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119 posts categorized "World & traditional music"

04 January 2021

Recording of the week: Happy New Year!

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This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Centre label of African Acoustic Vol.1 - Guitar Songs From Tanzania  Zambia & Zaire
'Bonne Année' was released on the album African Acoustic Vol.1 - Guitar Songs From Tanzania, Zambia & Zaire by record label Original Music

In this recording made by John Low, three boys in their late teens perform a song called 'Bonne Année', which means Happy New Year in French, that they composed for the New Year celebrations of 1979.

Bonne Année recorded by John Low (BL C27/5 S1 C9)

Singing are Mukuna, Chola Piana and Soki Nambi, who also plays the guitar. Normally they would have played together in their electric guitar band, Orchestre Makosso (possibly named after another band that was famous in the 1970s) but on the night of the recording, they borrowed the recordist’s guitar.

John Low had been staying in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to study the guitar music of Jean-Bosco Mwenda. While he was there, Bosco arranged for Low to go to Likasi, where Bosco was brought up, with a Cultural Officer called Tshibuyi Katina. This was to see more of the region, and record there if possible. Likasi is in the Katanga copper belt, and it was in a neighbourhood called Zone Mpanda that Low and Katina unexpectedly met the three boys.

In John Low's forthcoming book ‘Two Guitars to Katanga’, he describes this moment with beautiful clarity –

Perhaps the best things in life are always unexpected. What followed was a performance of rare beauty. Soki picked intricate and varying patterns on the guitar, full of melodic interest. The boys sang in three parts: low tenor, high tenor and falsetto. Their young voices blended perfectly and the vocal lines soared and floated unhurriedly above the more urgent, choppy rhythms of Soki’s guitar work. The relationship of the vocal parts to the guitar patterns was very complex, yet Soki played and sang effortlessly. He was supremely talented.

These teenagers would have honed their musical skills already as young boys, almost certainly by playing in banjo groups like Yumba and his friends who we’d recorded earlier on. But now they’d moved up into a different league, and were avidly absorbing the idioms of modern Congolese dance music. Their first song, the more beautiful of the two I recorded, was called Bonne Année, and had been composed for the New Year celebrations that year.

The song, in Kikongo language, was published  on the album 'African Acoustic Vol. 1 - Guitar Songs from Tanzania, Zambia and Zaire' on John Storm Roberts' record label Original Music. In fact, all the tracks on that album are field recordings made by John Low and these, and many more, are available to listen to at the British Library as part of the John Low Collection (C27).

Thanks to John Low for allowing me to feature his recording and for his generous correspondence over email, which I've paraphrased in this post.

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28 December 2020

Recording of the week: Sámi Yoik; evoking reindeer, the wind and “wind nose”

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

Although in the UK, reindeer are associated with Christmas and winter wonderlands, for Europe’s only recognized indigenous community, the Sámi, they are a part of everyday life.

A herd of reindeer
A herd of reindeer at Jukkasjärvi in Lapland. Man in a Sami costume. Courtesy of Swedish National Heritage Board

The Sámi inhabit Sápmi—a territory stretching from the northern areas of Norway, through Sweden and Finland to the Kola Peninsula in Russia—and their livelihoods traditionally revolved around reindeer herding. This way of life has largely changed throughout decades of modernization and cultural assimilation into nation-states but the reindeer has remained central to Sámi culture and identity.

We see this strong bond between the Sámi and their animals in these examples of traditional yoik or joik, recorded by Maggie Hamilton in 1997, in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

Yoiking is an age-old Sámi tradition that can have many functions. In the past, some yoiks were used in shamanistic rituals to contact the spirit world, whereas nowadays some tell epic narratives and stories for entertainment. Some yoiks can be extremely personal and are used to evoke an ancestor or friend, whereas others can act as a personal signature, which if performed, can be seen by others as boastful. Sámi parents can yoik their children to sleep like a lullaby or even drown out a baby’s crying with their powerful performances.

A yoik is a direct reflection of its subject, which can be anything from a person, place or landscape to an animal, including, of course, the reindeer. Through performance, the yoiker tries to express the soul of what is being yoiked, and in effect, yoiks the subject into being. This is why it is often said that a yoik is not about something; it is that thing.

