My archival research centres on audio and film recordings from Bengal in the Arnold Adriaan Bake Archive which is in the British Library's world and traditional music collection. My research also draws on Bake's overseas correspondence, which is stored in the India Office Records and Private Papers collection. I align this material with Bake’s musical transcriptions and photo collections at the music department and library of SOAS. This research will enhance the catalogue of the Bake Archive, sections of which will be published on British Library Sounds.
Arnold Bake’s archival material at the British Library provides fascinating insights into the trailblazing fieldwork of an early ethnomusicologist. Bake carried out fieldwork in South Asia between 1925 and 1956, during which he spent about nine years in Bengal. Bake's fieldwork focused on regional devotional and folk music and dances. He conducted the major part of his research at a time when the British Colonial Government was concerned about activities that could support the Indian independence movement. His personal correspondence provides insights into the challenges that he faced when interacting with state authorities.
By visiting original recording locations in West Bengal and Bangladesh during my own fieldwork, I aim to refamiliarise performing communities with the archival material and to evaluate the effects of political, socioreligious and socioeconomic developments on the cultivation of devotional and folk music in the Bengal region in the past 90 years. In the UK, I aim to explore the relevance of Bake’s field recordings and the contemporary practice of corresponding music traditions among the Bengali diaspora.
A. A. Bake recording women of the Mannan tribal community with a cylinder phonograph near Munnar (Kerala), 17 November 1933. Courtesy of the SOAS Department of Music.