Sound and Vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

05 July 2021

Recording of the week: A hibernating dormouse

This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds

You'd be hard pressed to find anything cuter than a sleeping dormouse. This tiny little rodent can spend up to seven months of the year asleep, moving between a state of hibernation and torpor (deep sleep) before reawakening when the weather is warm enough.

Hibernating dormice

The following recording was made over 50 years in London by wildlife sound recordist Lawrence Shove. In it we can hear the rhythmic high-pitched calls of a dormouse fast asleep, oblivious to the activity around it.

Common Dormouse calls during hibernation recorded in London England on 11 April 1966 (BL REF 104845)

Common Dormouse calls during hibernation, recorded in London, England on 11 April 1966 (BL REF 104845)

This recording is part of a much larger collection of British wildlife recorded by Shove during the 1960s and 1970s. The collection has recently been preserved through the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project and will soon be available online.

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

01 July 2021

The NHS at 73

A black and white photo of three people standing over a woman in a bedAnenurin Bevan, Minister of Health, on the first day of the National Health Service, 5 July 1948 at Park Hospital, Davyhulme, near Manchester. Courtesy of University of Liverpool/Wikimedia

On the 5th July 2021 the National Health Service reaches its 73rd Birthday. In a year where the NHS is still at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, its importance resonates more than ever across the UK. It is timely and exciting then that a large collection of interviews is currently being deposited at the British Library from the University of Manchester’s 'NHS at 70' Project. Led by Professor Stephanie Snow and Dr Angela Whitecross, and involving a dynamic and committed team of staff and volunteers, initially the project was set up in 2017 to commemorate the 70th birthday of the NHS (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund), recording first hand experiences, memories and reflections of NHS staff, patients and members of the public. The project has now gone far beyond that initial collecting remit, and through a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (part of the UKRI Covid-19 Urgency call) interviews have continued remotely as 'NHS Voices of Covid-19' in order to capture the voices of those at the forefront of the pandemic. All the interviews are now being archived at the British Library as ‘Voices of Our National Health Service’ and together they provide both a history of the health service and invaluable documentation of a period in which the NHS has faced unprecedented challenges.

The clips below are all selected from pre Covid-19 interviews. This is partly because interviews undertaken during the pandemic have not yet been deposited at the British Library (this will start in August 2021) but also because now, more than ever, it is important to reflect on the long history of the NHS and remember the many ways it has been an integral part of life in the UK for the past 73 years.

A number of interviews in the collection provide an insight into life before the formation of the NHS and the era of free health care. In this first clip, Megan Fox (interviewed in 2018) recalls her family's connections with ‘the father of the NHS’ Aneurin Bevan and the Tredegar Medical Aid Society; the society was used by Bevan as a model for the National Health Service.

Megan Fox (C1887/77) © University of Manchester

Megan Fox Transcript

In this next chosen clip, interviewee Janine McKnight-Cowan (interviewed in 2018) describes the reasons why even at a young age she wanted to become a nurse.

Janine McKnight-Cowan (C1887/164) © University of Manchester

Janine McKnight-Cowan Transcript

Many interviewees talk about the importance of migrants to the NHS workforce and Dr Punam Krishan’s interview from 2019 is no exception. Dr Krishan (interviewed in 2019) describes attending an exhibition at the Royal College of General Practitioners ‘Migrants who made the NHS’ (a 2018 exhibition to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the NHS) which focused on Doctors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Dr Krishan expresses her pride in seeing her family doctor featured in the exhibition.

Dr Punam Krishan (C1887/53) © University of Manchester

Punam Krishan Transcript

In this final clip, Jill Watson (interviewed at the end of 2018) a peer flu vaccinator interviewed in 2018, talks (with somewhat spooky foresight) about what she thinks a large scale pandemic would mean for the NHS.

Jill Watson (C1887/166) © University of Manchester

Jill Watson Transcript

What became clear early on in cataloguing this collection is the pride that the UK has in its National Health Service, whether that be from staff or patients. Gratification and thanks for the NHS feature in practically all of the interviewees’ closing words. Hopefully, these clips give a taste of what is to come from the 'Voices of Our National Health Service' collection and demonstrate just some of the ways the NHS has impacted life in the UK over the last 73 years.

Blog by Hannah Tame, Oral History Cataloguer NHS Voices of Covid-19. With thanks to our colleagues at the University of Manchester.

Voices of Our National Health Service can be found by searching C1887 at the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

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.]

22 June 2021

Windrush Day: Bristol’s Princess Campbell

Today is Windrush Day, a day which honours the contributions and hardships of the British Caribbean community and those who travelled to the UK after the Second World War to help rebuild Britain and start a new life. To mark the day we have a guest blog from one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’s (UOSH) hub partners Bristol Archives, to tell the inspiring story of one of Bristol’s members of the Windrush generation, Princess Campbell.

Princess Campbell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1939. As a young woman, she became one of the estimated half-a-million people from Commonwealth countries who answered the call for migrant workers in England. She came to Bristol in 1962, where she trained as a nurse and became the city’s first black ward sister.