This also brings up interesting questions about musical ownership. As a World and Traditional Music Rights Intern, I spend a lot of my time contacting rights holders, who we consider the owners of the recordings in our collections. Whereas we may think the creator or performer of a piece of music is its owner, the Sámi hold a different view: as yoiking attempts to evoke the subject into being, it is thought that the subject owns the yoik, rather than the performer.

This is certainly the case when yoiking people but perhaps yoiking reindeer is another matter. Needless to say, I have not asked any reindeer for their permission to use these recordings!

In this first example, the performer yoiks an adult reindeer, which he describes as heargi, or a big and strong reindeer. This is just one of the hundreds of different and often poetic descriptive words the Sámi reindeer herders use to differentiate the reindeer in their herds. The Sámi language’s extensive reindeer-related vocabulary describes every possible size, shape, colouring, temperament and antler position of the animal. We can hear how the performer evokes this heargi reindeer bull with his rich, deep voice.

Adult reindeer yoik (BL REF C1650/73 BD 4)

In this second example, the performer yoiks the wind. Introducing the yoik, he tells us how the wind helps the reindeer herders to navigate vast expanses of tundra and locate their herds. He says that because reindeer often run face-first into the strong-blowing north wind, the wind tells the herders which way the reindeer are travelling – North. This also helps the herders to find their animals easily.

Wind yoik (BL REF C1650/73 BD 5)

This is a fascinating example of how yoiks can contain and transmit knowledge specific to the Sámi lifestyle. They can pass on knowledge about reindeer management practices and navigation as well as expressing the close connection between animal and environment.

In this final example, the performer yoiks biegganjunit, or wind nose, which is a very specific metaphor embedded in Sámi culture that conjures up the image of the reindeer as they are running against the blowing wind with the ice-cold air rushing up their noses. The performer tells us that although this yoik contains few actual words, it depicts the scene of these reindeer as they run, smelling for the scent of wolves and other predators that are being carried in the wind.

Wind nose yoik (C1650/73 BD 6)

Again, this shows that the meaning of a yoik does not just come from the lyrics. In fact, some yoik do not have any words at all. Yoiks can express a meaning that goes beyond words but this can only be understood when the performer and their audience are closely connected.

Yoiking and other elements of Sámi culture were repressed throughout periods of Christianization and state assimilation efforts. However, since the 1960s, it has experienced a revival. Sámi yoik has been incorporated into a variety of popular music genres and has gained more visibility on the international stage—it even made an appearance at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with Norway’s entry “Spirit in the Sky,” performed by Keiino. By continuing to yoik throughout history, the Sámi manage to maintain their cultural identity and now the tradition is thought to be one of the oldest continuous musical practices in Europe.

However, yoiking is an oral tradition at its core and some have questioned the value of documenting it in archives. As these recordings show, much of a yoik’s meaning is created between the yoiker, what is being yoiked and an initiated audience who can construct meaning by connecting the dots. When yoiks have such a strong attachment to a specific place, people and environment, some argue that if removed from that context, written down, recorded or translated, yoiks lose their complex layers of meaning and feeling. How can they mean anything to people who are not Sámi and do not know the specific contexts from which they come from? Despite this, without archives, many of these traditional yoiks—untouched by folklorizations and Eurovision song contest sparkle—would have been forgotten and not passed onto the younger generation of Sámi.

If you want to learn more about the yoik recordings in the Maggie Hamilton Collection, you can read the catalogue entries in our Sound and Moving Image catalogue. There are examples of yoik evoking bears, moose, mountains, the performer’s grandfather and even Christianized yoik, with the performer providing fascinating information about the tradition, its history and meanings.

