THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

From classical and pop to world and traditional music

Introduction

We have over 100,000 pieces of manuscript music, 1.6 million items of printed music and about 2 million music recordings! This blog is written by our team of music curators and features news and information about the British Library's rich collections of music and sound recordings. Read more

02 July 2015

Two film screenings and Conference on Audio-Visual Archives at the British Library, 17-19 July 2015

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The School of Music at the University of Leeds and the British Library will host a conference, Audio-Visual Archives, at the British Library on 18-19 July 2015. In addition we will screen two films, Still Alice (2014) on Friday 17 July and In the Name of the Father (1993) on Saturday 18 July, with special introductory sessions.

  Av-archives-conference

Collections of materials relating to audio-visual processes and products take various forms ranging from the multitrack reels of film-score recording sessions in the Trevor Jones Archive at the University of Leeds to the Muir Mathieson papers and other film-related manuscripts at the British Library to the scores and other documents in the Warner Brothers’ Archive in California. This two-day conference will address some of the fundamental issues surrounding the use of archival collections relating to audio-visual processes and products, and explore current research in screen music that draws on archival resources. More information about the conference, including booking information, can be found here.

Audio-visual-things-to-come

Muir Mathieson Archive British Library MS Mus 1763

In addition to the conference there will be two public film screenings, each with a pre-screening session.

On Friday 17 July at 7.00pm, London-based film and television composer Ilan Eshkeri, whose list of credits includes Stardust (2007), The Young Victoria (2009), The Snowman and the Snowdog (2012) and Shaun the Sheep (2015), discusses his score for the 2014 film Still Alice, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, and starring Julianne Moore. The session also includes live performance of parts of the score to illustrate the discussion and as a short concert ahead of a complete screening of the film at 8.00pm-9.45pm. Entry to the session with Ilan Eshkeri and the film screening that follows is not included in any of the conference ticket types. A combined ticket to this pre-screening session and the following film can be purchased for £7 here.

On Saturday 18 July at 4.45pm there will be a session in which the research team for the AHRC-funded project The Professional Career and Output of Trevor Jones draw on unique archival materials relating to Jones’s score for the 1993 film In the Name of the Father. The various audio, video, textual and musical resources housed in the Trevor Jones Archive at the University of Leeds reveal aspects of the composer’s creative process as well as some of the underlying aesthetic and musical considerations that underpin the score. This session is followed by a screening of the film at 5.15pm-7.45pm. This screening and the session that precedes it are free to conference delegates with a pass that includes Saturday. A combined ticket to this screening and the pre-screening session can be purchased for £7 here.

01 July 2015

The British Library at WOMAD

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The British Library is celebrating 30 years of collaboration with WOMAD.

British Library team member at WOMAD

The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD is nearly as long as the festival's existence. Since 1985, missing only 3 years, we have been present at WOMAD's major annual summer event in the UK. Each year a small team of staff from the Library has spent an enjoyable weekend making documentary recordings of as many of the performances as possible. We try to cover all the stages and often record artists several times as they deliver different performances, including workshops and interviews, over the weekend. The concentration in one place of so many diverse and talented musicians allows us to document musical traditions from around the world right here on our doorstep. And it's not just a case of keeping a record of each performance for listening at the archive, but also a way of documenting for the long term a significant event on the ‘world music’ scene.

The British Library now has recordings of a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since their appearance at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal (first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991), Thomas Mapfumo (1990) and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1985), to cite only a few.

Our first WOMAD recording (on 20 July 1985 at Mersea Island, near Colchester) was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country.

In total we hold over 2000 hours of music recorded at WOMAD, backed up digitally for preservation and onsite access.

WOMAD is the only music festival that has this incredible relationship with the British Library, and to celebrate we are collaborating to offer one lucky winner a pair of tickets to this year’s festival at Charlton Park (24th-26th July) and an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the British Library Sound Archive in London for four people. For more information click here.

Open air stage Dhol Foundation 2
Dhol Foundation recorded by British Library at WOMAD 2004

Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme

Follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad

 

20 March 2015

Musical Journeys to Oman, Qatar and Kuwait

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27 short films on music from Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, made by Rolf Killius (the BL's Gulf History Curator for Oral and Musical Cultures) are now available online.

Traditional music in the Persian (or Arabic) Gulf region creates joy at weddings, helps to deal with death, shows cultural continuity and changes, is part of the history of peoples, accompanies nation-building and national celebrations, reflects ethnic unity, diversity and plurality, expresses cultural heritage and unites people.

