Culture: Archives of south Asian aural history housed in India

July 14, 2018

New Delhi:Hundreds of rare ethnographic sound recordings, including parables, songs, hymns, instrumental music, and poems, made their way to India as part of a collaborative project between British Library and Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE).

The project, entitled “South Asian Audiovisual Heritage”, aims at preserving these historic recordings and generating research and engagement around south Asian heritage.

In a push to the aural heritage of the Indian subcontinent, digital copies of “valuable collections of ethnographic wax cylinder recordings” — with the oldest dating back to 1909 — have been shared by the British Library.

These include the “Madras Museum Cylinder” collection recorded onto wax cylinders between 1905 and 1910, by ethnographer Edgar Thurston and his assistant K. Rangachari. It has vocal solos, instrumental solos and other recordings from the region around Chennai (then Madras).

“The collection was well-catalogued, and there is information on the song titles and performers. The sound quality of these cylinders is reasonable, with a rather weak signal and some surface noise,” the British Library said in a statement.

A second collection from Baluchistan, called the “Baluchi Cylinders” was recorded in 1911. Containing 13 cylinders, the well-preserved collection, inclusive of love songs, has recordings of instruments like the ‘sarangi’, the ‘nar’ and the ‘tabla’.

The final collection has recordings from myriad regions including Bihar, Odisha, Central Provinces and Berar, Burma, Bombay, Delhi, United Provinces, Madras, Bengal and Assam.

These records were made to supplement the Linguistic Survey of India, which attempted to collect specimens of every known language and dialect covered by its operations.

The recording dates range from 1913 to 1929.

Prior to this, ARCE had also received a collection of A.H. Fox Strangways and the Ladakh Recordings made by Arnold Bake.

All these recordings are available at the ARCE’s Gurugram centre.

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