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World and traditional music: North, South and Central America

The Sound Archive world and traditional music collections include music from across the American continent, with an emphasis on material from South and Central America.

Collection overview

North American music is well documented and preserved in the American Folklife Centre of the Library of Congress. Thus, while the World and Traditional Music Section attempts to make a representation of the region's music available in Britain, North America is not a major strength in our collection. Nevertheless, as for other regions of the world, we hold both published and unpublished materials dating from an early period up to the present. Our holdings of South and Central American music are somewhat more substantial at least as far as the number of ethnographic recordings is concerned.

Published recordings

Elsewhere we have noted Albert Lloyd's bequest of eastern European 78 rpm discs but his donation also included a number of recordings of North American folk music on the Brunswick, Panachord and Library of Congress labels. Our holdings of Native American music appear largely on Canyon Records as 78 rpm discs and later on LPs and CDs, dating from 1951. We also house virtually a full run of the Folkways catalogue that includes an impressive representation of Native American and North American folk styles, and of a range of South American indigenous musics.

Our holdings of early recordings from South and Central America appear almost exclusively in the Library of Congress series although a donation of over 40 discs on a range of labels (including Sono Radio, Odeon, Victor) of Peruvian music from researcher Peter Cloudsley broadens the collection further.

Folkways stopped issuing LPs in 1987, having released over 2000 titles in the World of Sound series by that time. The label was taken over by the Smithsonian Institution which has continued to produce recordings on CD, reissuing LPs from the earlier catalogue as well as producing new recordings under the label name of Smithsonian Folkways. Their series of recordings from the collections of the Centre for Andean Ethnomusicology of the Catholic University of Peru is notable. These can be accessed alongside a series of video recordings from the same institution published by Vamta. Other South American countries should be searched on the catalogue by country name as they appear on such a broad range of regional and international labels as not to be able to list them all here. We were recently the grateful recipients of a substantial collection of CDs from former EMI Hemisphere producer, Gerald Seligman. During his time with EMI he had amassed a large number of recordings published by the EMI offices in various South American countries. Simply entering his name into the catalogue, qualified with International Music as collection, reveals the size of his contribution to our holdings of music from the region.

For North and Central American musics, including border musics such as Tex-Mex, the Rounder Records and Arhoolie labels should be consulted, but our holdings of cajun and zydeco on smaller US labels such as Sugar Hill or Swallow are also fairly substantial.

Unpublished recordings

Our wax cylinder collections include a number of early recordings in North America. Some appear as part of the Berlin Phonogrammarchiv Demonstration collections (C664 and C665) with examples recorded by two of the forefathers of ethnomusicology, Franz Boas and Eric von Hornbostel. Recordings made by W.F. Cooper, perhaps in collaboration with missionary Wilfrid Barbrooke Grubb, of the 'Lengua Indians of the Paraguayan Chaco' in 1910 (C332 and C677) are also notable.

Our holdings of later ethnographic collections from North America are few, but they include the wonderful Appalachian recordings made in 1979-1980 by UK recordist, Mike Yates (C796). South and Central America are better represented. Starting with recordings made as early as 1957 in Guiana (Audrey Butt Colson collection C32), moving through the decades and a wide range of countries, our most recent recordings were made by Alberto Jiménez Pérez in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Cuba in 1999.

Further information

Janet Topp Fargion
Curator, World and Traditional Music
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7427
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441