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World and traditional music: Middle East

The British Library's world and traditional music collections include music from the Middle East.

Collection overview

The Sound Archive holds 16 separate ethnographic collections of unpublished Middle Eastern recordings. Published material includes early recordings on 78rpm discs by the large international companies (Gramophone, Odeon and Parlophone in particular) in addition to releases by regional companies such as Baidophon and Mechian. Recordings on CD are primarily on western labels such as Ocora and Institut du Monde Arabe, and regional labels such as the Turkish Kalan Müzik.

Published recordings

Our holdings of 78rpm discs of music from Middle Eastern countries include examples on a range of western labels, such as Gramophone, Columbia, Pathé, Odeon (see details on Odeon's 'Ethnic' activities), and the Voix de l'Orient series on Parlophone. Various locally-based labels are also represented, particularly the Baidophon label. Examples from Turkey also appear on labels such as Mechian (a small label founded in Egypt by an Armenian immigrant), Metropolitan and Balkan. A large acquisition from the BBC World Service Arabic Network have supplemented our shellac collections of Arabic music substantially, including almost full runs on a range of Middle Eastern labels and mainly mint copies of issues published on the occasion of the Cairo Congress of Arab Music in 1932.

Vinyl, audiocassette and CD published recordings from virtually all Middle Eastern countries (best searched on the catalogue by individual country name) are found on a range of western - largely French, such as Ocora, UNESCO and the Institut du Monde Arabe - and local labels, such as Turkey's Kalan that publishes a range of newly recorded traditional, religious and fusion musics as well as reissuing historic 78rpm disc recordings. The collections also include items distributed within the Middle East such as a series of audiocassettes and CDs of music recorded at the 1st to 9th Arab Music Festivals, dating from the early 1990s, distributed from an Egyptian outlet (Leila Books, in Cairo).

In 2000 we received from the BBC World Service Arabic Network a large donation of LPs of music from various Middle Eastern countries dating from the 1960s to 1980s. These included examples on the Voix de l'Orient label (published in Greece by EMI), and Duniaphon.

Unpublished recordings

The Middle East is fairly well represented in terms of ethnographic collections and most recordings come from Turkey, Iran, and Yemen. However recordings also come from Oman, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The World of Islam festival in 1976 was the focus for a great deal of music and our collection of concerts recorded at the South Bank Centre during the festival (catalogue no: C26), donated by recordist Bob Woolford, are a useful record of events.

Jean Jenkins' collection (catalogue no: C699), however, features recordings made on location in various Middle Eastern countries as she was commissioned to compile music to accompany the exhibition of musical instruments from the Islamic world at the Horniman Museum as part of the festival.

Iran is represented by an early collection, recorded in 1969 by members if the Cambridge Iran Expedition. An even earlier collection was made by C. S. Mundy in Turkey in 1964. British-based Iranian ethnomusicologist, Laudan Nooshin, donated a large collection of Iranian radio broadcasts largely comprising recordings of Persian classical traditions dating from the mid-1980s (catalogue no: C267). Other radio material in our collections comes from the Yemen, and is to be found in the Hugh Goodacre (catalogue no: C272) and Dr Abudu (catalogue no: C273) collections. Anderson Bakewell's recordings (catalogue no: C44) from the Tihama (Yemen) have been issued as part of our series of CDs with Topic Records. Thomas Muir Johnstone's (formerly Professor of Arabic at the University of London) collection (catalogue no: C733) of Middle Eastern language recordings, predominantly Harusi, Jibbali, Mehri and Socotri recorded between 1955 and 1975 were deposited at the British Library in collaboration with the University of Durham in 1995. They represent some of the only recordings of a number of these languages, in certain cases now extinct.

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


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