November 2016 - present
November 2016 - present
Since 2016, Rei Foundation has been working with the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO (MNCU) and Music Crossroads Malawi on the Malawi Folksongs Project. While some recordings exist of Malawian folksongs, these are largely recorded by foreign ethnomusicologists and taken out of their context.
This project aims to document the unique and varied practice of Malawian folksongs and contextualise them by positioning each performance within its ethnic group, language and theme. Transcriptions into sheet music aim to make the songs available for music classes and to be performed by Malawian musicians. The recordings and sheet music are the property of the Malawian people rather than a private collection.
The project team have travelled around Malawi to record and safeguard folksongs from fourteen districts and most ethnic groups across the country. The team included project coordinators, researchers, and audiovisual technicians from MNCU, Music Crossroads, the National Library Service and Department of Arts and Culture.
The project was broken up into regions. During the northern region portion, the team was joined by an anthropologist from Karonga Museum who was knowledgeable about the various cultures and languages in Chitipa and Karonga districts. This meant he was able to connect the team with the relevant local chiefs in most villages.
The songs to be recorded were identified based on the popular traditional dances for each respective location, and locally known expert players of indigenous musical instruments. For this, Music Crossroads worked with District Community Development Officers (DCDOs) that identified relevant traditional authorities. Through the DCDOs, Music Crossroads was able to make a pre-visit to each location and audition the proposed groups preparing them for the performance recording. During this process, the team was able to sit down and select the songs that would be eventually recorded and advise the groups to practice those songs in preparation for the actual recording.
The team made hundreds of audio and video recordings of community groups performing their local folksongs, which were later transcribed into sheet music. The transcription process was not without its challenges; we had originally planned to use software to digitally transcribe each song but they proved too complicated. Therefore the team had to do it manually, which was time consuming. Each song was also carefully catalogued and defined according to its origin, subject matter, and occasion for its performance. This context will be useful for people who access the recordings and want to understand their provenance and importance.
The team is currently considering multiple ways to disseminate the recorded songs and sheet music back to the communities that took part and for use in arts education and general interest. Options include putting on video screenings and potentially producing and distributing DVDs and CDs for use in schools. Furthermore, there is a plan to create an interactive database that would make the song recordings available online. Music Crossroads Malawi and MNCU will distribute sheet music and recordings to teacher training colleges, schools, public libraries and the practitioners throughout Malawi, with the hope that they will inspire new performances. The aim is to make the collected folksongs accessible as widely as possible to ensure they are not only preserved but celebrated as a unique cultural resource.
The Malawi Folksongs Project contributes to the development of the music industry and education in Malawi. The safeguarding of these folksongs will contribute to music education and creative practice in Malawi; ensure respect for the folksongs of the communities, groups and individuals concerned; provide them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and heritage. The project has already impacted the young people working on it with Music Crossroads Malawi, building their professional skills and experience, and confirmed to all performers involved, throughout the country, that their intangible cultural knowledge is a valuable treasure. In archiving hundreds of Malawi folksongs which may otherwise have been lost, the project celebrates both the songs, and the people who sing them.