These sound recordings were donated by Maggie Hamilton to the British Library and have been digitised as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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21 December 2020

Recording of the week: Sheffield’s pub carols, a secular tradition

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

Recorded by Ian Russell on Christmas Day 1974, in The Black Bull public house, Ecclesfield, Sheffield, this rousing rendition of ‘Six jolly miners’, followed by ‘Hark! Hark! What news’, captures the democratic and exuberant nature of the local ‘pub sing’, a tradition which goes back to the 19th century, and still thrives in certain pubs in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Map displaying view of Sheffield from Park Hill in 1740
View of Sheffield from Park Hill in 1740, taken from ‘The illustrated guide to Sheffield and the surrounding district etc.’, published Sheffield, 1879

The Sheffield carol tradition has its roots in reforms carried out by the Oxford Movement, an influential group of Victorian clergymen, whose attempts to make worship more serious resulted in a purge of certain carols, which were thought of as not really suitable for singing at Christmas. The village musicians, whose presence was no longer required in the west galleries of their parish churches, took the rejected carols to their local pubs, where they have remained ever since. The pub carols often feature different words and tunes to the more familiar Christmas repertoire, and there are variations from pub to pub and village to village. Each area is proud of its own tradition, and some have their own carols, often named after the location itself, such as ‘Stannington’, written in 1950 by Mina Dyson, who was the organist at the local church in that part of Sheffield.

Despite the subject matter, the fervour you can hear in these songs is really an expression of community spirit and uninhibited enjoyment, rather than an outpouring of religious feeling. In many of the recordings you can hear the clinking of glasses, the exchange of Christmas greetings, general pub chatter (including the odd swear word) and an atmosphere of communal enjoyment that rings out in every line. ‘Awake to joy and hail the morn’, sing the locals in the Black Bull, sounding like they’re about to raise the roof. It’s hard to listen without wanting to join in.

Recording of carol singing in Ecclesfield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire 

Made by Ian Russell in 1974, as part of his research towards his Ph.D. thesis 'Traditional Singing in West Sheffield, 1970-1972', this recording is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, which consists of sound recordings of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related sound recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute.

The sound recordings were donated to the British Library in 2019 for digitisation as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Ian Russell Collection (C331), documenting traditional English carol singing in the north of England from 1984, will also be digitised and readily available as part of this project.

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18 December 2020

Caulking the ethnographic gap – A Trobriander perspective on the songs, dances, stories and performers of the Malinowski Cylinder Collection (C46)

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linus digim’Rina is a Trobriand Islander and an anthropologist. He is currently Head of Anthropology at the University of Papua New Guinea. He provides a Trobriander perspective on the Malinowski Cylinder Collection (C46), which has also been described on the Sound and Vision blog today.

Nigadabuwa canoe with Namwanaguyau doing a slow punt along the shores of Khaulukuba beach. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/4/8

Above: Nigadabuwa canoe with Namwanaguyau doing a slow punt along the shores of Khaulukuba beach. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/4/8

All these items originated from the Bweyowa cultural heritage of the Trobriand Islands, part of its gulagula. With a slight exception on the Gumagabu song dance, the images and recordings have over time been removed from the cultural ambience of the place, Bweyowa, Kilivila, Kiriwina or the Trobriands. As with Rogaewa from the Iwa people, it will probably struggle to find a comfortable niche back at its original home. Yet it is not completely isolated and could potentially and mutually be invited back ‘home’ like the proverbial prodigal son in the Christian bible.

Gumagabu, according to Malinowski, was in 1918 owned by To’uluwa, chief of Omarakhana, and whose ancestors acquired it from the descendants of Tomakam through laga payment. If this claim by To’uluwa was true then laga payments by Bweyowa custom is outright alienation whereby holdership of previous tenant is completely terminated. I have since then not heard of any other group or village that contested this claim by To’uluwa.

Gumagabu dance. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/7/13

Above: Gumagabu dance. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/7/13

Other than this there are no plausible other claims of ownership for Rogaewa, which the Okheboma people occasionally and sentimentally lay claims to, nor is it possible for Ilakhavetega and WosiTuma for that matter. The images too are neither offensive nor emotionally heart-rending. In fact, both the sound recordings, despite the poor quality perhaps, and dance images would generate a mild reminder of perhaps a slipping-by Bweyowa cultural heritage – a certain phase of cultural paradigm that is worth reflecting upon for the future. In this view, I would suggest seeking the endorsement of the incumbent of the Bweyowa/Trobriand office of the paramount chief – GuyolaKilivila. He is the sanctioned overall custodian of Bweyowa/Kilivila gulagula. This immediately disqualifies all Church leaders, politicians of various levels and modern day professionals.

