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News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

25 January 2016

Syliphone record label archive from Guinea

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Over the past few months we have been working to make publicly available some of the sound collections that the Endangered Archives Programme has funded. Two of the first collections we worked on were EAP088: The Golha radio programmes (Flowers of Persian Song and Poetry), and the three projects that make up the Syliphone record label collection from Guinea (EAP187, EAP327 and EAP608). It is with great pleasure that we can announce that these two collections are now available on BL Sounds for anyone to listen to worldwide.

The Golha radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio between 1956 and 1979 and consist of a mixture of musical pieces, poetry and literary commentary. These programmes can be listened to here. You can read more about this project in a previous guest blog by Jane Lewisohn.


To celebrate these collections now being made available we have a guest blog entry from Dr Graeme Counsel whose hard work has enabled these fantastic Syliphone recordings to be shared with a wider audience. The recordings are available here to listen to. There are 7780 tracks in total for you to enjoy!

Syliphone logo 2015

The end of colonial rule in Africa commenced with Ghana’s declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1956. Faced with a growing independence movement, to gain the ascendancy France presented its colonies with an ultimatum: the choice of autonomy in a confederation of states under French rule or total independence. Guineans were the first to vote on this offer via a national referendum, and in September 1958 the mayor of Conakry, Sékou Touré, addressed a large crowd who had gathered on the eve of the poll. With President Charles de Gaulle standing by his side, Touré implored Guineans to vote no to the offer of autonomy, declaring that “Guineans prefer freedom in poverty to riches in chains”. A few days later Guineans stunned France by voting for independence, and under the Presidency of a young and charismatic Sékou Touré the nation would become one of the major proponents of pan-Africanism and an architect in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union).

President Touré saw the development of national identity as key to the progress of his nation. The development of culture was thus a central policy platform, with the arts sector, for example, largely under government direction. This was not unusual in Guinea, for in the course of his presidency (1958-1984) Touré oversaw the government’s reach extend into virtually all facets of daily life, supported by over 26,000 party cells. To develop culture, Touré’s government launched an official cultural policy called authenticité, whereby artists were encouraged to seek inspiration from the values inherent in traditional African culture as a means of edifying contemporary society. Traditional folklore, for example, would be “revalorised”, with Guinean heroes “re-awakened” through imagery, songs and text in order to serve the needs of a post-colonial Guinean society. The process was most concisely illustrated in a catchphrase of the time – “regard sur le passé”, or “look at the past”. Of the arts, music was the principal focus of the authenticité policy, and one of the first acts by the government was to disband all private orchestras in Guinea as they were deemed to be too European in their musical style. To replace them, new state-sponsored orchestras were created in each of the nation’s 35 prefectures. The government supplied all of the groups with musical instruments, which, in the vein of the Cuban/Jazz style popular at the time, included electric guitars, saxophones and trumpets. The government hand-picked musicians who formed core “national” orchestras, and they were tasked with training the young musicians of the 35 “regional” groups. Through authenticité a new form of African music was being created, one which presented traditional Guinean music in a modern style. All of the orchestras’ musicians were paid a regular wage and all had opportunities to perform at government-sponsored national arts festivals.

In addition to a network of orchestras, the authenticité policy also created theatrical troupes, traditional music ensembles and dance groups in all of Guinea’s prefectures. Together, they formed artistic companies who represented their region in arts festivals. To further embed the authenticité policy all Western music was banned from Guinea’s radio network, and to fill the gap the government broadcast its own recordings. Since at least 1960 the Guinean government had been recording musicians, initially on Nagra III’s in makeshift studios. By the mid-1960s, however, the West German-funded Voix de la Révolution studios had been created in the Radio Télévision Guinée (RTG) offices, and these state of the art facilities would soon be augmented by a government-owned recording label, Syliphone. Originally recorded on ¼” magnetic tape, Syliphone recordings were released both locally and internationally via eighty-three 33.3 rpm and seventy-seven 45rpm vinyl discs. Broadcast by the RTG through one of the largest radio transmitters in West Africa, Syliphone recordings were a sensation, and Sékou Touré sent his orchestras and musicians on tours throughout the region and continent. It was a remarkable period of creativity which saw Guinean musicians as pioneers in the creation of African popular music styles and as the voice of a new Africa.

