We need to travel back to 2003 for Music of the Nile when Arc Music released the field recordings of David Fanshawe (ethnomusicologist and composer) and even further for the actual field recordings which were produced from 1969 to 1975. Then in the 1990s, Fanshawe composed the African Diaspora-European fusion chorale African Sanctus (which you can watch on YouTube). The composer borrowed heavily from the field recordings produced along the Nile River as it snaked its way through Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. And yes, Music of the Nile offers both a geography lesson and exploration of music traditions that went the way of the dinosaur.
With nearly 80 minutes of diverse tracks ranging from wedding feasts music to lullabies, to fishing songs, as well as, affectionate songs praising camels in Sudan and cows in Kenya, it’s best to listen to this recording in two or more sittings. Even though I enjoy listening to field recordings, many of them come off as too academic for the average listener. Fanshawe’s recording feels more personal because the song catcher shares his personal stories fueled by his emotions he experienced with each encounter. He also offers a humanitarian gaze while also creating friendships with the African musicians.
All 37 tracks come with a little story and the booklet provides photographs of many of Fanshawe’s encounters. Seeing the faces of the musicians adds a personal touch. And with 37 tracks, where do I begin? The Muezzin Call to Prayer (Egypt, track 2) and the Egyptian Wedding Luxor (track 4) offer nice contrasts between sacred and secular music traditions. Four Men on a Prayer Mat (Sudan, track 12), resembles a Finish runo-song and I kept picturing the Finnish band Varttina when listening to this track. The ancient lyre of King David shows up on tracks, 13 and 14.
A bulk of the recording features songs from Uganda and Kenya with plenty of harps, thumb pianos, and even a xylophone type instrument fashioned from turned-over canoes and crates (Uganda). Since the music on this recording was produced on the spot, sometimes through synchronicity (right place at the right time), the music sounds authentic, and often you hear the natural environment in the background. Samia Rowing chant from Uganda shows ingenuity as the singers use the sound of the oars rowing as a drum. In fact, the key word is ingenuity in the form of making music. We are left with the question why do humans make music. Humans make music to bond to each other, to build community, to share grief, to celebrate, to acknowledge the spirit world, to make amends and to start a war. You’ll find all that type of music making on Music of the Nile.