THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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89 posts categorized "World & traditional music"

31 July 2019

Celebrating 100,000 digitised recordings with Nigerian hammer and anvil music

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Two years into an ambitious, nationwide project, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team recently celebrated reaching the milestone of 100,000 digitised sound recordings. Supported by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a major British Library project focused on identifying, cataloguing and digitally preserving half a million of the nation’s most rare and at-risk sounds.

After establishing a network of ten audio preservation centres across the UK, project staff at the Library and its partner institutions have been digitising thousands of sound items, before they physically degrade or the means for playing them disappear from production. The UK-wide project aims to provide public access to these sounds, through outreach events and a new sounds website launching next year.

Digitising 100,000 items is a fantastic achievement and goes some way to realising the project’s goal of safeguarding the nation’s audio heritage for future generations. As a celebration of the hard work that has gone in to the project so far and the rare sounds discovered along the way, we are sharing a unique recording to mark reaching 100,000 digitised recordings.

This noteworthy recording captures the remarkable hammer and anvil music of the Yoruba blacksmiths of Nigeria. I say ‘played’; ‘spoken’ might be a more fitting word, as the tonality of the hammer and anvil instruments actually resembles patterns of Yoruba speech. Held in the C1074 Peggy Harper Africa Collection, this intriguing recording demonstrates how these unusual instruments are used not only make music, but to speak expressive sentences in the Yoruba language.

Anvil and Hammer Music Extract

Blacksmithing_In_Nigeria3
Photo of a blacksmith from Upo village, Otukpo town in Benue State, Nigeria working with iron. Image courtesy of Chrisnike. Click here to view image license.

Catherine Smith, World and Traditional Music Volunteer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, has been working closely with the Africa Collection, classifying musical instruments featured in several of the recordings using the Hornbostel–Sachs classification system.

Volunteering with the project has introduced her to a fascinating collection of Nigerian ensembles and traditional music, including music performed with drum and percussive instruments. Catherine was intrigued to discover several unusual objects used to play music while listening to the collection, including the hammers and anvils that she classified as ‘Idiophones – Metal’.

After sharing the recording with the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Team during one of their regular listening sessions, Catherine described what she found fascinating about the music: ‘I enjoyed this use of practical tools to communicate the Yoruba language though music and the way in which it develops into expressive tonal and rhythmic patterns’.

On Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day, a day on which we are encouraged to broaden our ideas of what instruments are, listen to an extract of Peggy Harper’s recording of this fascinating hammer and anvil music and read Catherine’s commentary below:

This is an extract of Peggy Harper’s recording of the anvil and hammer music of the Yoruba blacksmiths in Nigeria. Here the players are giving a demonstration of how the hammer and anvil can 'speak' sentences in Yoruba language. The music is named after ‘Ogun’, ‘the God of Iron’. A man introduces the music with this explanation: 

“Whenever someone is passing near a smithery, the blacksmiths will greet him by beating the anvil and hammer to talk. The tonality of Yoruba language is so great that whenever the anvil and hammer is used to talk, passers-by clearly understand what the anvil and hammer are saying…"

In this recording, the anvil and hammer players perform the music whilst somebody in the group recites in words what the anvil and hammer are saying.

 

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Following The British Library’s World and Traditional Music team @BL_WorldTrad

16 July 2019

Magnetic Tape Alert Project

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The Magnetic Tape Alert Project is an initiative of the Information for All Programme (IFAP) Working Group on Information Preservation.

News_150719_magnetic_tape
Photo: Bernhard Graf, Vienna Phonogrammarchiv

 

Today’s knowledge of the linguistic and cultural diversity of humanity is widely based on magnetic tape recordings produced over the past 60 years. Magnetic audio and video tape formats are now obsolete, replay equipment in working condition is disappearing rapidly and the supply and service of spare parts is fading. As a result, the routine transfer of magnetic tape recordings is likely to cease around 2025. The only way to preserve these sounds and images in the long term, and to keep them accessible for future generations, is to digitize them and transfer to them to safe digital repositories.

