Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz houses unique archive of African music

Online database will give access to archive materials from almost all sub-Saharan countries in Africa


The Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is home to a collection unique in Germany: the African Music Archives (AMA). Ever since its foundation in 1991 by PD Dr. Wolfgang Bender, now the Director of the Center for World Music at the University of Hildesheim, the AMA has been collecting and archiving African Music. The archive now contains approximately 10,000 recordings, some of which date back as far as the 1940s. From shellac and vinyl records to audio and video cassettes along with CDs and DVDs – the wide variety of recording media illustrate the impressive musical diversity of the African continent. It is a treasure trove of African popular music consisting of recordings from almost all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is constantly being expanded through regular acquisitions. The regional focus is on Ethiopia, Ghana, Cameroon, Congo (formerly Zaire), Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania. In addition, the AMA holds several thousand newspaper clippings, filed by country, music genre, and musician. The articles, reports, interviews, record reviews and the like offer a rich fund of background material, all of which can be viewed on site.

The archive is currently being cataloged and digitalized. "We will be making available all the data in the OPAC online catalog of the Mainz University Library as soon as possible," says Dr. Hauke Dorsch, Scientific Director of the AMA. But as long as only parts of the collection are available for online research, those who wish to explore undiscovered musical worlds can visit the basement of the Department of Anthropology and African studies at Mainz University. "Starting next summer semester, we will also be undertaking training research projects with students that will be looking at African festivals and African music concerts. The focus will be on the image of Africa disseminated at such events," explains Dorsch.

The archive will use on-campus exhibitions and events such as concerts and the "Music at Mid-Day" series to generate interest in African music beyond the Department of Anthropology and African Studies. However, not only does the AMA want to reach university students and academics; by arrangement, it can also provide tours of the world of the music of the African continent to school classes. During a visit, schoolchildren have the opportunity to hear music from various eras and different African countries and gain insights into the (musico-) anthropological study of Africa.