EAP608_Pub002
Dr Graeme Counsel, the project archivist

The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) funded three projects to archive the collection of music contained in the sound archives of the RTG. The Syliphone archive, as it has been named, is now available through the British Library Sounds website.

The first EAP project was to reconstruct the entire Syliphone catalogue of 750 songs released on 160 vinyl discs. The government’s own archive of this collection had been destroyed in the counter-coup of 1985, when artillery bombed the national broadcaster and home of the offices of the RTG. I commenced the project in 2008 and completed it in time for Guinea’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations. These recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone1”. The success of the project enabled access to the RTG sound archive, a place I had visited some years earlier. Then I had been shown a hand-written catalogue of perhaps fifty audio reels of recordings. In 2008 I was ushered into a room which contained walls of reels, two or three deep. In the few weeks that remained of my project I digitised and preserved as many reels as possible, and these recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone2”.

EAP608_Pub005

Many of the reels had been poorly stored. Some were completely void of identifying information

I returned the following year to complete the archival project. In the interim, Guinea’s long serving President Lansana Conté had died. This heralded a coup, and when I arrived in August 2009 a new military regime was in power. On September 28 an opposition rally was attacked by the Guinean army in an infamous event known as the “stadium massacre”. 187 civilians lost their lives and 2,000 were injured. In the aftermath that followed, with risks of reprisals and civil war, it was clear that working at the centre of the government broadcaster was too dangerous. The project was abandoned, just a few weeks before the government fell. The recordings from this project commence with the reference number “Syliphone3”.

In 2010 Guinea’s first democratically elected government was in office, and I returned to Conakry in 2012 to launch the third EAP project to archive the RTG’s audio recordings. In 2008 I had archived just 69 audio reels of music. In 2009 I archived 229 reels. From September 2012 to January 2013 the remaining 827 reels were archived, and these recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone4”. The completion of the project drew much media attention in Guinea and had resulted in the preservation and digitisation of a total of 9,410 songs, or more than 50,000 minutes of music. The bulk of the material was recorded during the era of President Sékou Touré, and the archive is thus a testament to his government and to the policy of authenticité. The Syliphone archive captures an important era of African history, that of the independence period, when governments and artists alike looked to Africa’s history and culture for inspiration.

EAP608_Pub007

The Ministry of Culture organised a ceremony to celebrate the end of the project. The Minister of Culture & Dr Counsel both made speeches, and the all-female orchestra 'Les Amazones de Guinée' performed, as did 'Keletigui et ses Tambourinis'. The event was broadcast live

 

The Syliphone archive contains many unique and important recordings which document Guinea’s 1st Republic. It covers the early years (1960-1965), when Cuban music was a strong influence on the new and exuberant modern styles. The years following the Cultural Revolution of 1968 are extensively covered, and here new experimental styles are in evidence as music was being directly channelled by revolutionary policy. The early 1970s, when Guinean music was arguably at its creative zenith, is also comprehensively covered, and there are also numerous recordings from the post-Touré years, too, which permit a comparison.

Authenticité was abandoned in 1984, following the death of Sékou Touré, and the RTG’s sound archive was subject to years of censorship and neglect. Most of its recordings were never broadcast again, which resulted in a generation of Guineans having little exposure to the music of their mothers and fathers. The archive’s emergence is thus emblematic of the new era of Guinean democracy and of the gradual rehabilitation of Sékou Touré into mainstream Guinean politics. It is also a wonderful collection of music which permits us to “regard sur le passé”.

The list of artists and musicians represented in the archive is a who’s who of Guinean musicians. In addition to the complete catalogue of Syliphone vinyl discs, there are numerous examples of unreleased studio recordings by major artists such as Kandia Sory Kouyaté, Bembeya Jazz National, Fodé Conté and Kadé Diawara, in addition to hundreds of unreleased recordings by Guinea’s National and Regional orchestras, troupes and ensembles. There are dozens of concert recordings, too, and a wealth of material by famous Guinean artists who, as they were never commercially recorded, are unheralded outside of the region. Some of these include Farba Tela, Mama Kanté, Binta Laaly Sow, Koubia Jazz and Jeanne Macauley. The archive collection also features thousands of traditional songs from Guinea’s regions and ethnic groups, including recordings in the following languages: Baga, Bassari, Baoulé, Djakanké, Djallonké, Fulfuldé, Guerzé, Jahanka, Kissi, Konianka, Kônô, Kpèlè, Landouma, Lélé, Lokko, Maninkakan, Manon, Onëyan, Sankaran, Susu, Toma, Toma-Manian and Wamey.

