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Alan and Barbara Merriam: Belgian Congo 1951-1952

Alan Merriam

Location: Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi
Dates: 1951-1952
Formats: 76 Open reel tapes
Accession Number: 66-127-F

Alan Merriam (1923-1980) and his wife Barbara made these recordings in the eastern, west central, and Ituri Forest areas of the Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo) and Ruanda-Urundi from Sept. 20, 1951 to May 3, 1952. Barbara is a skilled photographer and Alan is widely considered to be one of the most important scholars in the history of ethnomusicology. Alan Merriam's 1964 book, The Anthropology of Music provided a central reference point for many in the new discipline of ethnomusicology for the next several decades. His research centered the emerging field of ethnomusicology in anthropology rather than musicology or folklore. This collection, recorded in what was then the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi, involves a large number of ethnic groups and genres including political and war songs. The quality of the recordings is exceptional, and this is particularly striking given how new open reel recording technology was at the time. The Merriams used an early vacuum tube reel-to-reel tape deck manufactured by Magnecord.

Sample: This is an edited montage of recordings from the collection. 1951-1952.


1. [0:00] Singing possibly accompanied bojeke (rattle). Recorded in Iboko, West-Central Congo. [OT 6617, item 11]

2. [0:44] Drumming recorded in Kitega, Burundi. [OT 6685, item 2]

3. [1:35] Instrumental music played on Mulizi (flute) by an unidentified Bashi soloist. The flute player is humming while playing, producing interesting timbral/overtone effect. Recorded in Kasheke, Eastern Belgian Congo. [OT 6560, item 1]

4. [2:10] Singing by unidentified Batwa performer, possibly accompanied by inanga. Soloist occasionally whispers to create a special acoustic effect. Recorded in Nyagatare, Ruanda. [OT 6591, item 4]

5 [3:04] Singing by unidentified Barundi performer accompanied by plucked lamellaphone with resonator. Recorded in Kivimba, Burundi. [OT 6584, item 10]

6 [3:54] Singing by unidentified Barundi performer, possibly accompanied by inanga. Recorded in Rubura, Burundi. [OT 6578, item 12]

7 [4:44] Singing by unidentified Bakiga performer, possibly accompanied by inanga. Recorded in Mugote, Ruanda. [OT 6574, item 8]

8 [5:50] Song performed by unidentified Abatutsi performers. Recorded in Nyagatare, Ruanda. [OT 6589, item 12]