Personally, and after listening to many of the tunes, not to mention themes, of these so called archaic sounds, and generally from South East Asia through to the Pacific region, I recognise a fundamentally common similarity in the tunes, flows, humming and repetitiveness of the songs. (I wish I was a musician to explain this a bit more clearly.) This is found in poems, magical chants, mourning dirges, laments, heralds and songs. For the time being and in the absence of a better label I suspect this alluring similarity to be fundamentally Austronesian!

Malinowski today

As with Malinowski and those immediately before him, the chosen field approach together with its fine field documentation methods generated its own values, and indeed part of which we are appreciating. Over time we have all become part of the journey of documentation hence, ‘caulking ethnographic gaps’ has become our immediate task that has probably opened up more possibilities. These songs, dances and stories are alive, have been enacted, details adjusted and adopted – and continue to live on. This is a result of often mutually combined efforts between the chronicler and the informants and/or collaborators. Insofar as one can see for the Trobriand Islands at least, the anthropologist-informant relationship is by and large ephemeral suggesting unsustainability by average standards. I wonder if this is an unanticipated end result of objective-imbued field observation and documentation approaches. For, and on the other hand, the Christian churches approach do not necessarily document like the anthropologist and yet leave behind apparently a more lasting active legacy with the people – often derided as been subjective. Christian missionaries tend to impose, observe and adjust methods of cultural integration including appropriating cultural spaces such as renaming places and persons – to which the anthropologists do not. Through the institution of baptism for instance, church legacies have lived on as part of the local people’s annual cultural celebrations and personal names like Peter, Jacob, Benjamin, Esther, being proudly carried on and shielded by its received forms of morality. By contrast therefore, the world famous name of Malinowski is faintly recalled, and I know of no Trobriand child named after him. A few of the elders use his books mainly for the images and tales rather than the ideas expounded. Malinowski is not alone and indeed this includes all the other anthropologists that came after him, as well as myself at Basima, on nearby Fergusson Island. Of course, immediate family members playing hosts do rename one or two of their off springs after the anthropologist but this is where it ends, generally. This is perhaps why the world famous Malinowski shall remain obscure and often on the recesses of living Trobriand Islanders’ lives unless one is a travel writer or becomes a student of anthropology, as I have been.

Returning to the songs and dances for the last word, modern day performances lacks systematic documentation except for a few parents and school teachers insisting upon children to learn, display and be involved in cultural performances. The language is spoken everyday but not so much of the singing and dancing of those traditional themes and tunes. The introduced ideas and beliefs together with more dynamic technology have evidently taken over much of the cultural spaces. In fact only the occasional travel writers, tourists, journalists, office of tourism agents, social media enthusiasts and urban based relatives that pick up performance images for various purposes. This casual form of documentation characteristically lacks the vital cultural context. There still remains hope however for the present generation to embrace the potential of today’s technology towards the fosterage of that ‘slipping by’ Bweyowa culture.

The Rogayewo, a slow dance performed by men wearing fibre skirts, and holding pandanus streamers in their hands. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/SOS/58

Above: The Rogayewo, a slow dance performed by men wearing fibre skirts, and holding pandanus streamers in their hands. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/SOS/58

For further information and commentary from linus on the Malinowski Cylinder Collection, please visit the True Echoes website.

True Echoes: Malinowski’s 1915 – 1918 Trobriand recordings

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The Bronislaw Malinowski 1915-1918 Trobriand Islands, Territory of Papua Cylinder Collection (C46) is a collection of five black wax cylinders (British Library shelfmarks C46/1397–C46/1401) recorded by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski between 1915 and 1918 during fieldwork in what is today Papua New Guinea. The collection came from the Museum of Mankind to the British Library’s National Sound Archive in 1985.

An example of one of the Malinowski cylinders

Above: An example of one of the Malinowski cylinders

This collection is part of the True Echoes project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Learn more about True Echoes in a previous post. This is the smallest, and most recent, of the eight collections within the project, and one of three from Papua New Guinea.

Malinowski (1884–1942) was born in Poland, and moved to London in 1910 to study at the London School of Economics under Charles Seligman and Edvard Westermarck. He also corresponded with Alfred Cort Haddon and W. H. R. Rivers at Cambridge. These were amongst the leading anthropologists and sociologists of the time.

