing songs with rock 'n' roll guitar.

Bold Riley (BL shelfmark DD00010580)

PRESS GANG

While acts travel to the festival from all over the world to perform and raise money for the RNLI, The Press Gang also organise their own smaller Sea Shanty festivals nearby in Cornwall for equally good causes. Thanks go to The Press Gang for allowing us to feature this recording and to the organisers of the festival for helping us record a large chunk of the whole festival.

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

20 July 2018

Mrs Boulton and the woodland warbler

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Have you ever noticed how some animals are named after people? Hume's Partridge. Lady Amherst's Pheasant. Waller's Starling. I come across this quite a lot when cataloguing new collections and have often wondered who these people were.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that these species were named after the naturalists who discovered them. Now, there are no rules that say you can't name a new species after yourself, however it's generally regarded as bad form in most taxonomic circles. Helps keep the egos in check etc.  It's perfectly acceptable to name a species after somebody else though. Most names are given as a declaration of admiration or love, however a few have been chosen out of spite. What better way to insult a critic or a rival than by naming a disagreeable specimen after them? Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, was the king of the nomenclature slap down. Mess with Linnaeus and you could be sure that a smelly weed or a boring nettle would soon bear your name.

In this particular example we're going to look at Mrs Boulton's Woodland Warbler, Seicercus laurae. Now more commonly referred to as Laura's Woodland Warbler, this little songbird can be found in the dry forests and swamps of central Africa. The species was discovered in 1931 by the American ornithologist W. Rudyerd Boulton (1901-1983) who specialised in the avifauna of Africa. While assistant curator of birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Boulton made several research trips to Africa accompanied by his first wife, the ethnomusicologist Laura Crayton Boulton (1899-1980). It was with Laura that he discovered this previously unknown warbler which he named in her honour.

Laura's Woodland Warbler, recorded at Mount Namba, Angola by Michael Mills (BL ref 163291) 

The Boultons continued to explore the ornithological and musical treasures of Africa until the mid 1930s when their marriage began to fall apart. The couple finally divorced in 1938 and, though Laura continued in the field of ethnomusicology, Rudyerd's professional life took an entirely different turn. In 1942 he joined the African branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the US intelligence agency formed during World War Two, where his knowledge of the landscape, people and politics of central African countries was put to good use. In the same year he married his second wife, the socialite, poet and psychic Inez Cunningham Stark. Though mainly based out of Washington DC, Boulton was heavily involved with operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, most notably the procurement of uranium ore for the Manhattan Project.

At the end of WWII, Boulton continued working in intelligence for several years, including a stint with the CIA, until, apparently at least, turning his back on espionage in 1958. A year later he created the charitable Atlantica Foundation with his third wife, the wealthy widow Louise Rehm. The remit of this foundation was broad but ambitious, aiming to establish and support research into zoology, ecology, fine arts and parapsychology. The couple based their operation out of Zimbabwe and were by all accounts generous supporters of research and education in the area until their deaths in 1974 (Louise) and 1983 (Rudyerd).

But what of the woman who inspired the name of our woodland warbler? Laura Boulton became a renowned field recordist, filmmaker and collector of traditional musical instruments from around the world. During her life she embarked on almost 30 recording expeditions throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and North America, amassing tens of thousands of sound recordings, photos, films, books and instruments. She experienced first hand advancements in recording technology, beginning her career with an Edison phonograph before progressing to a disc cutting machine and eventually a portable reel to reel recorder. Her legacy can be found in various institutions across the United States, from the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University to the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. 

Boulton LP  One of Boulton's published collections of ethnographic field recordings (BL Shelfmark 1LP0247765)

When beginning my research I never imagined that two such colourful characters would be behind the name of this rather inconspicuous little warbler. Two years after the discovery of Laura's Woodland Warbler, Rudyerd was himself taxonomically immortalised by the American herpetologist Karl Patterson Schmidt, who named a new species of Namib day gecko, Rhoptropus boultoni, in his honour. And in case you're wondering, Schmidt must have liked Rudyerd. Rhoptropus boultoni is a pretty cute gecko.

Follow @CherylTipp for all the latest wildlife news. 

02 July 2018

Recording of the week: Nar Sur - a little known music genre from east Baluchistan

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This week's selection comes from AHRC Collaborative PhD candidate, Christian Poske.

An unknown recordist captured this Baluchi folk song with a cylinder phonograph in Dera Bugti in Baluchistan in the winter of 1911. He noted down some information, including place and time of recording, topic of the song and instruments, but no names of performers or music style. The cylinders were later received by Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941), author of The Golden Bough and regarded as the greatest of ‘armchair anthropologists’, who acquired a collection of about 2100 ethnographic wax cylinder recordings from all parts of the world throughout his life.

In the course of the current collaborative project involving the British Library Sound Archive and the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology in Gurgaon, it became clear that the recordist documented the regional music genre Nar Sur. Named after the naḍ flute and the word sur for tune or melody, songs of this genre support the oral transmission of Baluchi history among communities. A notable feature is the throaty, drone-like singing style, while the flute player varies the melody. In the recording, the singer narrates the story of the battle between the Marri and Bugti people, the two largest ethnic groups of Baluchistan.

Song in Nar Sur style about battle between the Bugtis and Marris (C663/530)

Mohammad and Allah Bakhsh QaisraniMohammad and Allah Bakhsh Qaisrani, photograph from Suttar, D.G. Khan district, Punjab, Pakistan (Photo: Nicholas Pierce)

Another recording from September 1984, made by Nicholas Pierce in Kot Qaisrani in west Punjab, now Pakistan, features the singer Allah Bakhsh Qaisrani and the naḍ player Mohammad Bakhsh Qaisrani performing other folk songs in the Nar Sur style. The genre is practised along the Sulaiman mountain range in east Baluchistan till the present day and as literacy is still low in the region, the songs remain important means for the maintenance of Baluchi culture.

Many thanks go to Dr Janet Topp Fargion of the British Library and Shubha Chaudhuri of the ARCE for enabling this research, and to Dr Sangeeta Dutta for her support in the evaluation of recordings.

Christian is currently conducting his PhD, jointly supervised at SOAS and the BL, and is one of the researchers on the collaboration between the BL and ARCE, supported by the Rutherford Fund via BEIS. See International research collaboration on South Asian audiovisual heritage  for details of other work done during the project.

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