Tag: Archive of World Music (page 1 of 6)

Meet the Problem Solvers: Joseph Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant in the Archive of World Music

What does the Senior Curatorial Assistant in the Archive of World Music do? 

I work to preserve and increase accessibility to collections held in the Archive of World Music. I think of these two aspects of archiving as a spectrum, with each side informing the other. When we improve description, adding more context to metadata on the preservation side, this increases discoverability by those with potential interest in the materials.

What’s your favorite thing about the Music Library?

I appreciate the welcoming atmosphere. Everyone I’ve met at the Music Library is so friendly and approachable. I also admire how passionate everyone is about their work. I can only hope that some of this energy rubs off on me; I aspire to be more like my colleagues.

What resource or service do you wish more people knew about?

Recognizing my bias, I wish more patrons knew about the AWM and the cultural riches it holds! I am working to increase its visibility (audibility?), but pandemic times have made the progress slower than I’d like.

Who are you or what do you like to do when you’re not working in the Library?

I am an ethnomusicologist by training and teach graduate coursework in the humanities part-time at Antioch University. I love working with students and helping them achieve their goals. I play the guitar and oud (Arab lute) in my free time. For my dissertation research, I studied the ways in which musical influences from the Arab world–especially those involving the oud and gambus (another kind of Arab lute)–became entangled in Malaysian identity politics. In this process, I was fortunate to learn from master musicians and instrument makers carrying on long held traditions in a quickly changing Malaysian society.

Where do you find comfort and strength in a scary and unknown time?

Like many others, I often turn to baking: cakes, breads, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust. However, we all know it has its downsides health-wise. I also get really stressed out when something goes wrong. So, it’s not always as comforting as it should be! I’m getting better, though, trying to be more mindful and intentional about the whole process.

What do you love most about your work?

The best part is the outreach component–working with culture bearers to enrich the collections in ways that better reflect the values of the communities from which the content derives.

Joseph Kinzer is seated outside. He is wearing a purple shirt and tan pants. He's carving a musical instrument out of wood.

This is a photo of me in June of 2016 learning how to carve a gambus out of a single piece of wood at the workshop of gambus maker, Pak Awang Besar, who sadly passed away shortly after this trip, in Bongawan, Sabah, East Malaysian Borneo.

A Trunk Full of Love Songs: Somali Songs, 1955-1991: The Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection

♥Happy Valentine’s Day!♥ An appropriate day to highlight a collection of (mostly) love songs in the Archive of World Music:

When the Somali popular music expert Maryan Omar Ali first met historian Lidwien Kapteijns in person, she brought with her a trunk full of love songs and other sung poetry. Maryan spent her life carefully curating this collection to represent the most productive Somali (and some Djiboutian) songwriters and artists from the 1950s, when Somalia was fighting to gain independence, through the 1990s, when political instability and civil war plagued the struggling nation. The tapes collected from this period now form part of the Archive of World Music, where preservation and repatriation efforts are ongoing. Let’s take a glimpse into this important collection of Somali songs.

Some of the tapes in the collection (photo courtesy AWM).

In 2017, Ahmed Samatar, a professor of International Studies at Macalester College, and Lidwien Kapteijns, a professor of history at Wellesley College, began depositing the first batches of around 500 audio cassettes recordings of popular songs recorded in Somalia between 1955 and 1991, collected from radio broadcasts and privately circulated cassettes by the life-long collector of Somali popular songs and leading expert on the subject, Maryan Omar Ali.

Maryan Omar Ali (photo courtesy of Lidwien Kapteijns).

Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali (1977-2011) spent her life collecting and curating Somali  sung poetry—songs of love, war, despair, and patriotism.  As a child in Somalia, she was immersed in the world of singers, poets, and musicians, growing up in a community with some of Somalia’s most famous artists. She attended rehearsals, brought refreshments, and eventually became a leading advocate for Somali arts and culture, a pursuit that lasted a lifetime.

The primary genre in this collection is known as hees or heello, a modern form of sung poetry accompanied by, depending on the era, hand clapping, frame drums, and other musical instruments, such as the electric piano/synthesizer, organ, guitar, end-blown flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, and Arab lute (kaman in Somali or ‘ud in Arabic). Other notable genres include qaraami and praise songs for the Prophet. Many of the genre names used to refer to Somali songs overlap in their usage depending on a number of factors, including time period.

Most of these recordings are songs of the nationalist period (1955-1974), a period after which the military regime (1969-1991) became increasingly oppressive. During this time, the emergence and success of the popular song had much to do with the roles the radio stations in cities like Mogadishu and Hargeisa assumed in the period leading up to and following independence, in addition to the Somali government’s investment, albeit meager, in the cultural production of poets, playwrights, singers, and musicians.

Somalia is unique among East African countries in its cultural unity through language. While the country is and has been fraught with political disunity, culture has bound them together. The songs in this collection reflect this unity and the importance of song in times of political and social struggle.

Maryan Omar Ali was born in Djibouti and grew up in neighboring Somalia.

One of the most important functions of popular music in the tumultuous decades from the 1950s to the 1990s involved the ability of artists to weave together tradition with modernity in the face of change and instability. Many artists used popular songs as a call to action against tribalism.  Some of the songs preached unity through themes of Qaranimo, or Somali nationalism, calling for allegiance to the state. Other songs spread ideas of uniting under Islam, charging individuals to look toward the ‘umma (global Islamic community) as a solution to clan rivalry and civil war.

Photo of Lidwien Kapteijns (courtesy Wellesley College)

Another important component of the songs in this collection is the presence of powerful female voices in a patriarchal society. In her book, Women’s Voices in a Man’s World: Women and the Pastoral Tradition in Northern Somali Orature, c. 1899-1980 (1999), Lidwien Kapteijns writes about the nuanced ways in which poetry, including sung poetry and the popular songs of this collection, give voice to female subversion of this patriarchy, highlighting the importance of women in Somali society.  Many of the love and lament-themed songs that form the qaraami genre were frowned upon by religious authorities and conservative society, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Mixed gender dancing and socialization, women on stage, and themes of love and desire were viewed as irreverent. Thus, the women who made a living performing this music were particularly vulnerable to oppression. Pressing on, many singers throughout the decades, those such as Magool and Sahra Axmed–both featured in this collection–were heroic in their efforts to change conceptions of art, gender relations, and cultural unity. For more on individual artists and songs in the collection, and suggested readings and resources, here is a link to the finding aid to the Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection.

 

Written by: Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant, Archive of World Music

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