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Indigenous African music transcription goes live



It is often a fear that in preserving culture, some may need to interpret long held beliefs, and in doing so run the risk of being misunderstood. 

The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) says it is amiming to transcend this limitation through its Indigenous African Music (I AM) transcription website, which it will launch at midday on Wednesday, 30 September 2020. 

“Imagine international superstars performing on Mbila, Uhadi, or Isitolotolo,” says SAMRO Chairman Nicholas Maweni. “How wonderful would it be if the great Amahubo Asendlunkulu, the traditional songs of the Zulu people, were taught in South Korean schools?

“Have you ever considered learning to play the !Xuma, a San braced mouthbow mainly found in remote regions of Namibia? The I AM Transcription Project is working to make these ideas a reality by translating African works into international music notation and making them available to the world.”  

The project, which has been developed by a small team within the SAMRO Foundation over the past three years, supported by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, has worked with over 30 music specialists to transcribe the indigenous music of the South African people.

“The team communicated with associated archives and artists around the country, together they slowly and carefully captured the sounds of our musical legacy and transcribed them into sheet music,” says Maweni.

Maweni says naming the project “I AM Transcription Project” was well considered. 

“We drew on former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s famed words in his 1996 ‘I am an African’ speech. Quoting from this speech – the I AM project ‘rejoices in the diversity of our people and creates the space for all of us voluntarily to define ourselves as one people’. The music is reflected in our gold and red soil.

“From the sands of the Kalahari in the music of the San, the red soil of the Xhosa and Zulu nations. And as the soil nourishes our fields and our trees, our indigenous music nourishes our culture and our identities.” 

The public will be able to browse numerous works transcribed to sheet-music that will be free for download from the site

“It has been an amazing journey so far,” says project officer Nandipha Mnyani. 

“‘We have all learned so much. From the wonderful stories behind the music to the struggles of performers to the restrictions of western music notation, which is our musical alphabet.  We have been honoured to have the opportunity to transport our music from the dusty archives of musicologists, and the fading memories of our peoples, and to place it online, acknowledging it as an art form worthy of international recognition.”

Mnyani says this project was just the beginning of a pan-African dream.

She encouraged all those who have documented or will be documenting indigenous African music to contribute towards this resource.

All they have to do is inform the I AM Project of their efforts. This will assist the project’s mission to grow the open database.

Says Maweni: “This project is the beginning of a pan-African dream, we encourage all those who have documented or will be documenting indigenous African music to contribute towards this resource by informing the I AM Project of their efforts with the mission to grow the open database.”