Vanderbilt University has announced a new Web site, Global Music Archive, that’s starting with a database of East African music. The URL is http://globalmusicarchive.org/ .
The East African Recordings database is supposed to be the first database in what will eventually be a series of databases, so start your visit there. You can browse through the materials in several different ways, via artist/group, region, district, language, ethnic group, or musical instrument.
I selected language and was presented with a list of 50 languages, about half of which were populated with music. The most popular language is Ganda, followed by Soga. Other popular languages included Nyankore and Ancholi. There are a selection of English songs here and even a couple of Spanish songs. I’m guessing there are around 800 songs listed.
I looked at the Acholi language list. The recordings are listed ten at a time with a title (many of the ones I looked at didn’t have titles), brief description, who performed it, where it was performed, and when it was performed. Click on the title and you’ll get additional information including the names of the performers and the instruments that were used.
I chose a song called “Adimudongo”, which was described as “A song warning people not to go to a place called Munyale. How many people have remained in Muyale.” The songs are available in their entirety via RealAudio (the player for which installed on my Ubuntu machine easier than I thought it would.) In the case of Adimudongo, the instruments could be clearly heard but sometimes the singing voices were somewhat distorted — the song details note that this was recorded in a room. On the other hand, the third listed version of “Alleluya”, which was recorded outside, has both great instruments and very clear voices. None of the songs I heard was “recorded in a studio” quality, but who cares? All of it was at least okay and the best of it was vibrant, terrific to listen to.
If you want to do some very specific searching check out the advanced search, which lets you search by keyword as well as combine different kinds of characteristics — performer, instrument, language, etc.