In 2013 and 2014 I had the chance to do fieldwork on traditional music in Oman, Qatar and Kuwait for the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme. The main aim of this fieldwork was to complement the British Library's historical commercial music collections from the Gulf region (mainly on shellac discs) with new audio and video recordings of traditional music.

I have selected and edited 27 short films from these fieldwork journeys for the Qatar Digital Library Portal, where one can also find contextual pieces outlining the fieldwork and introducing the regions and musical genres. Linked to the portal are YouTube and SoundCloud channels with hundreds of audio and video titles with detailed captions. Additional material can also be found on the British Library Sounds website where one can listen to Middle Eastern music on shellac discs.

Modernity meets tradition: traditional music in Qatar

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Sea-music in Qatar
Sea-music in Qatar. Photo: Rolf Killius

The intention to do fieldwork in one of the richest countries in the world seemed at first to be a challenge. Walking along the Cornice, the waterfront in Qatar’s capital, Doha - with more than its share of skyscrapers and blinking lights, the promenade walkways alongside a superhighway and the wooden boats ready to service tourists and affluent Qataris - gives the impression of a rapidly modernising country which has left much of the Bedouins’ and seafarers’ roots behind. Despite all this we discovered that just a little scratch in the right place can uncover the traditional musical cultures of the desert and the sea again. If one has access to the very intimate family, tribal or informal Qatari Arab gatherings it is surprising how much of the traditional music culture is still alive. 

For instance, try the sea music performance, where the naham (lead singer) Ali Saeed Al Mari, conducts a choir of twenty-five singers and instrumentalists:

 

Or, watch the al-ardha performance during the tribal gathering of the al-Atteeyah community during the annual Qatar National Day. Here the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, graced the audience and players:

  

Sea Music - with a Scottish Bagpipe
Sea music, musician with Scottish bagpipes. Photo: Rolf Killius

Sea meets desert: traditional music in Oman

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In the Sultanate of Oman traditional music, poetry and dance are still part and parcel of both everyday life and national/patriotic celebrations, and are practised by experts and laypersons alike. An example of how well Omani people respect music was my late-night arrival at the airport in Muscat: all bags were scanned and the customs official asked me to unpack all my equipment. Finally he pointed at the microphones and barked: “What is this for?” I hesitated at first and then answered that they were “microphones to record Omani music”. A big smile settled on his face and he wished me a good time in Oman. Welcome to the country of music and frankincense!

The musical culture reflects the population’s multi-ethnic origin and has created a unique variety of numerous musical and dance genres. Though they all have been flavoured by the grand cultures of India, East Africa and Persia, the Omani people have developed their own variety of specific Gulf styles. Along with Hijaz (Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia) and Yemen, Oman has the most ancient and diverse culture on the Arabian Peninsula.

For instance, try Galfat Shobani, the sea music from Oman, completely different from sea music in Qatar and Kuwait and – surprisingly – with a Scottish bagpipe as the solo instrument.

 

Or, watch the Al-Maidan dance and music from a large wedding in Sur. This dance is considered the most complicated and sophisticated dance form and is strongly influenced by African culture.

Maidan dance music
Maidan dance, Oman. Photo: Rolf Killius
Boom in Kuwait with skyline
Boom in Kuwait with skyline. Photo: Rolf Killius

Hidden treasures: traditional music in Kuwait

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Although Kuwait City (where the research was conducted) at first seemed to me a bit dull, once personally introduced, the numerous places where traditional music is still practised revealed a rich heritage of a living Gulf music culture. Indeed Kuwait is musically quite a revelation. Traditional music is performed, at least in private gatherings, on a weekly basis.

Kuwait was and (to a certain degree) still is the centre of traditional music in the Gulf. Together with Bahrain the country shares the honour of being the birthplace of such once popular music genres as sowt (early urban genre of the Gulf). Bahri (sea music), in particular, has been at the heart of Kuwait’s music scene. Numerous old audiovisual documents show evidence of the country’s ‘roaring 1960s’, where male and female musicians performed widely and were recorded by record labels and television companies. Kuwait has maintained a thriving traditional music culture to the present day, which is practised nearly exclusively in private homes and semi-private diwaniyas or traditional meeting places for men, mostly related to music.

For instance, try this sowt performance from a diwaniya in Kuwait City:

 

Or, try Leywa (or liwah), the ritual music of African origin practised in the whole Gulf region. The instrument players are at the centre of the performance while the surnai (oboe) player leads the dancers and singers who move anti-clockwise around the instrumentalists. 

 

 

Guest post written by Rolf Killius, March 2015

Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and our new Save our Sounds programme

Follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

Follow the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities on Twitter via @BL_WorldTrad