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Hugh Tracey The Sounds of Africa
Hugh Tracey's African Legacy

Hugh Tracey has stood as one of the major figures of modern musicology, in spite of the fact that he himself started as an amateur, not an academic. He became the noted expert he is known as today by traveling, listening to and recording the music of sub-Saharan Africa for almost forty years, spurred on by a personal fascination with the music and a self-proclaimed passion for the cultures that created it. The organization his work embodies, the International Library of African Music, and The Sounds Of Africa, the recorded series of his field work, made him one of the most important non-artists (and non-Africans) to work in African music. While the huge collection as been on LP for a long time, it was rare to find these recordings anywhere outside of academia. ILAM is now releasing these recordings in cooperation with a Dutch company called Sharp Wood Productions.

Royal Court Music Of Uganda, 1950 & 1952 records a now unheard music from rituals used to praise and support the kings of the Ganda, Nyora and Ankole people of Uganda, all now history in the wake of the political changes that swept all of Africa since the late 1950s. The 30 tracks include Ganda harpist and flautists, solo and as accompanists for singers; xylophone pieces (with and without drummers) and a stand-out recording of a trio of lyre, fiddle and drum backing a singer. Perhaps the standout tracks of the whole set are the Nyoro amakondere (horn) ensembles, each horn supplying a single note to the melody, passing the tune around in a swirl of notes. (If only Tracey had had stereo in his tool kit for this one!) There is also a speech by a Nyoro chief that gives a good example of the ambiance and rhythm of the actual language.

Kalimba and Kalimbu Songs, Northern Rhodesia, 1952 & 1957 features the music of what is now modern Zambia. Unlike the other recordings, it focuses on specific types of instruments. The mbira is more familiarly known as "thumb piano," a sound box with metal tongs that are plucked by the performer. The kalimbu is a bow attached to a gourd with a single string, close in design to the birimbau of Brazil.

At The Court of the Mwami, Rwanda 1952 also records a now historical kingdom ended with the establishment of the Republic of Rwanda in 1961. Recorded here are Tutsi, Twa and Hutu music. Ceremonial performances include tracks by seven royal drummers. There are a number of different praise songs, the most gorgeous of which are pieces performed by women of the Mwami court.

On The Edge of The Ituri Forest, 1952 restores Mbuti pygmy singing to its rightful place in reocrded folk music after this decade's annoying, deeply forested sampling spree. But it goes much further, exploring other musical worlds in what was then the Belgian Congo. Mudumbu and Nande music for the likembe ("thumb piano"), Budu horns and drummers show the expansiveness of the region's music, and Mbuti pipers recorded here perform a hocketed melody that is intense.

Hugh Tracey All four of these recordings have been meticulously remastered, and the sound is wonderful, a testament not only to modern technology, but more significantly to the care Tracey gave to his recordings. Using whatever was state-of-the-art at the time (most of these recordings were made on a post-war Lyrec machine from Denmark), Tracey recorded the music as it happened. If there were interjections by the recordist, they were few, and relegated to moving the mike around for close-ups of the solos, or moving the artists around to create a more 'recordable" sitting arrangement. Occasionally songs wer shortened to allow for the recording format. Little else is evident of the recording engineer.

They were important works when they were made, and 40 years later, their significance is still undiminished. That these recordings exist at all is a miracle, that they are being preserved and reissued is a gift. - Cliff Furnald

Recordings from this series reviewed by Dick Dorsett
Recordings from this series reviewed by Jennifer Byrne
Recordings from this series reviewed by George De Stefano
Recording from this series reviewed by Craig Tower
Recordings by other field recordists by Bruce Miller

Further adventures:
SWP Records:

Images and sound samples are from the recordings,
and used by permission. © 1999 SWP Records and ILAM

see also: RootsWorld Africa

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