Challenges and difficulties
One of the main intentions of this report on SW’s pilot Masters programme was to analyse and report on the difficulties encountered in the field. Although it is based on a somewhat personal experience, it was previously discussed with Ketebul’s Project Manager, as I wished to include other voices and mention issues raised by several team members. It is our hope that common findings and understandings would arise, leading to betterment of future Masters programmes’ concepts and field recording missions.
Surely the most obvious difficulty we had to deal with is the time limitation. The entire programme was shot in 11 days, which included master classes and a studio session in Nairobi. Considering the ambitious amount of information we wished to gather from each interviewee (as per the original concept) and the accompanying demonstration, it would be advisable for the recording schedule to focus on one individual ‐ one instrument maker per day only. Also, possibilities of postponed sessions and cancellation, technical or other difficulties that may occur should be taken into account when creating a schedule.
The timeframe issue could also be ameliorated by a pre‐recording field mission – a recce. In that sense, all participants would be informed on the date they are to be filmed much more in advance, and the recce could preselect them according to their knowledge and accessibility. I believe recces have been a part of previous Singing Wells projects and both Ketebul and Abubilla crew are well aware of the benefits of this practice. This should thus be considered a reminder of its vital importance. If we look closer at the original concept for Masters of the Nyatiti, we expected to film all of the following stages of the instrument manufacturing:
- Showing us the trees where the wood for the instruments are extracted from;
- Where possible, felling of the tree;
- Preparation of the wood from the tree: trimming the bark, treating etc.;
- Carving and shaping of the wood for the body and frame of the instrument;
- Preparation and treatment of the skin for the instruments;
- Preparation of the material used to attach the bridge;
- Final construction and assembly of the instrument.
All of these stages are evidently impossible to do and/or film in one day, and we had to therefore substitute the demonstration of some of them with their description in an interview. If we had done detailed preparations for the field and a recce, we could have informed the makers of all the stages we wish to record and have them prepare several instruments at different stages of completion to facilitate and economise on filming time.
From a methodological point of view, for us to be able to build on the original concept of the series and remain scientifically both pertinent and correct, a proper research preparation should be put in place as a standard. The ideal approach to pre‐recording preparations should thus include:
- short pre‐interviews with identified interviewees (this would later allow better and easier data collection and create a certain familiarity and proximity to them);
- more extensive interviews with interviewees on filming day (even if the space for interviews within the final programme’s structure is limited, the information, especially on endangered practices and skills, should be gathered);
- additional time to research archive materials (texts, photographs, audio and video materials that could complement individual stories and demonstrate the evolution of the instrument and/or of its playing techniques).
On that same note, I believe a preparative work session should be organised between the researcher and Project Manager, and the fixer or any other individual that might act as the translator from vernacular languages into English during field recording. If this function is to be filled by the fixer (which was the case in this first recording mission), I believe he should be informed and prepared in advance accordingly. I mention this because we have noted that a lot has been ‘lost in translation’, hence data collection objectives and ways of achieving them should be discussed and explicated in advance. Also, the researcher should be involved in filming schedule preparation, so as to give an input on estimated times for completion of certain interviews.
I would also want to comment here briefly on the instrument comparison exercise done on day 8 of recording. Although I believe it to be a good idea, which allows putting a central instrument – in this case the nyatiti, into a larger context and isolating its particularities, I am convinced it could be done much better if organised differently and adequately prepared for. A group interview is always difficult to conduct and individual artists might be over‐clouded by their more eloquent fellows. This was the case with the nyatiti representative, who might be a skilful nyatiti player, but turned out to be inadequate for this type of an exercise. I suggest that in the future, the correct representative for each instrument is identified in the recce stage of the project and that comparison is done separately for two instruments at a time – the central and one other only. The former would result in clearer answers to questions, give more space to each individual, as well as allow the central instrument to maintain its centrality, a fact crucial for the story. In editing, we can then draw lines of comparison between instrument 2 and 3 as well. In this exercise, I believe, it is not necessary to involve more than 3 additional instruments in comparison to the central one.
Finally, yet perhaps mostly importantly, I believe the Masters series should put more focus on nurturing traditional instrument playing skills. Aside from showing the differences in how the elders play as opposed to the younger generation, we should encourage closer collaborations and the creation of a network that could surpass the SW project itself. In order to do this, we should extend the master classes duration to one week (5 working days at least) and consequently enable younger players to learn much more on the tuning, playing techniques, traditional tunes and the culture behind the instrument from the elders. This would, I believe, also encourage and give time and space for creation of music collaborations that could be recorded in a final day studio session. In such a manner, Singing Wells Masters series would leave a permanent impact on the community of a specific instrument players.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In presenting this report, I am conscious of the complexity and the variety of topics included and the limitations of a one sided report on the same. Consequently, I apologise for any left out issues and hope to receive returns, both comments and critiques on it. I also openly advocate for a general meeting of all team members to be organised before envisaging another Masters programme, in order to correct any possibly biased conclusions made.
The general impression that emerges from my own personal assessment of the success of this first recording mission is quite satisfactory. Considering the limited time and a number of challenges encountered, I believe we managed to accomplish most of the set objectives and bring back an extensive amount of data and video/sound materials of very good quality. However, there is space for improvement.
I think that team work was successful, although division of roles, more particularly on the data collection part on the project, was initially bleary. This resulted in a plurality of voices in the interviewing part of the work and in at times colliding ideas on ways of obtaining information. This situation, most likely due to the novelty of a research consultant as team member, was however progressively resolved in the following days. At the same time, the core of the group being Ketebul and Abubilla partners, who have a long experience of working together, was definitely an important and beneficial fact that facilitated my integration. I also believe that the team’s previous work in the Lake Region together with my own personal research experience converged into an advantageous knowledge of the instrument and the people we were to film. This has influenced and eased our filming mission greatly, as we were able to test the programme’s format on familiar grounds. In that sense, our fixer Rapasa, his connections, attitude and his previous familiarity with both Ketebul’s team and me worked in our advantage.
Considering the previously mentioned difficulties, it is recommended that the project be overviewed in order to enable us to conduct pre‐recording field missions; do some preparative research (archives, interviews, etc.); extend the timeframe of the main field filming missions; include longer master class sessions; and encourage and enable more innovative studio recording sessions. I advocate for these adjustments because I believe the Masters series is an excellent concept, whose character of bordering documentation and applied ethnomusicology makes it particularly interesting and worth investing in.