While many professional memory institutions have already secured their audiovisual holdings, or have plans to do so in time, a great number of audio and video recordings are still in their original state, kept in small academic or cultural institutions, or in private hands.

With the Magnetic Tape Alert Project, the Information for All Programme (IFAP) of UNESCO, in cooperation with the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), aims to alert stakeholders to the imminent risk of losing access to their audiovisual documents.

Part of this is to conduct a survey, focusing on unique recordings, to assess the scale of the risk. The information obtained through the survey will serve as a basis for future planning for the safeguarding of these irreplaceable original documents in the long-term. Information gathered will be used to compile a report that will be made publicly available.

For further information and to respond to the questionnaire, please go to the project website.

Deadline for completion: 30 September 2019

The project coordinator, Andrew Pace, can be contacted at: MTAP@iasa-web.org

IFAP logo IASA logo

15 July 2019

Recording of the week: Rinding gumbeng from Central Java

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

Rinding gumbeng is a style of Central Javanese folk music that, although not widespread, is still common in the rural Gunungkidul area, about 50 km east of Yogyakarta, where it is performed at harvest rituals and other festivals. Both the name of the style and the music itself result from the combination of two main ingredients: the rinding and the gumbeng.

Photograph of a rinding and a gumbengRinding photo (left) by DAN MOI, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped from original. Gumbeng photo (right) by Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The rinding is a mouth harp built from a single piece of bamboo, often with a piece of string attached to one end of the instrument’s frame. It is an idioglot instrument, meaning that both the vibrating reed and the main body of the instrument are carved from a single piece of bamboo (mouth harps made of metal, more common in Europe, are generally heteroglot, because the vibrating tongue and the frame of the instrument are two separate pieces that have been joined together). As with all mouth harps, the mouth cavity acts as the main resonator but, unlike heteroglot mouth harps where the musician plucks the vibrating tongue directly, the rinding is played by plucking the frame of the instrument instead (or, where present, a piece of string attached to it). Because the instrument is made of a single piece of bamboo, the resulting vibration is directly transmitted from the frame to the inner reed. The sound-producing vibration is then caused by the very flexible reed as it catches up with the frame, which, being more rigid, stops vibrating much earlier than the reed.

The gumbeng is a tube zither made from a single piece of bamboo (which also makes it an idioglot instrument). A small number of strings (normally three) are carved from the outer layer of the bamboo, and raised from the body of the instrument by means of small bridges. The strings are then struck with a thin bamboo stick and, depending on the placement of the bridges, a limited number of different tones can be produced.

A rinding gumbeng ensemble normally comprises several rinding and at least a few gumbeng, and it can also include bamboo scrapers, large bamboo slit drums and an end-blown bamboo gong (thus called not because of its physical characteristics, but due to its function of signalling the beginning of a music cycle). In most cases, the ensemble is then fronted by a small number of singers.

This week’s recording was made by David Hughes in 1995 at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (Institut Seni Indonesia) of Yogyakarta, and features a rinding gumbeng ensemble from Duren in the Gunungkidul region. It is an instrumental version of rinding gumbeng, to better showcase its sound, and, judging from the audio, this specific ensemble may also include one or two slit drums carved out of bigger bamboo tubes.

Rinding gumbeng (C1450/27 S2 C1)

The David Hughes Collection holds other performances from the same group, including examples of rinding gumbeng with singing and solo performances on the rinding (see shelfmark C1450/27).

The David Hughes Collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. The digitisation of this and many other recordings in this collection was sponsored by Eddie and Chris Dapré in memory of Eddie’s father Patrick Alfons Dapré, as a reminder of his love for all kinds of music and particularly the zither - an instrument that he played.

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

06 May 2019

Recording of the week: Peter Kennedy recording of Sheila Gallagher, Donegal 1953

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

Peter Kennedy made this recording of Sheila Gallagher in Middle Dere, Donegal in 1953 - she was 90 years old at the time. She tells of learning songs from her father and his friends, who themselves lived to 100 years of age. The recording provides a window into a world some 200 years or more ago.

