About the Global Music Archive


The Global Music Archive is a multi-media archive and resource center for traditional and popular song, music, and dance of Africa and North and South America, with particular emphasis on the African Diaspora. It is a public facility that promotes education in African and American traditional and popular music through its own activities and its support for the activities of others. The Archive is housed within the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library in Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music. It includes public rooms for the study of materials, and audio and video listening and viewing facilities.


The Archive interprets music of Africa and America (including the African Diaspora) in the broadest possible terms, and always tries to include rather than exclude material. Items are collected if they could be considered traditional or popular. Origin, idiom, transmission, and style of performance are all considerations that determine appropriateness for collecting. In addition to collecting music and dance performances that are known to be centuries old, the Archive also collects contemporary popular music recently recorded as well as newly composed materials presented in traditional style. Its holdings contain the recordings of Ankole rites of passage and solo ndere flute players, along with jazz and blues players and groups, and African-derived music in contemporary Caribbean nations performing arrangements based on African musical aesthetics. Printed collections of musical materials and songs keep company with dissertations on traditional music and handbooks of ethnomusicology.

Functions of the Archive

The archive has ten principal concerns:

Collection-Fieldwork in Africa

The Archive maintained an active recording project in which traditional performers were documented in rural and urban areas of Uganda. Traditional Ugandan musician Mr. Centurio Balikoowa was trained and charged with documentation in this regard, and worked with the Archive's staff to acquire quality audio recordings and images for its collection. Collections from different sources and from other parts of the world have been added as they are acquired and processed.


The Archive preserves all materials indefinitely for study and access by future generations by physical and digital storage techniques.


A central function of the Archive is to make recorded sound materials available in a convenient, electronic format for researchers. The Archive maintains an active website that allows users throughout the world to experience streaming audio of the primary resources held in it.

Commercial Recordings

The Archive holds a deep collection of commercial recordings related to traditional and popular music traditions rooted in Africa, its Diaspora, and the American South. Current strengths of the collection include focuses on African traditional expressive culture and African American popular genres, as well as American roots music.

Popular Music Recordings

The Archive actively acquires country-specific collections of popular music recordings produced in and for African countries as well as America. The items in this collection represent "original" recordings in countries where this music is not commercially available. The Archive began its efforts in this initiative with a collection from Uganda.

Printed Resources

In addition to recorded materials, the Archive holds a large amount of printed materials related to the study of Africa and America. Printed materials range from monographs and ethnographies to periodicals and reference sources. In addition, the Archive maintains a deep collection of materials related to the academic discipline of ethnomusicology.


The policy of the Archive is to make its collections as accessible as possible via online access to its digitization efforts. Entry to the Archive is free of charge; charges are made for some services such as photocopying. The book collection, arranged by Library of Congress classification, is on open-access shelving in the main public rooms, except for a reserve collection that is available on request. Listening facilities are provided for listening to sound recordings. Viewing facilities are available for photographs, videos, and DVDs. Other materials are closed access but can be consulted on request.


The core sound collection of the Archive is intended to be available globally through the digitization efforts of the field recordings. Facilities available to the Vanderbilt University community and to visitors to the Archive include:

  • Listening facilities for audio cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, LPs, CDs, and digitized sound files.
  • Viewing facilities for photographs, videos, and DVDs
  • Reading facilities
  • Access to the Archive's catalog and indexes
  • Photocopying and other copying services, subject to copyright law and the resources of the Archive

Catalogues and Indexes

To help users find the details of information that are contained in its collections, an online catalogue is accessible to all, providing a searchable index all items available for either online or Archival access. To date in the area of sound recordings, all LPs, audiocassettes and CDs have been catalogued and will be cross-indexed within the initiatives of the Archive. Among printed items, all books, periodical, and musical items have been catalogued and are cross-indexed. Photographs and other visual items are now being catalogued. These items and their contents can be searched in detail by using the computers provided in the public rooms.

Field Recordings

In the spring of 2004 until 2009, the Archive implemented a program of active audio field recording. The initial project was under the direction of Mr. Centurio Balikoowa, one of East Africa's most respected musicians of traditional Ugandan musical performance. Balikoowa managed a network of recording efforts throughout Uganda, and was charged with maintaining a set of recording instruments, microphones, and tapes. Further expansion of sites for field recordings is currently under consideration. The recordings that result from these efforts are transferred to the Archive where they are catalogued and considered for potential inclusion in the Archives digitization project.