« Program: Hugh Tracey: Discover and Record

Hugh Tracey’s Legacy in Pictures

This short photo-essay opens a window into the legacy of Hugh Tracy and the music that inspired him to record more than any other field recordist in African history. A medley of Hugh Tracey originals from the 1950s and new photographs taken by Afropop producer Wills Glasspiegel in 2009.

“You had to drive all the way in those old trucks and you had to be an expedition. You didn’t go for a weekend. You had to go for weeks on end, take your equipment with you one place to another, sometimes months on end. He loved that; he liked being out in the Bush and then finding this music.” -Andrew Tracey

“He had a truck specifically rebuilt with a raised roof so his sound engineer could stand in it, and he had a 100 yard extra cable going from the generator, the diesel generator which gave him the power, the electricity to record. But he could park it out of earshot, like behind a hut or an anthill.” -Michael Baird

Afropop producer, Wills Glasspiegel records a bit of Andrew Tracey on the mbira.


The International Library of African Musicat Rhodes University in South Africa.

Throughout his nineteen field expeditions, Tracey and his team took exhaustive notes.They documented as much as possible – song names, musician names, instruments, translations and any other relevant information. Often it was Hugh’s second wife, Peggy, who was in charge of the field cards. They’re stored today at ILAM (in the card catalog above) and are being digitized.

Below, an excerpt from Tracey’s notes on Zulu beadwork.

“My next teacher was Laina’s father, Gwanzura. I met Gwanzura in Harari. He was a messenger for a big company and he taught me mbira. At that time, his daughter, Laina, wasn’t born but, after some years, Lain was born. I’m very happy that she has now become an ethnomusicologist and she’s trained both in Zimbabwe and South Africa and now she’s working right here at ILAM.She is also an mbira player.” -Andrew Tracey

Excerpt from our interview with Professor David Coplan (photo above) in Johannesburg.

“If not for Hugh Tracey, we wouldn’t have any of this music because you can’t go out in the countryside and hear it as you could then. Or, if you do, like with the bow playing lady who’s now become quite famous, it’s been this sort of world music movement that hit everybody and now there’s a great deal of consciousness now about what you’re doing when you’re playing your traditional music. And that there’s a whole – the sort of, I don’t want to call it the naturalness – but the un-self-consciousness about, “Well, here’s this guy with this microphone. We’re going to sing our music,” is no longer there.

Now it’s got to be a contract thing and there’s got to be agreements even to do that. So, it’s very important to have all this stuff and it will be there as one of the great resources and testimonies. Since we’ve thrown it all away, so to speak, it’s important to have it. People have been talking about African culture dying for years and Africans themselves talk all the time about how we are throwing away our culture. Well, they’ve been throwing it away for a hell of long time – I wonder when they’re going to run out because, as I often tell people, 100 years ago, black newspaper writers were writing exactly this. “We’re throwing away our culture.”

Well, how long does it take to throw away a culture? Well, I don’t know. But, what they really mean is that it’s changing and so the old stuff is there and it’s at the basis of what we do now as a continuous line of development. So, yeah, we always need to persevere and to study and archive because South Africa is changing incredibly rapidly because now all the old, wonderful restrictions of Apartheid that kept people doing their own stuff are gone.

On the other hand, they established Radio Bantu. They did the right thing for the wrong reasons. This wonderful network of African language stations that we have, probably the best in Africa in terms of serving with state of the art facilities. Nine languages apart from English and Afrikaans. It’s great and that was given to us as a gift of the Apartheid regime.”

A string of 78s from the Hugh Tracey archive. Tracey released his first material on 78s in the late 30s. They were popular throughout Southern Africa, especially among miners who yearned to hear recordings of their own traditional music.

Malawian singer, Esau Mwamwaya makes a field recording of his own in Kasungu, Malawi.

Behind the scenes at ILAM are some of the most talented musicians that I met during my research trip through Southern Africa. There’s a studio in the back of the Hugh Tracey Archive and many of the students that work there also play a riveting version of marimba music from Zimbabwe.

Below, is a video of the guys playing for a local university function at Rhodes.

Photograph of kalimbas from the African Musical Instruments factory in Grahmstown. Tracey invented the kalimba after testing out nearly fifty different other models. The first kalimba factory was a backyard shack on the Tracey farm in Krugersdorp, South Africa. Now the kalimbas are made in small factory in Grahmstown and sold across the world.

Hugh’s son, Andrew Tracey with an mbira that his dad collected more than sixty years ago. It still smells of the hearth from the home in which it was kept originally. Behind Andrew, part of the ILAM mbira collection, the largest collection of mbiras in the world.

The man himself. This photograph of Hugh Tracey hangs on the wall at ILAM in Grahmstown, South Africa.

ILAM’s Collection is home to more than 300 indigenous African instruments.

Andrew Tracey and Professor Diane Thram at the International Library of African Music.

Mbuti pygmies recorded by Tracey in 1958. Tracey often played back his recordings for the musicians. Most had never heard themselves recorded.Tracey’ process itself inspired lengthy performances of traditional material.

BLK JKS drummer, Tshepang Ramoba met up with Afropop in South Africa to offer his perspective on Hugh Tracey’s recordings.

Horns of all types were played across Southern African in Tracey’s day. These are nyala horns that were played by the Tonga people.

Jean Bosco Mwenda, one of Africa’s first pop stars, discovered by Hugh Tracey in the late 1950s in Congo.