Online Music Depositories and Archives Around the World


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Music Depositories and Archives around the World

1. International Library of African Music

The International Library of African Music (ILAM) was founded by the great Hugh Tracey – whose efforts to record African music can be found in the History blog – in 1954. What is particularly significant about this African Music archive is that it is actually in Africa; on its website, it boasts the accolade of ‘The Largest Archive of African Music in sub Saharan Africa’. When it was originally founded by Tracey, it was located in the Gauteng province of South Africa but, when Tracey died in 1977, private funding had dried up. His son, Andrew Tracey, took over as Director and Rhodes University, in the East Cape province of South Africa, agreed to host the ILAM.

Its aims are ‘to discover, record, analyze, and archive the music of sub-Saharan Africa, with the object of establishing a theory of music making in Africa and assessing the social, cultural, and artistic values of African music’ and, as it is owned, with the exception of the instrument collection which is owned by the Tracey family, by Rhodes University, it also enables the university to offer undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in Ethnomusicology that include training in performance of African music.

Diane Thram became Director in 2005 and, under her leadership, an online listening library has been created, in line with the cutting edge of content access, to allow anyone to listen to Hugh Tracey’s recordings, with work currently being done to also make the Dave Dargie and Andrew Tracey Collections available for online access. There are over 12000 30 second recordings from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

2. Global Music Archive

This archive is housed within the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library in Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, which is located in Nashville, Tennessee, and was founded in 2003 by Gregory Barz, Associate Professor of Musicology (Ethnomusicology) at Vanderbilt University and the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library. There is currently 1849 recordings available to listen to online in the Digital Collection of East African music, which were recorded by the Ugandan ethnomusicologist and performer Centurio Balikoowa. The Global Music Archive’s (GMA) main aim is ‘to provide access to sound recordings and images of indigenous music from communities in Africa and the Americas’ and, as it is a public facility, it achieves this aim by allowing public access to the archive onsite and online.

 3. British Library: World & Traditional Music

Under their World & Traditional Music collection online, they have sub-divided their content into continents, making the African material easily accessible in one place. In the African section, there are 11 separate collections.

The British Library has approximately 3.5million sound recordings in total available to listen to onsite, with a Reader Pass. However, thanks to the Archival Sound Recordings project, from 2004-2009, the British Library was able to make over 50,000 of these available for listening online. The first phase of the project only enabled online listening to higher and further academic institutions, but this was then extended and now most of the material is made available for anyone to listen to, where copyright permits.

 4. Smithsonian Folkways

Smithsonian Folkways is a not for profit record label, set up by the Smithsonian Institute, the world largest museum and research complex in America. Incoporated in 1948, under the name Folkways Records & Service Co., in New York City by Moses Asch and Marian Distler, it was one of the first record labels to offer world music as a viable commercial product and became incredibly successful. After Asch’s death in 1987, Folkways was acquired by Smithsonian and, under the terms of the contract, Smithsonian had to keep nearly all of the albums ‘in print’ forever, for posterity. It honours this through its custom order service: “Whether it sells 8,000 copies each year or only one copy every five years, every Folkways title remains available for purchase.” Their mission, which the legacy of Asch, is ‘to document “people’s music,” spoken word, instruction, and sounds from around the world’ and is committed to ‘to cultural diversity, education, increased understanding, and lively engagement with the world of sound.’ They currently have more than 3,200 albums and 45,000 tracks and, through the dissemination of audio recordings and educational materials, are seeking to expand this legacy.

Their vast content is relatively easy to search – though of course it helps to know what you are looking for – and one can either search a location or artist in the search bar, or browse through the various collections. The International Library of African Music has many of its albums available to download, under the ILAM collection. As it is a record label, its material must be bought, which is of course a barrier to access, but it is still an incredibly valuable resource for traditional music and enables it to have some sort of commercial value, though it is not for profit.

5. BBC Radio 3: World Music Audio Archive

Presented by Lucy Duran, the World Routes programme on BBC Radio 3 is a mixture of interviews with top performers, live concerts, a monthly CD round-up, and special location features. For 13 years the programme has been exploring the globe and making on site recordings of world music, whilst also giving some background on the culture and history of the recording. From East Africa, they have a 60 minute episode on Kenya – you can listen to recordings of the singer Suzanna Owiyo in Nairobi, the rain songs in the north of the country which frequently suffers from terrible drought and the Massai who sing of the dangers of cattle raiding – and two others on Uganda; one featuring the Bugandan Royal Court Music and the second is about the Busoga Kingdom.


2 Responses to “Online Music Depositories and Archives Around the World”

  1. Thom Hickey Says:

    Thanks. You’ve opened up treasure/Pandora’s box for me here! Regards Thom.

  2. Eugene Knapik Says:

    Nice place you got here.

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