Further information on the archival project can be found in the chapter “Music for a revolution: The sound archives of Radio Télévision Guinée", in From dust to digital: Ten years of the Endangered Archives Programme (Maja Kominko ed., Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015) and also at the author’s website – www.radioafrica.com.au.

Dr Graeme Counsel, 2015.

18 January 2016

Deciphering Wolof Ajami Texts

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Our final blog to coincide with the British Library's exhibition on West Africa is by Dr Fallou Ngom, grant holder for EAP334, a project that digitised Wolof Ajami manuscripts from Senegal. Dr Ngom gives a fascinating and detailed explanation on how the Arabic script was modified for the Wolof language.

 

It has been noted that some of the oldest African Ajami texts kept in some European libraries are mislabeled as arabe indéchiffrable (“undecipherable Arabic”).[i] Though Ajami has a long tradition in Africa, stretching from Senegambia to the Horn of Africa, it has been largely overlooked in teaching and research about the region, partly because Ajami texts are difficult to decipher by outsiders. Like other Ajami users around the world, Wolof Ajami writers enriched the 28 Arabic letters with diacritical dots (Wolof: tomb). These diacritical dots can be placed below or above Arabic letters or below or above Arabic vowel diacritics, as reflected in the excerpt below.[ii]

Exerpt 1: Wolof Ajami text

 

  Figure 1 275

Romanized transcription

Bismi llāhi al-raḥmāni al-raḥimi

Wa ṣalla llāhu ʿalā sayyidinā

Muḥammadin wa sallama taslīman.

  1. Mboolem Muriid yi degluleen ma yee leen
  2. Ci mbiri Shaykh Anta buleen nelaw yeen.
  3. Li may nelaw-nelaw du tee ma yeete.
  4. Li may gëlëm-gëlëm du tee ma woote.
  5. Amaana kuy nelaw-nelawlu ngir réer.
  6. Waaye bu dee fee yeete doolul yandoor.

 English translation

In the Name of God, The Merciful, The Beneficent.

May blessing and Peace be upon our Master Muḥammad

                        ---o----

Fellow Murid disciples, listen to be awakened

about Shaykh Anta. Do not sleep

No matter how asleep I am, I will wake you up

No matter how confused I am, I will call upon you

Perhaps, some pretend to be asleep because they are confused

But when awakened, they will snore no more.

 

Decrypting Wolof Consonants

The Wolof language has 43 consonants (including geminates). The following eleven consonants do not exist in Arabic: p, mp, mb, c, ñ, nc, nj, and ŋ, g, ng, and nd. Thus, to render them in writing, Ajami users had to modify Arabic letters that represents Arabic sounds closer to them with diacritical dots. An orthographic rule is applied to the following natural classes: bilabial, palatal, velar, and prenasal-alveolar consonants. The bilabial consonants (p and the prenasal mp, and mb) are written with the Arabic (ب, b) with three dots placed above or below. Verse 1 and 2 show examples of mb written with the dots above and below the . Similarly, the palatal consonants (c, ñ, nc, and nj) are rendered with a jīm (ج, j) with three dots above or below. An example of c (in ci, the proposition at, in, on) written with a jīm with three dots below is shown at the beginning of verse 2. On occasions, the dots are omitted inadvertently.

The velar consonants ŋ, g, and ng are generally written with the Arabic kāf (ک, k) with three dots above or below. An example of g is in verses 1 and 4. The prenasal-alveolar nd forms its own class and is commonly written with the dāl (د, d) with three dots above or below. Verse 6 contains an example of nd written with dāl with the three dots above. While in Romanized texts, the vowel diacritic that typically follows geminates and prenasals in Ajami texts is not represented, in Ajami texts it reflects an articulatory phonetic feature. It refers to the consonantal release at the end of words with geminates or prenasals. Finally, the sukūn (o placed above a consonant) functions in Ajami texts as it does in Arabic materials. It is used to indicate absence of vowel after a consonant.

