RootsWorld: Home Page Link RootsWorld: Home Page Link

Southern Belgian Congo (Kanyok, Luba-Hasai, Luluwa, Songye, Luba-Katanga, Hemba) 1952 & 1957

Southern Rhodesia (Ndau, Sena Tonga, Shona) 1948, '49, '51, '57, '58, '63

Nyasaland (Mang'anja, Cewa, Yao) 1950, '57, '58

Nyasaland (Tonga, Tumbukwa, Cewa) 1950, '57, '58
All titles published by SWP Records, The Netherlands

Hugh Tracey (1903�1977) is one of the pillars of the discipline that still limps under the title of "ethnomusicology." Tracey's contributions as a primary researcher and field recorder are standing the test of time. His "Sound of Africa" series issued 210 recordings, published by the International Library of African Music (ILAM), which he had founded. These CDs are reissued recordings selected from that series and offer a glimpse of what has until now been mostly available only in academic archives.

Tracey's work began with the Shona of Zimbabwe but expanded far beyond that region of Africa. It was a remarkable time for Africa, as it shifted or prepared to shift from its history as colonized territories. In their own way, Tracey's recordings also document the history of recording machines used for remote fieldwork. Tracey's first, in the 1930s, involved a clockwork-powered machine that cut a groove in an aluminum disc. Not till much later did he attain stereo recording capability with a Nagra. His microphone technique was to seek out the sound he wanted, hand holding the microphone to capture a spontaneous field mix that comes through superbly on these recordings. Tracey, it seems, sought to capture and document a cross-section of society in the tribal villages, schools, workplaces and anywhere else he found music. That wasn't always the most proficient performer.

These recordings work like a time machine. Look at the dates listed for each compilation and then recall what was occurring around the world and Africa in those days. Africa is is a difficult place for field recording today; imagine the logistics involved in making these recordings in the days of heavy, clumsy, mono recorders. Tracey not only recorded sound but also lives, with a spirit that must be considered phenomenal for field recordings fifty or sixty years old. Even among today's abundant choices in world music, these are the gems that I look for.

cd cover On Other Musics of Zimbabwe, those who enjoy the Shona mbira from near Harare can hear recordings of other mbira types; the njari of central Mashonaland, the matepe or hera of the north-east, and the mbira dza vaNdau of the south-east. Tracey also captured less familiar instruments: the chipendani (plucked mouthbow), the chizambi (friction mouthbow), the mulani (side-blown flute), the ngororombe (panpipes), and, of course, drums and songs that accompany each. These recordings were made before the worldwide mbira movement made this instrument familiar and shortly after the Second Vatican Council began encouraging the use of indigenous African musical instruments, many of which had been banned for over half a century. Detailed notes, photographs, maps, and musical explanations will help the novice and expert alike gain a far better understanding than you'd expect. A typical track, "Neiwe unonyanya" ("You too are too much"), doesn't just leave you with the title of a drinking song but delves into the song's meter, its origins, and how it compares to other, similar music. Ample context is provided for each of the 27 tracks on this compilation (70+ minutes!).

Complex linguistic and tribal relations are parsed out in the collection's organization. Notable tracks from the Ndau people include "Ndaa murombo" ("I am now a poor man"), a tune played with the mbira fixed inside a metal paraffin tin, "Ndenda ndofira Joni" ("I go to die in Johannsesburg"), a rough tune using the mulanji (a short, side-blown flute with two finger-holes), "Ndozofa msango" ("I shall die here in the bush"), a song that features the chizambi (friction mouth-bow), and "Samandoza iwe" ("Hey, Samandoza"), a 32-pulse hand-clapping dance song that highlights polyphonic vocal parts. From the Shona, start with the young Karanga boy singing and playing a karimba mbira on "Chirombo woye nditerere" ("Spirit listen to me"). On "Dendera jikwa" ("Ground hornbill shavi spirit"), the chizambi (friction mouth-bow) is mesmerizing. Songs from Shona dialect groups such as the Zezuru include "Shumba" ("Lion") and yet more mouth bow, all of which leads to recordings that are satisfying, subtle and unexpected.

cd cover On visits to the southern Belgian Congo in 1952 and again in 1957, Tracey recorded music of the Kanyok and their neighbors, the Luba. These recordings are characterized as mostly music of the urbanizing Katanga mine culture "where peoples lived together who did not normally do so." The liner notes recount the arrival, in 1891, of the Belgian expedition which led to European destruction of the ancient regional kingdoms. The 23 tracks on this collection present music using instruments from what is termed the "greater Luba-Lunda-Tshokwe musical zone of southern Congo, northeastern Angola and northern Zambia." It includes various types of the ditumba (goblet-shaped drum), the kyondo (cylindrical log-drum), alternative set-ups on mabimba (wooden xylophone), and mishiba (panpipes).

cd cover The two Malawi collections cover the music of various groups of Bantu descendants in the Shire River Valley and combinations of Bantu and other groups to the west of Lake Malawi. This was a region where the Portuguese competed with the British, and from which the British colonized what they called Nyasaland, after the Yao word nyasa, for a large expanse of water or lake. The slave trade was ended and large coffee and tea-growing estates emerged as leading agricultural pursuits. As a historical reminder, indigenous resistance developed through the early years of the 20th century and Malawi gained its independence in 1964. Multiparty democracy came to Malawi in 1993 following a national referendum.

cd cover Just as the populations and dialects vary on and within each of these collections, so too does the choice of instruments featured. On Southern and Central Malawi we hear the bangwe (board zither), likhuba (sets of tuned drums), and magodo and ulimba (loose note and framed xylophones). Beer drinking, a syphilis warning, the travails of working in the distant mines, marriage and relationships, and one each of an initiation and praise song are represented. There are also several dances, and the titles alone ought to entice you to listen ("The Talkative Woman," "The Cry of the Ground Hornbill," "Come and See the Clever Dancers," and "I Should Marry a Mature Woman"). Northern and Central Malawi contains quite a few more tracks featuring the bangwe (zither), and even more emphasis on songs of dislocation, particularly those of the men who've gone off to the mines to find work.

An important producer's note explains that this series of recordings from the Hugh Tracey archive (now at 8 compilations) is not just a re-release of previously issued material. It will reappraise both the lifework of Hugh Tracey and the music of central and southern Africa from a particular place in time. The emphasis is the same as Tracey's, recordings whose music stands the test of time. Wonderful music is the result. - Richard Dorsett

Read about more of Hugh Tracey's recordings:
Part One
Part Three

The entire Tracey series is available from cdRoots

Comment on this music or the web site.
Write a Letter to the Editor

Looking for More Information?

return to rootsworld

© 2001 RootsWorld. No reproduction of any part of this page or its associated files is permitted without express written permission.