North African Audio Archives (1)

As libraries, museums, and other institutions catalog and digitize holdings from 19th and 20th century European explorers, scholar, or colonial administrators in the Middle East or north Africa, a number of audio archives have come to light. These include recordings made on the older media of wax cylinders or shellac discs, or the slightly newer media of vinyl records or even magnetic tape. Some recordings were made on site while others were made in Europe. In this post and and a few subsequent posts, my goal is draw to attention to some of these recently-available audio archives.

Berliner Lautarchiv

The Lautarchiv (“sound archive”) at the Humboldt University in Berlin contains several thousand recordings on wax cylinders and shellac discs dating to the early 1900s. Among these are recordings made in a prison camp set up near Berlin during World War 1 for prisoners from the French and British armies who originated in the north African and south Asian colonies. A commission was set up to take advantage of the internment of speakers of many different languages, and hundreds of recordings on shellac discs were made for the purpose of linguistic study. Within this group of recordings from the prison camp are about 120 recordings of northern African speakers of Arabic and Berber varieties. The contents range from improvised narratives, poems, or songs, to the repetition of words and phrases from a dialectological questionnaire. Dating from 1916 to 1918, they are probably the oldest recordings of these languages; certainly the oldest known recordings made for linguistic purposes. Although all the holdings of the Lautarchiv have been digitized, they are not freely available online due to the sensitive circumstances of the internment and recording, but can be consulted in-person in Berlin by appointment.

The Lautarchiv has made available a sample recording of a poem critical of the war from a prisoner originating in Monastir, Tunisia. For a linguistic study of the recordings from a prisoner originating in Medenine, Tunisia, which I recently collaborated on with a colleague, see here. Otherwise, the north African records have not been the subject of much research until now.

Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie

In the Collection Mission Henri Lhote held in the CREM are 511 (!) almost entirely unpublished magnetic tape recordings made during the 1948 expedition of Henri Lhote (1903-1991), a French explorer and hunter of primitive art, in the Hoggar region of Algeria. The recordings made during that trip contain a wide selection of materials, from found sounds to songs, poetry, lullabies, narratives, and conversations, mostly in the local Tuareg variety with some in Arabic as well. All of the recordings are digitized and can be listened to online.

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