Sheila Gallagher, Middle Dere, Donegal, 1953, Tape 1 (C604/523, excerpt)

Three black and white portraits of Sheila Gallagher

More recordings are available online at:

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0523XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0524XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0525XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0526XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0527XX-0001V0

The full Peter Kennedy Collection is being digitally preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. You can also find out more about Peter Kennedy and his work at http://www.peterkennedyarchive.org/.

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

08 April 2019

Recording of the week: Cello or drum? Meet the ütőgardon

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

Husband and wife Mihaly and Gizella Halmagyi were a duo of professional musicians from Gyimes Valley, in the Romanian stretch of the Eastern Carpathians. Their home town Gyimesközéplok is part of a significant Hungarian-speaking enclave in Romania, and the couple mostly performed old Hungarian folk music at weddings and other social events in their area. Mihaly played a modified fiddle with a fifth string added for extra resonance. Gizella sang and played the ütőgardon, a peculiar instrument that is unique to this area of Europe.

Photograph of Mihaly and Gizella Halmagyi in their home at the time of recording in 1996Mihaly and Gizella Halmagyi photographed in their home at the time of recording in 1996. Photocopy of photo by Susanne Kratzer.

At first glance, the ütőgardon (or gardon, as it is more informally called) looks like a slightly misshapen cello. It has four strings, a fretless neck, and even the f-shaped holes typical of the violin family. But this is where the similarities end. The tuning pegs are way too big, the bridge is flat rather than curved, and the four (sometimes three) strings are all tuned to the same note, usually a D, with the fourth and thinnest string tuned an octave higher than the rest. Lastly, but most importantly, there is no bow. Instead, a wooden stick is used to rhythmically hit the strings, a technique more reminiscent of drumming than bowing a cello, while the highest string of the instrument is plucked by the hand not holding the stick. Almost exclusively played as accompaniment to a violin, we could then say that the ütőgardon plays the function of a drum, albeit a drum that looks like a cello and produces a pitched drone.

The photocopied picture above is the only image of the couple held in our archive, and in it you can see Gizella in playing position: stick in the right hand and left hand plucking the fourth string up on the instrument’s neck. According to Gizella, her gardon was about 250 years old.

You can hear Gizella Halmagyi’s ütőgardon in the following recording, made by Susanne Kratzer at Gizella and Mihaly’s place on 20 June 1996. They perform a Csárdás, a Hungarian dance tune that they would normally play at weddings after the groom's party had reached the house of the bride.

Csárdás (C778/13)

This recording belongs to the Susanne Kratzer collection, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. Shelfmark: C778/13.

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11 March 2019

Recording of the week: Sora song

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

The Sora people, are one of the oldest communities known in India. They are mainly situated in the hilly border area of the east Indian states Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Sora live on the hill slopes just below the remaining forests and in the valleys relatively isolated from the surrounding communities. The Sora habitats are mainly surrounded by Hindu Telugu (south Indian) and Oriya (north Indian) communities. The language of the Sora belongs to the Austro-Asiatic (Mundabranch) language group. The centre of the Sora life within the traditional groups is their traditional belief system of ancestor worship.

Christianity, especially in the form of Baptism (brought in by North American missionaries) made a big impact on Sora villages in Orissa. Less than fifty percent of Sora describe themselves as Hindu, which means they regard their traditional belief system – ancestor worship – as being part of Hinduism. The most important spiritual experts are kudan (mainly women), kudan-boi (women) and kudan-mar (men). Using elaborate rituals, dance and music performances, these experts are able to communicate with the deceased.

All Sora traditional music forms are more or less related to the religious rituals as performed individually or at festivals. Ancestor festivals are celebrated either immediately after the death of one person or after a longer time for several people. Therefore the intricate ritualistic festival Gu-ahr, consisting mainly of funeral stone planting and buffalo sacrifices, is usually performed for all ancestors who died in the previous 13 years.