From September 1914 to March 1915, he conducted anthropological fieldwork in Territory of Papua, the southern half of what is now Papua New Guinea, including three months on the island of Mailu. He made two further trips to Papua from July 1915 to March 1916, and from November 1917 to October 1918. For much of these second two trips, he based himself in the village of Omarakana on Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands.

In his most famous work, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), Malinowski described the kula, a ceremonial exchange system involving shell valuables that operates across the Trobriand Islands and throughout much of maritime Milne Bay Province. Many regard Malinowski as one of the founding fathers of British social anthropology, and Argonauts as a seminal work. He is often seen as the originator of the ‘participant observation’ method of ethnographic fieldwork, first described in Argonauts, which became a hallmark feature of the discipline. You can read more about this method on the Cambridge Encylopaedia of Anthropology website. He went on to teach anthropology in the UK, most famously at the London School of Economics, and subsequently at Yale in the USA.

Malinowski’s map of the “Kula District”. The Trobriand Islands are just to the left of the text reading “The Northern Massim”

Above: Malinowski’s map of the “Kula District”. The Trobriand Islands are just to the left of the text reading “The Northern Massim” (Malinowski 1922:30).

For his fieldwork, Malinowski borrowed a phonograph from Charles Seligman, as noted in Argonauts (Malinowski 1922: xix), and purchased 72 cylinders in London. We do not know of any recordings made during his first trip to Papua. At least four of the five cylinders in the British Library appear to have been recorded in the Trobriand Islands; one is dated to 17 July 1918.

In partnership with Prof Don Niles at the Institute of Papua New Guinea studies, we have been able to correct the metadata in our records and find out much more about both the songs and the performers through archival and historical research. This research is highlighted on the True Echoes website. We have been assisted in this research by Michael Young, Gunter Senft and linus digim’Rina. As both a Trobriand Islander and current Head of Anthropology at the University of Papua New Guinea, linus has given us his own perspective on these recordings in a document on the True Echoes website and accompanying blog post ‘Caulking the ethnographic gap – A Trobriander perspective on the songs, dances, stories and performers of the Malinowski Cylinder Collection (C46)’.

The recordings feature songs sung by men with no accompanying instruments. The cylinder boxes have some information written on them in blue crayon. Michael Young, Malinowski’s official biographer, has confirmed that this is Malinowski’s handwriting. For four of the cylinders, the song or genre title and performer’s name is written.  

For example, C46/1399 has the words 'Usi Tuma by Monakeu' and 'Ragayewo by Tokulubakiki' written on the side of the cylinder box.

The cylinder box for Usi Tuma (C46/1399) showing part of the notation in blue crayon

Above: The cylinder box for Usi Tuma (C46/1399) showing part of the notation in blue crayon

Malinowski wrote about both Monakeu - also spelt Monakewo - and Tokulubakiki in his diary and in letters home. Tokulubakiki was from the chiefly clan of the village of Omarakana; Malinowski described him as his “best friend” and his “favourite informant in Omarakana,” (Malinowski 1929:148. 161). In a letter to his wife, Malinowski noted that Tokulubakiki was “a decent, honest, straightforward man” (Wayne 1995:151). Tokulubakiki features in a number of Malinowski’s photographs.

Tokulubakiki and his wife Kuwo’igu in front of their yam house. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI_3_SOS_26

Above: Tokulubakiki and his wife Kuwo’igu in front of their yam house. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI_3_SOS_26

There is no information about the contents of the song or story of Ragayewo. The only time that Malinowski mentioned it is in his diary: in Kiriwina, on the evening of 30 June 1918, he “sat and wrote down and translated Ragayewo” (Malinowski 1967:295). We do not know what has happened to this transcription and translation.

Usi Tuma by Monakewo and Ragayewo by Tokulubakiki [C46/1399]

In 1985, a television documentary series on early anthropologists, Strangers Abroad (Central Independent Television) featured an episode on Malinowski’s work, Off the Verandah. The production team took at least one recording back to Kiriwina, probably 'Gumagabu by Paluwa' (C46/1398). An older man, Bwabwa’u, remembered Malinowski and translated this recording. Translation was difficult as the song was several generations old and used an archaic dialect. . In a letter to the British Library’s Sound Archive in 1985, producer Steven Seidenberg noted that the song was “about a man from Kiriwina who has been ship-wrecked … on Dobu [Island] and who has been eaten by cannibals (possibly for ritual sacrifice?). Gumagabu is the name of the man who has been cooked.”