Decrypting Wolof Vowels

Three diacritics are used to write the three vowels of the Arabic language: i (kasra, a line below the letter), a (fatḥā, a line above the letter), and u (ḍamma, a superscript د above the letter). Similar to the consonants, Ajami users deploy innovative techniques to represent the vowels of their languages that do not exist in Arabic. For example, Wolof has the following eight vowels: i, e, é, ë, a, o, ó, and u. Five of them (e, é, ë, o, and ó) do not exist in Arabic. As in the case of the consonants, an orthographic rule applies to natural classes to write Wolof vowels that do not exist in Arabic. The classes include: front, central, and back vowels.

The front vowels i, e, and é are typically written with kasra, imāla (a dot below the letter) or their combination, as illustrated in verses 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The back vowels o, ó, and u are written with ḍamma as seen in verses of the excerpt. In some Wolof Ajami texts, o and ó are further differentiated from u and are written with a ḍamma with a small dot inside.  With respect to the class of central vowels which includes ë and a, both vowels are generally written with the fatḥa, as shown throughout the excerpt.

Additionally, when a word begins with a vowel, there are several possibilities to write the vowel. Because the fatḥa, kasra, and ḍamma diacritics used to write respectively the vowels a, i, and u in Arabic cannot stand alone, the alif (ا) is commonly used as a supporting letter in Wolof Ajami materials. The consonants ḥā (ح, ), (ه, h), and cayn (ع, c) can also serve as supporting letters at word-initial position in Wolof Ajami writing. The vowel a in the word amaana (perhaps), the first word of verse 5, is written with a fatḥa placed on a supporting ḥā.

Additionally, the ḥā (ح, ) and (ه, h) have other orthographic functions in Wolof Ajami writing. They can both occur at the end of words. When these two letters (ح and ه) are used at word-final positions in Wolof Ajami texts, they reflect an articulatory phonetic feature: the uninterrupted airflow of final vowels. The hā (ه) can also indicate a dialectal trait in Wolof Ajami. In such cases, hā (ه) indicates a dialectal feature of the rural Bawol-Bawol Wolof variety spoken in the heartland of the Murid areas where h is pronounced before nouns beginning with a vowel, in contrast to urban varieties where it is dropped.

Decrypting the Segmentation System

The segmentation system that Wolof Ajami practitioners utilize to break their words and phrases also differs in some respect from the one commonly used in the standard Latin script texts. The phrases with multiple elements in the Romanized excerpt form single units in the Ajami excerpt. The first phrase in the box in verse 1, ma yee leen (I wake you up), consists of the subject pronoun ma (I), the verb yee (to wake up), and the object pronoun leen (them). The second phrase in the box in verse 2, ci mbiri (about/concerning the business of), consists of the preposition ci (at, in, on), mbir (business/affair), and the plural genitive morpheme –i. The two phrases in the boxes in verses 3 and 4, ma yeete (I wake up people) and ma woote (I call upon people), consists of the subject pronoun ma (I) and the verbs yeete (to wake up people) and woote (to call upon people). While the elements of the structures are isolated in the standard Roman transcription, they are agglutinated in the Ajami excerpt.

Though deciphering Ajami texts is clearly not easy, the benefits are immense. Deciphering such Ajami texts opens up new doors into important written sources of African knowledge that have hitherto eluded most Arabophone and Europhone scholars. Ajami sources are old and extensive and they complement the (1) Arabic, (2) Europhone, (3) indigenous written, and (4) oral traditions of Africa that constitute the “African Library.” Ajami sources equally deal with both religious and secular matters, including arts.[iii]

Calligraphy

Bàyyi fen moo gën jàng al-Quraan ak xam-xam te jëfe ko [to stop lying is better than studying the Qurʾān and knowledge [of Islamic sciences] and living by it], a maxim in Ajami calligraphy emphasizing the primacy of ethical excellence over ritual practice in the Muridiyya Sufi order of Senegal. Courtesy of Yelimane Fall, Murid calligrapher.

[i] Mamadou Cissé, “Écrits et Écriture en Afrique de l’Ouest,” Revue Electronique Internationale des Sciences du Language 6 (2007): 84.

