Sound and vision blog

142 posts categorized "World & traditional music"

29 November 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vittala Temple C799/6 S1 C2 [BL REF]

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

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

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

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18 November 2021

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

Written by Jill McKnight, Artist-in-Residence. Jill McKnight’s commissioned work is on display at Leeds Art Gallery until 16 October 2022. Plan your visit on the Gallery’s website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collections in Dialogue

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

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

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

01 November 2021

Recording of the week: Preserving the Peruvian jarija

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading and listening:

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

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

[3] Ibid.

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

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

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

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21 October 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambong said,  

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow

29 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top spinning on Murray Island / Mer, 1898

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebekah Hayes

True Echoes Research Fellow

Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 June 2021

Recording of the week: A Yanomami ceremonial dialogue

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

In 1978, the writer, musician and scholar David Toop travelled to the Upper Orinoco region in the Venezuelan Amazon to record the Yanomami indigenous people and their songs, rituals and ceremonies.

While these recordings were released on the album Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978), Toop also kindly donated the unedited field recordings to the British Library, where they have been digitised through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Toop writes:

I’m very happy that my Yanomami recordings will be available for digital access for two reasons. One is that the Yanomami are again undergoing a crisis due to the combined effects of the pandemic and a ruthless encroachment into their territory by illegal mining, so any attention focused on the Yanomami is a good thing. The second reason is connected to the first. I believe all people can benefit from exposure to the rich and diverse forms of encounter, counsel and negotiation that exist or have existed in world cultures, unfamiliar or strange as they may seem, because they can suggest alternate ways of listening to others, gaining understanding and resolving apparently intractable problems. Any narrowing of listening models is a bad thing.

Torokoiwa and daughter
Torokoiwa (a Yanomami shaman) and daughter. Photograph by Odile Laperche.

One of the recordings that stood out to me was his recording of wayamou – a type of ceremonial dialogue that the Yanomami use to negotiate relationships, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between different communities.

Wayamou is conducted at night and is performed in pairs, with one member from each community taking part. One participant will lead, and depending on whether the communities are on good or bad terms, he will criticise and reprimand the other participant, or submit requests and proposals to them.

The speaker will adopt a heavily metaphorical manner of speaking to conduct these conversations diplomatically and avoid addressing sensitive subjects too directly. The other participant will then repeat the phrases, words and syllables uttered by the speaker – sometimes identically and sometimes with slight variations – to show agreement with the speaker or at least an understanding of his point of view.

Afterwards, the participants swap roles so both have a chance to speak. The pair is then replaced by series of other pairs and discussions continue throughout the night.

It is a duel of persuasion and negotiation, where participants have the opportunity to put words, ideas and desires in each other’s mouth. Ideally, by dawn, solutions or compromises to the communities’ problems will have been reached.

Wayamou, recorded by David Toop [BL REF C1162/8 C1]

The controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon once described wayamou as: “something like a fast game of Ping-Pong, with the melodic, staccato phrases as the ball.”

We hear how the speakers throw these words and phrases between each other, creating colliding rhythms and echoing crescendos that are abruptly punctuated with sharp accents.

At certain points, you can even hear the respondent replying so fast that he is speaking at the same time as the lead participant, guessing what the lead is saying before he has even said it.

I was so enthralled by this amazingly fast and complex dialogue that I didn’t even stop to think about what they could be saying. However, when reading the liner notes to Lost Shadows, I was surprised to learn that there was a false start to the recording:

The recording seems to be going well, but Emilio jumps up, clearly angry, and stops them. What they have been saying is that the foreigners are stupid to want to record their music and they are going to trick us out of many gifts.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. Here the wayamou had been stripped of its social function: there was no relationship to negotiate, no conflict to resolve or peace to maintain. When asked to perform under these conditions, what would there be to speak about?

Even if they are just talking about how foreigners are stupid to want to record their music, it is still an undeniably captivating recording ... and I don’t think we are stupid for wanting to listen to it!

If you are interested in learning more about the Yanomami, photographer Claudia Andujar’s exhibition The Yanomami Struggle will be running at the Barbican from June 17 to August 29 2021. Filmmaker and anthropologist Luiz Bolognesi’s film A Última Floresta (The Last Forest) will also be showing at the Berlinale on 19 and 20 June, 2021.

Further reading and listening:

Kelly Luciani, José Antonio. 2017. “On Yanomami Ceremonial Dialogues: A Political Aesthetic of Metaphorical Agency.” Journal de la Société des Américanistes 103, no. 1: 179-214.

Chagnon, Napoleon A. 1992. Yanomamö: The Last Days of Eden. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Toop, David. 2015. Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978). Sub Rosa.

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07 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Honey gathering song [BL REF C423_1 S2 C2]

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

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

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

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

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

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13 May 2021

Eid Mubarak: Celebrations marking the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new month

In today’s blog, Charlotte Wardley, Project Support Officer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH), shares some recordings from our sound archive related to Eid. Charlotte is joined by Saba Syed, Chair of the British Library’s BAME Network, to talk about Ramadan and Eid.