Gumagabu by Paluwa [C46/1398]

Don Niles, Acting Director of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, said of the True Echoes project:

“In working with these early collections from Melanesia, we will gather as much information as possible about the recordings, from the cylinders themselves, the collector’s diaries, photographs, collected artefacts, and published accounts. We aim to contextualise the collections with information about the collector(s), their fieldwork, and their academic involvements. With this most basic information, we will attempt to reconnect the recordings with the people for whom they have the greatest significance: the descendants of those recorded and others whose traditions are represented. We very much hope that they will be able to tell us more about the music and the performers, their intertwined histories, as well as the recordings’ significance today.”

Vicky Barnecutt

True Echoes Research Fellow

Further reading:

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge. [British Library shelfmark Asia, Pacific & Africa V 10295]

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia. New York: Liveright. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.1993.b.3568]

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1967. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection X.809/4015]

Wayne, Helena, ed. 1995. The Story of a Marriage: The Letters of Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson. Vol. 1, 1916–1920. London: Routledge. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.1997.b.1016]

16 December 2020

True Echoes launches new research website

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The True Echoes research project launches its new website today, providing access to in-depth research on the British Library’s extraordinary collection of Oceanic wax cylinders.

The website, true-echoes.com, was originally planned as an output for the end of the project. However, due to the impacts of COVID-19, particularly on international travel, we decided to bring forward the development of the site and adapt it as a valuable tool for online collaboration and research with True Echoes’ Oceanic partners. These cultural institutions in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Australia represent the countries from which the recordings originate.

True Echoes – funded by the Leverhulme Trust and BEIS – aims to reconnect the digitised recordings and increase their visibility and accessibility for the Oceanic communities from which they originate. The website will be a key factor in this. It will be used as a tool by fieldworkers during the participatory research phase of the project, enhancing understanding of the collections through local knowledge and cultural memory, and will remain available for individuals and communities to research and listen in their own time. It will also enable diaspora communities to access the research and recordings. Website users are encouraged to add comments on the collections, providing further information about the recordings and contributors.

Cardboard container for wax cylinder C46/1398 with inscription 'Gumagabu by Paluwa good' written in blue crayon

Above: Cardboard container for wax cylinder C46/1398 with inscription 'Gumagabu by Paluwa good' written in blue crayon.

The True Echoes website will also be a vital resource for those interested in the early history of anthropology; the cylinder collections represent some of the earliest uses of sound in British anthropological research and the earliest documentation of oral traditions from Oceanic communities. The cylinders were recorded between 1898 and 1918 and include music, stories, speeches and many different types of songs, including hunting songs, hymns, funeral dirges and lullabies.

The website’s current focus is the Malinowski Cylinder Collection [C46], five wax cylinders recorded by renowned anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, during fieldwork between 1915 and 1918. Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow, has conducted this research in partnership with Prof Don Niles, Acting Director of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies and True Echoes Co-Investigator.

Malinowski seated with a group of men holding lime pots. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/18/2

Above: Malinowski seated with a group of men holding lime pots. Image courtesy of LSE Library: MALINOWSKI/3/18/2

Further information and resources will be added to the website throughout 2021 and 2022 as research is carried out on other Oceanic wax cylinder collections.

The website has been developed by Andrew Pace, who previously worked on the British Library’s Peter Kennedy Archive website, with direction and support from me.

The website sits outside of the British Library’s Sound & Moving Image catalogue and so provides an alternative platform for sharing in-depth research findings about the collections, including their historical contexts, provenance and value to originating communities today.

The website provides detailed information, where available, about performers, whose names were previously missing from the cylinder metadata. Maps highlight the variety of recording locations and journeys made by the original recordists. Contemporary photographs from related collections in other UK and international institutions further illustrate the collections, locations and contributors.

Rebekah Hayes

True Echoes Research Fellow

For further information about the True Echoes project, visit the True Echoes website or email the team at true.echoes@bl.uk.