Vocal music is mainly unaccompanied and the majority of performers are women. For each song one singer leads and the other singers follow with a slight delay. The women sing in a guttural raspy voice and use slight melismatic effects. Sometimes singers are accompanied by the gogoray fiddle, the two-string lute jenjurangrai, or the tiriduy flute. All ancestor rituals require certain lengthy mantras to be performed before the medium falls into trance and is able to hold a dialogue with the deceased.

Sora singers
Lakamma and Masalamma, two Sora priestesses and singers by Rolf Killius. © Rolf Killius. Image not licensed for reuse.

025M-RKDATX0004XX-0100V0

Ethnomusicologist Rolf Killius made this recording of two Sora priestesses in January 2001, inside the mud-thatched house of Mr. Jageya in the village Soyala Guda in the Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh state, India. In the following paragraph, Killius provides us with some contextual information about this mesmerising recording –

Lakkama from the indigenous Sora community first sings solo. Later her co-priestess, Masalamma joins in. Joining means she follows her slightly delayed, just for a fraction of a second. This exciting style of vocal music is - to my knowledge - unique in Indian Music. Indeed the Sora community are unique. They live along the border of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and the North Indian state Odisha. This is also the border where the south Indian meet the north Indian language speakers. More peculiar is the fact that these two women speak and sing in Sora, a language belonging to the Austro-Asiatic language group. The style remotely reminds oneself of the way in which in Karnatic Music, the art music of South India, the instrumentalist, usually the violin player, follows the singer. When I asked the two Sora priestesses to elaborate on their style, they couldn’t understand my question. For them this is the ‘typical’ Sora music style, practised since the time immemorial. This piece celebrates the green (unripe) mango festival. Similar songs trigger these priestesses to fall into trance and in this condition are able to speak with their long-gone ancestors.

You can listen to more recordings of the Sora in the Music in India collection on British Library Sounds.

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

 

11 February 2019

Recording of the week: the endingidi and the erhu – two types of the spike tube fiddle

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

The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system is a way of grouping types of musical instruments by structure and the way in which sound is produced, rather than the culture from which the instruments are made. This system reflects the classification of the animal kingdom by skeletal structure, rather than by size or behaviour. This means that similar types of musical instruments can be found in very different parts of the world and playing different styles of music.

The two instruments featured here are both spike tube fiddles. That is to say, the string bearer passes right through the resonator of the instrument. In this case, the resonator is a tube, at right angles to the spike.

One instrument is the endingidi (or ndingidi) from Uganda. The other is the erhu, a two stringed instrument from China.

Photograph of two types of spike tube fiddleTwo types of spike tube fiddle (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz - Ethnologisches Museum, CC-BY-SA-NC-ND)

Our recording of the week is an unidentified song for erhu and voice, recorded by Colin Huehns during a field trip to Xinxiang, China, in 1994.

Unidentified song for erhu and voice (C485/79)

There are quite a few other examples of both instruments on Europeana here. In addition, you can see the erhu played in this photograph of “Female Musicians and singers of Foo-Chow” taken around 1910, provided on Europeana by the Världskulturmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND). It’s played rather like a cello, but the bow is held with the palm facing upwards rather than downwards.

Photograph entitled 'Female musicians and singers of Foo-Chow'

Over 1000 recordings of music from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as China, can be found in the Colin Huehns Asia collection on British Library Sounds.

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

28 January 2019

Recording of the week: Bubu music from Tasso Island

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

Natural history broadcaster and author Dennis Furnell first travelled to Sierra Leone in January 1991 to record wildlife sounds for his radio programme Country Scene, broadcast on BBC Bedfordshire. As an active environmentalist involved with charities such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International, he was part of a group visit, organized by the European Common Market, to Sierra Leone to see if it was possible to create an infrastructure for ecotourism. It was his first and only trip to the country.

