About the recordings

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Recording sources and quality

The recordings presented on this website come from a personal collection of 130 cassettes recorded, bought or dubbed in Kenya during 1998 and 1999, whilst researching the sixth edition of the tourist guidebook, the Rough Guide to Kenya. Unfortunately, I had neither time, money nor the equipment to do proper field recordings - something urgently needed if the musical heritage of Kenya is to be preserved and made public.

Nonetheless, the tapes cover the music of thirty-one Kenyan tribes, out of an official national tally of forty-two. Notable omissions include various "Ndorobo" hunter-gatherers such as the Ogiek (or Okiek; long ignored by governments and researchers alike, and whose land - and therefore ways of life - are increasingly threatened by the veiled interests of politicians and big business); the Kalenjin "cluster" in the west (where westernization appears to have obliterated many of the old ways); and the Pokomo of the Tana River basin in the east and the Merille in the far north, both of which live in relatively inaccessible areas.

In many cases, the only recordings in existence (perhaps excluding the hard-to-access Voice of Kenya archives) were what people had taped themselves, sometimes many years before. Some people were willing to sell the tapes to me; other times, I had them copied (or "dubbed" in Kenyan parlance) using whatever equipment was locally available: usually a battered dual-cassette ghetto blaster in the local music store, or else by playing the tape off someone's tape player and recording the output through the (awful) built-in microphone of my own tape recorder. Needless to say that I hadn't planned on any of this before heading out to Kenya. As a result, the sound quality is in many cases pretty dire, especially on tapes picked up in Isiolo and Loiyangalani in northern Kenya. Most of these lost their boxes many years ago, some had lost their screws and were stuck together with sellotape, others had lost their 'dampers' (the piece of felt behind the loose tape where the tape player's head goes) and had been replaced with used cigarette filters. Most were encased in a thick layer of grime, and all were uncomfortably dusty. Not surprisingly, audio drop-outs are common to many of these recordings... Nonetheless, the recordings are unique, and in some cases the music has now become extinct.

I've done my best to clean up the worst of the mess using sound editors (I recommend both Goldwave and Cooledit), and have endeavoured to optimise the sound quality in the finished files that are posted online. Nonetheless, you will have to forgive the quality of many recordings - nothing doing, I'm afraid - but I think that the results are enjoyable nonetheless.

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Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
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