In recent years, she became one of Bristol’s best-known members of the Windrush generation. Through the UOSH project, we can now hear about Princess’s life in England in her own words.

Photo of Princess Campbell

Pictured above: Princess Campbell in her nurse’s uniform (Bristol Archives, 44459/Ph/2/4).

In 2007, schoolchildren, involved in the ‘Easton and Us’ local heritage project, interviewed local residents to find out about their lives in Easton from the 1930s to the present day.

These oral histories, held at Bristol Archives, were recently made available for research through UOSH. Originally held on minicassettes, the recordings have been digitised so that we can once again hear the voices and experiences of the people who took part.

Princess Campbell was one of those interviewed and her story is compelling, from her experiences of racism to the many ways she fought against discrimination.

Keen to establish herself in a profession, Princess considered becoming a teacher before choosing to train as a nurse. Once qualified, she worked for years but encountered barriers when she sought to progress her career. She tells the children who interviewed her how hard black people have to work to prove themselves; in this clip, she talks about working hard to gain as many qualifications as she could.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip one

Download Princess Campbell clip one transcript

Despite her skills in both general nursing and psychiatric nursing, Princess was passed over for promotion to ward sister. She describes how support from fellow staff helped her to overcome resistance to appointing a black woman and she was eventually appointed to this role.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip two

Download Princess Campbell clip two transcript

Princess also talks about wider problems of discrimination for the growing black community. As she explains in this clip, she arrived in Bristol to find black people had little access to good jobs or decent homes. To solve the housing problem, she was involved in setting up a housing association to help both black and white people to find affordable accommodation.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip three

Download Princess Campbell clip three transcript

Through her determination to bring about change, Princess was also involved in other movements. Soon after her arrival in England, she was involved in the Bristol bus boycott, a campaign against the local bus company’s refusal to employ black drivers and conductors.

The boycott was led by the activist Paul Stephenson but as Princess says, ‘I was one of the protestors - I can't help it... we would have our banners out there and protest peacefully and decently’. Ultimately, the bus company changed their policy and began to recruit black staff, although racism from other passengers was also a common experience.

Listen to Princess Campbell - clip four

Download Princess Campbell clip four transcript

Later on, Princess was also active in the aftermath of another high-profile protest. In April 1980, the St Paul’s riots in Bristol were a response to police treatment of young black people. Princess described attending Parliament to lobby MPs for improved facilities to young people, leading to the creation of a new youth centre.

Towards the end of her life, Princess’s achievements were recognised and celebrated. A few years after this interview was recorded, she received an OBE for services to the community. In Bristol, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol and a nurses’ training centre was named after her at the University of the West of England. When she died in 2015, crowds lined the streets of Easton for her funeral procession.

This recording complements other material documenting the experiences of black people that can be found in the collections at Bristol Archives. Princess was a founder member of the Bristol Black Archives Partnership. Through this venture, people and organisations from Bristol’s African-Caribbean community - including people involved in the bus boycott - deposited records and personal papers with the archives. Available for research alongside these records, Princess’s interview adds a personal insight into the lives of people from the Windrush generation who made their home here.

Three logos - UOSH - Heritage Fund - Bristol Archives

This post was written by Allie Dillon from Bristol Archives.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @bristolarchives for more updates from the UOSH project teams.

21 June 2021

Recording of the week: Carol Ann Duffy reads ‘Mrs Midas’

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

I have been listening to Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem ‘Mrs Midas’ at an English PEN event held in London in 1994.

King Midas is known in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is set in modern times and is written from the perspective of the King’s wife, Mrs Midas. The story starts with a perplexed Mrs Midas at their home where there is something odd going on with the King. Through a sequence of incidents at dinner time the King makes a confession. On seeing the food and homeware turned into gold Mrs Midas recounts:

___________________________________ I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:
how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst.

Listen to the recording to find out what happens next.

'Mrs Midas' [BL REF C125/347 C7]

Read poem transcript

‘Mrs Midas’ is part of Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, published by Picador and Anvil Press Poetry in 1999. Each poem engages with a mythological or historical male figure. The poems are always written from a female perspective and in monologue form. Several of these women are spouses. The collection provides a revised outlook on familiar narratives but all of them place women centre stage.

There are five years between Duffy’s reading at PEN and the publication of The World’s Wife, yet the poem did not change. There are four other poems from this collection in the recording, ‘Mrs Tiresias’, ‘Mrs Aesop’, ‘Queen Kong’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’.

The English PEN collection consists of literary talks and readings hosted and recorded by PEN between 1953 and 2006. It also includes the International Writers Day events, recorded by the British Library. Most of the events took place either in London or different parts of the UK.

This collection has been preserved by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project. It includes a total of 1184 recordings from over 400 tapes, which are now accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms. In due course, from early 2021, you will be able to listen to up to 325 English PEN recordings online.

Since I am still working from home in London, I have included this picture of King Midas from a children’s book my mother gave me as a child growing up in Spain. This was my first encounter with the King Midas story. The story feels more complete now with the addition of Mrs Midas’ views.