14 December 2020

True Echoes project: collaboration – communication – continuation

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A selection of the wax cylinders recorded in Papua New Guinea in 1898 and 1904

Above: A selection of the wax cylinders recorded in Papua New Guinea in 1898 and 1904.

This month marks the mid–point in the True Echoes research project, launched in July 2019. True Echoes is centred on the British Library’s Oceanic wax cylinder collections, recorded by British anthropologists in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. These collections represent the earliest recordings of Oceanic oral traditions. In recognition of their cultural heritage significance, they are included on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

True Echoes - funded by the Leverhulme Trust and BEIS - aims to increase the visibility and accessibility of these collections for people in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and the Torres Strait Islands, Australia, reconnecting these rare and vivid recordings with the communities from which they originate.

I am working as Principal Investigator, and my team includes Research Fellows Vicky Barnecutt and Rebekah Hayes. We work in partnership with Oceanic cultural institutions, which represent the countries from which the recordings originate. These partners include:

  • Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies [IPNGS]
  • Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures – Australia [PARADISEC]
  • Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta
  • Solomon Islands National Museum and Archives
  • Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS]

The impact of Covid-19 has meant travel restrictions both internationally and within the Oceanic countries. However, the project has responded with determination and due to positive collaboration and communication with our UK and international partners and the academic community, we are now poised for the next stage of the project in 2021.

Collaboration – Travel restrictions allowed us to focus on historical research and our initial response was to target digitised content available through libraries and museums. During the first UK lockdown, there was some concern over access to sources held in libraries and museums, which had not been digitised. Concern soon faded as we were met with astonishing benevolence and the sharing of research from academics who have worked in these areas, including Heather Donoghue (UEA), Michael Young (ANU), Gunter Senft (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics), linus digim’Rina (UPNG), Tim Thomas (Otago), Martha MacIntyre (Melbourne), Jude Philp (Sydney/Macleay Museum), and Kirk Huffman (independent researcher).

Additional support from our partners, including Anita Herle and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge (MAA) and AIATSIS, as well as SOAS Library through their extended access to materials through digitisation, has resulted in a wealth of resources which were not previously available pre-Covid.

The result is a significant body of historical research developed by True Echoes Research Fellow Vicky Barnecutt and Don Niles, Acting Director of IPNGS and True Echoes co-investigator. These results are to be published via the upcoming True Echoes website.         

Communication - Contingency planning soon turned to the development of the True Echoes website as a means of addressing communication issues. Originally planned for release at the end of the project in 2022, the website allows us to share the outputs of historical research, metadata for the digitised cylinder recordings and photographs mapped from related UK collections. The website has been primarily designed as a research platform for use by True Echoes researchers and the first version will be launched this week to enable researchers in Papua New Guinea to prepare for fieldwork in early 2021.

Continuation - The True Echoes project is now poised to start the participatory research phase where local researchers will work with Oceanic heritage communities to learn more about the historic recordings and their contemporary meanings. This will also include the dissemination of research findings and the documentation of current practices through interviews and new audio-visual recordings. Reports from the field via our international partners will start in 2021 and we look forward to sharing these soon.

More information about the international partners is included here.

IPNGS is a national cultural institution founded in 1974, one year before Independence. They research, document, archive, and promote Papua New Guinea cultures with a focus on music/dance, ethnology, and literature. The Music Archive aims to reflect all music/dance-related research done in Papua New Guinea. It includes around 12,000 hours of recordings, as well as films, photos, and printed works.

Image of the IPNGS building

Above: Image of the IPNGS building

PARADISEC is a digital archive of records of some of the many small cultures and languages of the world. They work to preserve materials that would otherwise be lost. PARADISEC accessions, catalogues and digitises materials, and preserves digital copies. In this way PARADISEC can make recordings available to the people and communities recorded, and to their descendants. PARADISEC was founded in 2003 and their collection now represents over 1,200 languages. It is a consortium of the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University. Amanda Harris, Director of the PARADISEC Sydney Unit, is also a Co-Investigator on the project. Visit PARADISEC’s website for more information about their work.

The Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta – led by Director Richard Shing – supports the preservation, protection and promotion of Vanuatu’s cultural heritage. VKS plays a major role in the documentation of traditional knowledge and artefacts, surveys of cultural and historical sites, and the discovery of significant archaeological sites. Their National Film, Sound and Photo archive is responsible for important cultural collections of film, photo and audio recordings. Learn more about the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta via their website.

The Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta building

Above: The Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta building

The Solomon Islands National Museum – established in 1969 and led by Director Tony Heorake – preserves, protects and promotes local customs and traditions. Working with local communities, the museum aims to research and manage cultural and natural heritage, encourage economic development through cultural enterprise, and promote peace through respect of culture. The museum has supported many research projects, including the National Site Survey Project. These programmes enhance the development of the museum and Solomon Islands, and encourage a better understanding of the people, culture and environment. Learn more about the Solomon Islands National Museum on their website.

The Solomon Islands National Museum

Above: The Solomon Islands National Museum

The Tjibaou Cultural Centre – led by Emmanuel Tjibaou – researches, collects, enhances and promotes New Caledonia's indigenous cultural heritage. This includes linguistic and archaeological heritage, as well as contemporary forms of cultural expression, such as broadcasting and art. The Centre also develops indigenous artistic creation, and facilitates regional and international exchanges. The Centre - inaugurated in 1998 - includes exhibition spaces, an art centre, and a specialised multimedia library. Visit the Tjibaou Cultural Centre’s website for more information.

AIATSIS is a research, collections and publishing organisation, which promotes knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, traditions, languages and stories, past and present. AIATSIS has a growing collection of over one million items, including films, photographs, audio recordings, art and artefacts, as well as printed and other resource materials. AIATSIS, based in Canberra, also conducts community-based research in a variety of sectors, including languages, health, native title, and education. AIATSIS, originally established by an Act of the Parliament of Australia in 1964 as AIAS, was reconstituted in 1989 as AIATSIS. True Echoes is working closely with Lara McLellan, Audiovisual Collection Manager, and Grace Koch, Visiting Research Scholar. Learn more about AIATSIS on their website.

The AIATSIS building, Maraga

Above: The AIATSIS building, Maraga

As well as MAA, Cambridge, True Echoes is also working with the British Museum. This will help us to reconnect the cylinder collections with related materials dispersed across different UK cultural heritage institutions.

The research team will learn more about the collections as well as the development of audio within the field of anthropology. They will also learn about the impact of reconnecting Oceanic communities with their documented cultural traditions.

The True Echoes project will highlight the different cylinder collections over the next few months to share more about these fascinating recordings and the team’s research so far. In the meantime, please get in touch with us via our email address true.echoes@bl.uk for more information.

Isobel Clouter

True Echoes Principal Investigator

Curator, World and Traditional Music

23 November 2020

Recording of the Week: A chance encounter

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This week's selection comes from Sarah Coggrave, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In 1978, Roger Waldron was staying at an elephant camp in Chitwan, Nepal. One night, two musicians emerged from the darkness and began to play.

Two musicians
The two unnamed musicians, photographed by Roger Waldron on 23 November 1978

Without a translator Mr. Waldron was unable to understand the meaning of the words the musicians sang. However, he was able to record three of the Nepali folk songs they performed, and later donated the resulting collection to the British Library. The recordings have recently been cleared for online access as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, and in this blog, you can listen to a few highlights.

C30/1 excerpt 1

The first excerpt features a folk song in the Nepali language, performed by the two Gaine musicians singing in octaves, accompanied by the Nepali sarangi, and a rattle with metal bells. The sarangi is a stringed instrument used throughout South Asia, including by the Gaine (or Gandarbha) of central Nepal who are known for their music making and distinctive folk songs.

C30/1 excerpt 2

In this second excerpt, a different song can be heard, accompanied once again on the sarangi.

C30/1 excerpt 3

Although the sarangi is typically made of wood, with strings played using a bow, the musicians in these recordings create a range of sounds and effects to accompany their songs, including using metal bells, which in the third excerpt (above) are attached to the bow to mark the rhythm of the melody.

Most of the recordings I work with don’t come with photographs taken in situ, so it is a rare privilege to be able to see and appreciate the musicians and their work in this way. I would love to know what the songs are about, and whether they are still performed today.

I am incredibly grateful both to the musicians and to Roger Waldron for making this post possible, and for enabling us to share the performances with new audiences. You can learn more about these three recordings by reading their corresponding catalogue entries on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

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