[ii] Source: Ka, Muusaa. Nàttoo di Kerkeraani Awliyā-i, copied by Muhammadu Amiin Saaw. Tuubaa, Senegal, 1989. For a recited version by Mama Njaay.

[iii] For more on the information in Ajami materials in general and the Wolof tradition in particular, see: Murid Ajami sources of knowledge: the myth and the reality ; and EAP334.

14 January 2016

A Living Archive - Emmanuel M. Mbwaye, Bokwango (Cameroon)

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The African Photography Initiatives has just completed its two years project (EAP542) to partially digitise and conserve the archive collection of the Photographic Information Service in Buea, Cameroon. The collection contains images documenting “all the official ceremonies and things of general interest”(1) taking place in the Anglophone part of Cameroon between 1955 and 1980.

NEE_4611Federal Information staff celebrates Christmas, 1970. © MINCOM Cameroun

During the course of the project approximately 4,000 groundsheet dossiers (14,000 individual pages) and 26,152 negatives covering some 35 years of Anglophone Cameroon’s history were digitised and a database established.

NEE_8792Emmanuel M. Mbwaye, ca. 1980. © MINCOM Cameroun

If we wanted to give a face and a name, which is closely connected to this collection, we would immediately refer to the photographer Emmanuel M. Mbwaye (b. Bokwango 1928), the Photographic Information Service’s first photographer. Even though he retired 30 years ago, he retains very strong links with the collection and supports any initiative which helps to sustain this important visual heritage.

NEG_5236Emmanuel M. Mbwaye on his way to the South West Regional Delegation of Communication, 2013. © Rosario Mazuela

He learned photography from the Colonial Films Unit CDC (Cameroon Development Corporation) in the early 1950s. In 1964, he received a British council scholarship to study photography at Blackpool Technical College Young School of Arts, England. During that period he worked with the Information Service London and the Daily Mirror newspaper. In 1977, he received another scholarship to study in Italy where he did colour photography and television at Naples’ Channel 21. In the course of his professional career he trained many photographers and, as he said, “I’m satisfied that my knowledge has been passed to younger generations” (2). He was Head of the Photographic Section during the first part of his career and later became responsible for the Information Service’s Cinematographic Section.

NEG_8089Photographers covering the visit of President Tubman of Liberia to West Cameroon, 1962. © MINCOM Cameroun

A fervent advocate of the rights of the Bakweri people, Buea’s autochthon population, he tenaciously initiated and supported a great number of projects for the welfare of his community. Promoting health and education was most important to him. Together with Mrs. Ann Cross he created the first Buea Health Centre at Bokwango, organized baby shows (to reduce infant mortality), literacy campaigns, and, last but not least, acted as a referee for the Fako (the region of which Buea is the centre) wrestling competitions. “He not only loved development”, said Chief Litumbe George about Pa Mbwaye, “he was also very clear about human rights”. Against this backdrop, the creation of the Fako Division Tourism Board in the 1960s, which focused on the touristic development of Limbe and Foumban as well as the function of Chairman he exercised for many years, was only the next logical step.

NGT_1187Grand wrestling contest in Buea. Pa Mbwaye (as a referee) participating in the libation ceremony, 1980. © MINCOM Cameroun

In this post we want to present some pictures from the EAP542 collection which show the wide spectrum of Pa Mbwaye’s interests and activities. As much as he loved to be the man behind the camera he enjoyed his role in the limelight of social recognition, which he well deserved. Often, he, himself, was the “event to cover”.

NGT_2451Photographers' seminar in Yaoundé, 1977. © MINCOM Cameroun

NGT_3036
Visit of the International Women Club Douala and presentation of gifts to the Ann Cross Health Centre Bokwango, 1983. © MINCOM Cameroun

NGT_6722
Fako Wrestlers Association contest in Douala during the "Ngondo" ceremony,  1972. © MINCOM Cameroun

These images are only a few examples of many more which the South West Regional Delegation of Communication keeps in its treasure chest, the Buea Press Photo Archives.

(1, 2) Statements from Emmanuel M. Mbwaye in the program “Emmanuel Moanga Mbwaye. Photography Icon. Beacons of Time. CRTV. 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr2Vd0IrrRg)

Rosario Mazuela

African Photography Initiatives

It is hoped that EAP will receive the appropriate permissions so that we can make this material available online.