Illustration of King Midas
Illustration of King Midas from the book 'El rey Midas. Mis cuentos favoritos' published by Editorial Vasco Americana, 1967

English PEN is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (1921-2021). To mark this important occasion they are running Common Currency, a year-long programme of events, residencies and workshops, which includes a three-day festival at the Southbank Centre, London, 24-26 September 2021.

To tie in with PEN’s centenary I will be featuring more recordings from the collection in the coming months.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

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

18 June 2021

Walk in their footsteps: Windrush Voices, a new digital education programme at the British Library

I still remember it like it was yesterday. The 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. The level of excitement about us as the host nation was at a fever pitch. There was a lot of talk around Danny Boyle’s plans for an very epic opening ceremony and what an amazing performance it was. There was one particular moment that has stayed with me the most in my memories of that event.

At the center of the multi-media stage was a recreation of the industrial revolution. Circling the stage were different moving milestones of British history to be proud of. Amongst this comes a large prop of a boat, smoke billowing from its engines and a gathered group of black men and women striding forward:

And others would come from other lands. In particular from the West Indies

These words were said by a BBC commenter as we watched in awe. It felt incredibly significant to include a generation who answered the call of the ‘mother country’‘ in Britain’s hour of need. My grandparents were part of that generation. Travelling from Barbados and Jamaica to Britain during the 1960s. However I found their stories were rarely taught or spoken about in school when I was a student. As a Learning Facilitator and co-ordinator of the Windrush Voices educational programme, I do feel a sense of pride in providing a very unique opportunity for their stories to be heard by a new generation of students.

On Windrush Day as we celebrate the efforts of this generation in our society, the Windrush Voices team will host a special online event perfect for secondary and sixth form history teachers.

Windrush Voices is a digital education programme based on the themes of the exhibition ‘Songs in A Strange Land’ which featured at The British Library in 2018. With the use of oral history, learners are able to analyse and dissect the lived experiences of the Windrush Generation. The event is designed to support and inspire teachers to use the ‘Windrush Voices’ resource in schools with 15-18 year old's. Places are still available to book.

Using stories from the Library’s oral history enables you to share people’s personal stories as they witnessed them. Not only do we hear them in their words but we are able to gain an understanding of what impact this moment has had on them today. With the use of oral history, learners are able to analyse and dissect the lived experiences of the Windrush Generation, perspectives that they may never before have considered.

Our programme breaks down into three areas, so we can focus on the Windrush Generation and the second generation’s lived experiences in regards to childhood, work and activism. By encouraging in-depth listening, we then post these questions to the students:

  • What it was like to arrive in Britain? What was school like?
  • What was it working in Britain?
  • What challenges did the Windrush Generation face in Britain?
  • What steps did Windrush Generation take to make a difference?

As learners are encouraged to dissect personal accounts, there is also space to further understand how oral history is produced and may inspire them to talk more to members of their own families and communities.

Portrait photograph of Vanley Burke in front of framed photographsVanley Burke, Image Courtesy of Birmingham Post & Mail, 2014

Vanley Burke was born in 1951 in Jamaica and came to Britain in 1965 at age of 14. He is considered to be the godfather of black British photography. In his oral history recording about his career as a photographer, he gave a window into what he was going to school in Britain as a child.

Vanley Burke on going to school in Britain as a child (C459/217)

Download Vanley Burke on going to school in Britain as a child Transcript

In this very short account we discover there is quite a lot for us to unpack. Burke’s words paint a very clear picture of a lawless rough environment where he did not feel safe. By noting the silence, the laughter and his choice of words we are able to gain far more than if we simply read Burke’s account.

Portrait image of Sonia McIntosh sitting on a chairSonia McIntosh, Image from Caribeean Social Forum video, a partnership project between the British Library, Caribbean Social Forum and Chocolate Films

Alongside the bad experience of racism and prejudice, we are able to see the resolve many within the Windrush Generation took to make a real systemic change in UK society. Sonia McIntosh began working as a civil servant at Parliament. To combat the fact that not enough black people were ascending to higher positions or work in parliament, she and her colleagues formed a group to encourage black people in the workplace.

Sonia McIntosh on founding ParliREACH

Download Sonia McIntosh on founding ParliREACH Transcript

Sonia McIntosh was one of many traversing uncharted waters to make lasting change for the generations to come.

The lasting impact of the Windrush scandal is also reflected in our final portion of our resources. With the context of the past, learners & educators can see a full picture as to why this betrayal cuts in incredibly deeply for the Windrush Generation. We are hopeful that learning the stories of their personal lived experiences can have a positive impact on future chapters of Windrush Generation’s story.

The Windrush Generation came to Britain at a crucial time. Their efforts have been woven into the fabric of what makes Britain great. It has been an honour and privilege for the team and I to provide a platform for their incredible stories to be heard. We greatly look forward to this event on 22 June, and hope that teachers and students are inspired to use Windrush Stories in the classroom.

Blog by Reuben Massiah, Learning Facilitator and co-ordinator of Windrush Voices, British Library Learning

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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