Remembering Hugh Tracey




In this podcast, Afropop producer Wills Glasspeigel heads to South Africa to reveal the story of the inimitable Hugh Tracey, a field recordist born at the turn of the 20th century in England. A wayward youth, Tracey found himself in Africa in the 1920s where he became fascinated with music from Zimbabwe.

Tracey became a pioneer field recordist, making over 250 LPs of traditional African music for the Gallo label in South Africa. Like John and Alan Lomax in the US, Tracey was instrumental in preserving hundreds of songs that have since gone extinct. Glasspiegel speaks with Dianne Thram, director of Tracey library in Grahamstown, South Africa; Tracey’s son Andrew, a musician and field recordist in his own right; Michael Baird, an expert on the Tracey catalog; and esteemed South African anthropologist David Coplan.

Excerpt from podcast of interview with Professor David Coplan:

“If not for Hugh Tracey, we wouldn’t have any of this music because you can’t go out in the countryside and hear it as you could then. Or, if you do, like with the bow playing lady who’s now become quite famous, it’s been this sort of world music movement that hit everybody and now there’s a great deal of consciousness now about what you’re doing when you’re playing your traditional music. And that there’s a whole – the sort of, I don’t want to call it the naturalness – but the un-self-consciousness about, “Well, here’s this guy with this microphone. We’re going to sing our music,” is no longer there.

Now it’s got to be a contract thing and there’s got to be agreements even to do that. So, it’s very important to have all this stuff and it will be there as one of the great resources and testimonies. Since we’ve thrown it all away, so to speak, it’s important to have it. People have been talking about African culture dying for years and Africans themselves talk all the time about how we are throwing away our culture. Well, they’ve been throwing it away for a hell of long time – I wonder when they’re going to run out because, as I often tell people, 100 years ago, black newspaper writers were writing exactly this. “We’re throwing away our culture.”

Listen to podcast here.

See also here and here.



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