Today is Eid, marking the end of Ramadan. Eid Mubarak!

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and each month is 29 or 30 days long. Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is observed by Muslims across the UK and worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, community and reflection.

Eid al-Fitr is the celebratory festival which marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new month. That makes ‘Eid eve’, otherwise called ‘Chand Raat’ (meaning ‘night of the moon’) in the Indian sub-continent, an exciting time. Everyone checks in with each other to see whether a new moon - which marks the new month and start of Eid - has been sighted.

New moon at sunset - photo by bartb_pt

Above: New moon at sunset,  'Ramadan رمضان' by bartb_pt  - licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In some Islamic communities you will find people on the rooftops, eagerly scouting the sky for signs of a thin new crescent moon. If it is sighted, then Eid is declared for the following day by local mosques. If a new moon hasn’t been sighted, then it’s another day of fasting with confirmation that Eid will follow the day after.

In the following recording from 2008 from the Moroccan Memories in Britain collection (C1237), interviewee Fatima Serroukh recalls how Ramadan was an exciting time for her as a young girl and she describes the traditional Moroccan foods her family would eat during Iftar. These include dishes such as ‘harira’, which is a soup with lentils, tomato and chickpeas, and ‘chebakia’ which are sesame and honey cookies. Iftar is the meal served after sunset during Ramadan, to break the day’s fast. Iftar is often a social event where many friends and family come together.

Listen to Fatima Serroukh interview - clip 1

Shelfmark: C1237/118 © Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum, now called Migrants Organise. Download Transcript - clip 1

Fatima then describes the anticipation of Eid and how her family would prepare for celebrations. She describes the traditional Moroccan outfit called ‘takchita’ that she would plan on wearing. Then on the day of Eid her family would celebrate together by eating breakfast and going to meet friends and family.

Listen to Fatima Serroukh interview - clip 2

Shelfmark: C1237/118 © Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum, now called Migrants Organise. Download Transcript - clip 2

Saba recalls similar feelings of excitement ahead of Eid and when the new moon sighting was finally announced and celebrations would begin:

Growing up, I remember the flurry of activity and excitement that would follow the declaration of the sighting of the moon. My sister and I would pull out new clothes and set about ironing them for the family. My mum would be in the kitchen preparing favourite food items for the next day. New outfit, new underwear and bangles, and anything else festive would be laid out in preparation. Then we would sit down to apply henna on each other’s hands. My dad would be liaising with friends as to which morning service we would all aim for. When I was younger, we would all attend Eid prayer at London Central Mosque on Regent Street, and the car journey there would be an event in itself. More recently, we coordinate and attend one of the hourly services at Harrow mosque, or one of the prayers organised in a local park.

Following the prayer we gather and meet other friends and families, enjoy the food stalls and ice cream. Then we head off to the graveyard, to pay our respects and offer a prayer to the recently deceased, followed by visiting loads of people and eating lots of lovely delicious food. As children we would also look forward to ‘Eidi’ – money handed out by the elders. Now our tradition has shifted and my family buys each other gifts, and so there will be one point in the day when immediate family will get together, hand out gifts and enjoy watching everyone rip off the wrapping and delight in their new presents.

The final recording featured on this blog comes from our Head of Sound and Vision, Janet Topp Fargion’s collection, which was recently digitised by the UOSH project. It was recorded at a fairground in Zanzibar in 1989 during Iddi Mossi (Eid al-Fitr) celebrations, where many people from the town and rural areas gathered for festivities, food and lots of fun. You can hear the celebratory atmosphere, with the adhan in the background, which is the Islamic call to prayer, and the Beni brass band in procession around the fairground. Beni is one of Zanzibar’s best-loved celebratory musics and is performed at special occasions.

Listen to Iddi Mossi fairground - Janet Topp Fargion collection

Shelfmark: C724/2/6 © Janet Topp Fargion.

It is the second year Eid celebrations will be different for many Muslims across the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Saba reflects on the ways in which her family have been finding moments to celebrate together during the lockdown:

This is the second year Ramadan has passed during lockdown, and last year there was no congregational prayers in mosques. Instead, we had our own family prayer with our immediate families socially distanced in the garden. Last year, my parents stayed indoors and observed us in the garden through the window of their house, until the final moment when they came out to pray before dashing back inside afterwards. My mum had prepared her usual feast for us, which was laid out in the conservatory, and we all helped ourselves and sat in the garden to eat as she watched us through the window, happy in the knowledge that her children were still with her on Eid, even with social distancing.

We wish our Muslim friends and family Eid Mubarak and despite the sadness, loss and difficulties many have experienced since last Eid, we hope those of you reading this blog and listening to these recordings will come together in a moment of celebration.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage for updates from the UOSH Project team.

Thank you to Saba Syed for generously sharing her memories and knowledge, to those who feature in the sound recordings, and thank you to Jonnie Robinson, Andrea Zarza, Janet Topp Fargion and Mary Stewart for their help preparing this blog.

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