The following recording was made by Furnell on 24 January on Tasso Island, about 8 miles east of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Made on cassette, this is a sound recording of traditional Bubu music, a genre modernised and popularised by Sierra Leonean pop star Ahmed Janka Nabay (January 5, 1964 – April 2, 2018) who first released music in his early 20s, also on cassette tape. Traditional Bubu music, played on “bamboo flutes, carburetor pipes, and other metal tubes of different sizes, as well as large wooden boxes, shakers, cowbells, and triangles…” (Nuxoll, 2015) has served diverse purposes in Sierra Leone, being linked with folk rituals (witchcraft), Islamic festivities and carnivals. Its popularised version, enhanced with synthesisers and drum machines, was appropriated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during the Sierra Leonean Civil War –

“During the war, civilians who suffered direct encounters with the rebel insurgents witnessed terror operations involving Janka Nabay’s music. RUF combatants regularly used Bubu music when invading villages and towns as part of hit-and-run raids. The rebels would play Janka Nabay’s popular music from ghetto blasters in order to attract and lure out unsuspecting civilians for easy capture or forced conscription. At other times, rebels would create the impression of initiating a party, playing Bubu music from loudspeakers and inviting civilians to join in, only to later disclose their real motives and then capture them.” (Nuxoll, 2015)

Dennis Furnell arrived on Tasso Island and made this sound recording by sheer chance. Returning from a visit to a nearby island, the person driving the canoe said they would go to Tasso because the chief was a friend. Dennis was keen to share his recollection of the event –

“This was an unplanned gathering of musicians and dancers (mainly children dancing) done, I believe, simply for my benefit and that of a small group of Scandinavian visitors who had come along for the ride.  European visitors to Tasso Island were a rarity. As I said, the event was laid on by the Chief whose name I never discovered. It was a truly happy occasion after a relatively sombre visit to the nearby, uninhabited “Bunce Island” with its deserted slave compounds and rusting chains. There was a slave graveyard and armed forts, still with Georgian cannon pointing seawards and gun carriages eaten by termites.  It was a major slave shipping island taking slaves from the Sierra Leone River to America. To my mind it seemed to maintain a shadow of its awful memories and appalling cruelty.     
 
The musicians were residents of Tasso Island who simply appeared from dwellings and other buildings at the behest of the Chief, carrying with them a variety of tubes, pipes and drums, including car exhaust pipes, metal water pipes, steel vehicle brake drums – all in a variety of sizes. There were one or two sheet metal cones.

Bubu music from Tasso Island (BL collection C741)

When they began to tune up it was rather discordant, then the children and young women began to beat time with their feet and the band seemed to pick up the rhythm. I had been talking into my recorder when the music started, but didn’t start to record the music straight away as I had some problems with over-modulation from the tea-chest drummer and I also wanted to photograph the dancers… But, when the band began in earnest I started to record. The sounds were fascinating and I wished I had begun to record from the beginning. It was a wonderful happy sound that reminded me of traditional Jazz.

Photograph of musicians on Tasso Island

Just at the end of my stay, the government collapsed and the army took over – and after some worrying moments I left the country.  However, I retained a link through the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and the Children’s Wildlife Week through a charity we had created with the support of my wife and several friends.
 
Not long after I returned to the UK war erupted, fueled by forces from Liberia under the control of the corrupt regime of President Taylor and the war continued for nearly 12 years* with appalling atrocities.  During this time (with the exception of 2 years) our charity, the Rainforest Action Fund, with the help of the RSPB’s contacts and Birdlife International, managed to channel funds to the Children’s Wildlife Week and CSSL.”

Dennis Furnell donated the cassette tape to the British Library after playing it on his radio programme, for fear of it becoming lost in his own library. It was later included on a CD to accompany the British Library’s exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, distributed exclusively by Songlines magazine.

*The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991 to 2002. However, there was never really any peace after that which is why Dennis Furnell refers to it as having lasted 12 years.

References:
Nuxoll, C. (2015). “We Listened to it Because of the Message”: Juvenile RUF Combatants and the Role of Music in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Music and Politics, IX(1). doi:10.3998/mp.9460447.0009.104

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