Stream 8,000 Vintage Afropop Recordings Digitized & Made Available by The British Library

Sta­bil­i­ty or cul­tur­al vital­i­ty: many nations seem as if they can only have one or the oth­er. The Repub­lic of Guinea, for instance, has endured quite a tur­bu­lent his­to­ry, yet its musi­cians have also enjoyed roles as “pio­neers in the cre­ation of African pop­u­lar music styles and as the voice of a new Africa.” That’s the view of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mel­bourne’s Graeme Coun­sel, who over the past decade has made a series of trips to the Guinean cap­i­tal of Conakry on a mis­sion to pre­serve the great vari­ety of music, part of the tra­di­tion now broad­ly labeled “Afropop,” record­ed dur­ing the decades of state-spon­sored cul­tur­al abun­dance after the coun­try gained inde­pen­dence from France in 1958.

“Under the lead­er­ship of music lover Pres­i­dent Ahmed Sék­ou Touré,” writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Alli­son Meier, “the gov­ern­ment was soon send­ing out gui­tars, sax­o­phones, and brass instru­ments to 35 state-fund­ed pre­fec­ture orches­tras as part of a new authen­tic­ité pol­i­cy.

This direc­tive encour­aged a cul­tur­al revival that mixed tra­di­tion­al sounds with con­tem­po­rary music, par­tic­u­lar­ly Cuban and Latin rhythms.” The effort had its own record label called Syli­phone, which record­ed and dis­trib­uted this new Guinean music until the mid-1980s, and the pow­er­ful radio sig­nal of Radiod­if­fu­sion Télévi­sion Guinée (RTG) turned lis­ten­ers on to it well beyond the new coun­try’s bor­ders.

Coun­sel, already a col­lec­tor of Syli­phone records, dis­cov­ered dur­ing his PhD research in 2001 that the Guinean gov­ern­ment still held a col­lec­tion of that era’s music (though “a large part of the archive had been destroyed in 1985 when the RTG was bombed by Guinean artillery dur­ing an unsuc­cess­ful coup”). Apply­ing for and receiv­ing, ulti­mate­ly, three rounds of fund­ing from the British Library’s Endan­gered Archives Pro­gramme, he set about dig­i­tiz­ing and cat­a­loging the unex­pect­ed­ly numer­ous and per­haps expect­ed­ly dis­or­ga­nized and poor­ly main­tained reels of mag­net­ic tape he found, work­ing through bureau­crat­ic has­sles, coups d’é­tat, and even a mas­sacre.

“Noth­ing would deter me,” writes Coun­sel in a series of essays (part one, part two, part three) on the project, “not the author­i­ties’ indif­fer­ence towards the sound archive, not the recal­ci­trance of their atti­tudes, nor the tragedies of every­day life in Guinea. Noth­ing.” The fruits of his labors have now become avail­able at the British Library’s online Syli­phone archive, which boasts over 8,000 Guinean Afropop tracks record­ed over 26 years. Meier names among the “leg­endary” music it makes avail­able “the loose rhythms of the Bem­beya Jazz Nation­al, the horn-heavy melodies of the Super Boiro Band, the Latin-influ­enced beats of Orchestre de la Pail­lote, and the all-women Cuban-infused les Ama­zones de Guinée.” Those musi­cians’ names may not ring a bell for you now, but a lit­tle time with the archive will guar­an­tee a long-term inabil­i­ty to get their songs out of your head.

Find the 8,000 record­ings here.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic/Elec­tron­ic Beats

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every­thing Is Rhythm

New Doc­u­men­tary Brings You Inside Africa’s Lit­tle-Known Punk Rock Scene

The Alan Lomax Sound Archive Now Online: Fea­tures 17,000 Blues & Folk Record­ings

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Ted Mills says:

    This site, like many oth­ers, and like the MOMA site that I wrote about a few weeks ago, are a meet­ing of great inten­tions with absolute­ly ter­ri­ble site design. The nav­i­ga­tion is clunky to say the least. Why this can’t be usable like Sound­cloud I don’t know.

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