Hugh Tracey in Tanzania, Mozambique and Uganda
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cd cover Jennifer Byrne explores more from the Hugh Tracey recordings from the International Library of African Music, remastered and presented on CD by Sharp Wood Productions (Netherlands)

Collected in a wide area of Africa, the variety of sounds on this set of recordings is astonishing, and the sheer logistics of the task seem overwhelming. Unlike many archival field recordings, this series is not only educational; it also makes for pleasurable listening, for the expert and the novice alike.

The Nguni Sound (SWP020) collection is surely one of the most remarkable of the series. Recorded between 1955 and 1958, around eastern South Africa, the diversity of style and form is impressive. Nguni is an umbrella term for the ethnic groups who can trace their history back to the great forefather, Mnguni. Among the Nguni are cultural groups as distinct as the Xhosa, Zulu, Baca, Swati or Mpondo. The Xhosa feature most prominently on this album.

A notable feature of the Nguni music featured here is its propensity towards vocals. This is in keeping with the surroundings of predominantly pastoral societies. The variety of vocal styles is staggering. There are the private moments of the solo vocalist with uhadi (gourd bow) accompaniment, of which there are several distinctive examples here. There are also the raucous but sweetly harmonious choirs comprising young vocalists with simple hand clapping accompaniment. In contrast, there is an example of a beautifully rehearsed, church-style, 3-part harmony protest song, the gentle melody and movement belying the dark lyrics. A ceremonial song in the distinguishing Zulu vocal style, performed by a group of men who include Chief Buthelezi on the occasion of his engagement to Princess Magogo, lends an element of grandeur to the collection. Princess Magogo herself responds with a self-composed love song to the Chief, accompanying herself on ugubhu (a Zulu gourd bow, identical in structure to the Xhosa uhadi). By far the most striking performances on this collection, however, are the Swati umgubo regimental songs. With the male vocalists providing a resonant, drone effect, these songs move slowly and eerily, in a hypnotic fashion.

cd cover Southern Mozambique (SWP021) is another crucial recording in the series which goes a long way in documenting and showcasing the traditional music of southern Mozambique. With some of the songs recorded as far back as the early 1940s, the quality is again of a very high standard.

Timbila is arguably Mozambique's best known traditional music and these recordings enhance the gutsy, buzzing timbre, not to mention the flawless interdependent coordination of the performers. As one would expect, the Chopi give an unparalleled account of themselves on the timbila, and some of the accompanying singing is truly inspired. Ndau likembe music is also beautifully represented, and some of the rhythms resemble those of the Zimbabwean mbira. Various choirs display the differing types of vocalization in the region, all wonderful in their respective ways. Several other samples of xylophones, thumb pianos and percussion pieces round out this remarkable collection.

cd cover Tanzania Vocals (SWP023) effortlessly provides illustration of a variety of singing styles of a range of the ethnic groups of Tanzania. Although most songs are dance songs, also included are wedding, fighting, praise and divination songs. The singing patterns and styles vary from the simple call and response to more complicated patterns, the Maasai songs with their intricate humming being a case in point of the latter. Some are gentle and hypnotic in their tone, while others, such as the Nyamwezi recordings, are more aggressive or energetic. A particularly noteworthy accomplishment among these recordings is the quality and command of the four Chagga songs in which the chorus comprises around 600 women and men.

cd cover Tanzania Instruments (SWP022) again incorporates the traditional music of a number of ethnic groups. There are several frenetic, percussive dance tunes, the most exciting being those of the Zaramo and Nyamwezi peoples. The Bantu love of the buzz-factor is very much in evidence on the limba (lamellophone) recordings (tracks 4 and 5), the attached beads sounding like a telephone, such is the clarity of sound. The assortment of sounds and modes of performance within the thumb piano family as represented here is quite staggering. The aforementioned limba (7 notes) is in total contrast to the malimba (13 notes), which sounds closest of all here to the Zimbabwean mbira. The ilimba (20 notes), on the other hand, is in a very deep register, the melody pitched much lower than any of the others. Extensive further inclusion of flutes, marimbas, zithers, drums and horns make this a comprehensive and weighty guide.

cd cover Secular Music from Uganda (SWP024) presents music from the early 1950s, and is dominated by the versatility of traditional instruments from the area, notably thumb piano, xylophone, horizontal harp, horns and others. A large number of ethnic groups are included on this collection, thereby providing a broad rather than detailed level of musical investigation. Twinned listening with Royal Court Music from Uganda (SWP008) should provide a strong overview.

The complex nature of Uganda's traditional music is demonstrated. The numerous likembe songs provide a good deal of pleasure with their intertwining and interlocking rhythms. The singing in some of these songs is reminiscent of their mbira cousins of southern Africa, complete with yodeling. The extreme yodeling of the choruses on tracks 8 and 9 are very interesting - vaguely reminiscent of the Bayaka people of the rainforests of central Africa. The horn or xylophone ensembles for which Uganda is famed are not represented particularly well, but the array of inclusion compensates for this loss.

In the forward to the informative sleeve notes, Tracey's son and director of ILAM, Professor Andrew Tracey, states that we must view the pursuit of these recordings as a musical quest, rather than a cultural one. However, given the breadth and quality of his work, Hugh Tracey inadvertently left us with graphic social documentation. To listen to these recordings and to note their background is to appreciate the history of their performers and, in turn, their societies at large. There will always be room for the questioning of the motives and attitudes of pioneers such as Tracey, but despite the obvious parallels with colonial-style exploration, these recordings remain as relevant and indispensable today as they ever have, and arguably more so, given their availability now to a wider listener base. - Jennifer Byrne

All the Hugh Tracey recordings are available from cdRoots

You can hear and read more about the previous recordings in this series in our earlier articles about Hugh Tracey:
Part One
Part Two

Further information:
International Library of African Music (So. Africa)
Sharp Wood Productions (Netherlands)


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