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“Zamsi:” Music Time in Africa’s Theme Song

pd_africanblog_hearbeatsnovemberMusic Time in Africa has been on the air for over 50 years. From the first program, broadcast in May 1965, through the program in June 2012, the one thing that stayed the same was the theme song. In 1964, program director Leo “Music Man for Africa” Sarkisian had two recording sessions with the popular group, The Heartbeats of Sierra Leone, in the Voice of America African Program Center in Monrovia, Liberia. According to former program host Matthew Lavoie, Leo first heard The Heartbeats play a set at the Ducor International Hotel and invited them to come to the studio to record. They produced sixteen tracks over the two recording sessions.

“Zamsi,” the song from which the nine-second Music Time in Africa opening theme jingle is taken, was one of two original songs recorded by The Heartbeats in Leo’s sessions. It was written by percussionist Francis Fuster. Check out the full recording of “Zamsi” by The Heartbeats on Matthew Lavoie’s blog post. We don’t think you’ll be able to get it out of your head!

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Matthew Lavoie’s blog: a wealth of knowledge of African…

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We recently had the opportunity to interview former Music Time in Africa host Matthew Lavoie via video call. Matthew began working on Music Time in Africa in 2004 as a script writer and hosted the program from 2005 until 2011. Though we joked that we wished we could have talked face to face with Matthew in Morocco, where he currently resides, we thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories and perspectives from his time working on Music Time in Africa.

In preparation for this meeting, we perused the blog posts Matthew wrote during his tenure as host and found a treasure trove of interesting and rare African music from the Leo Sarkisian Library at the Voice of America. Each blog post is centered around a selection of music with a theme and contains information about the genre of music, the performers, and the particular recordings featured. The blog post comments are full of African music enthusiasts making requests and asking further questions about the featured pieces.

Matthew put many hours of research into each blog post, finding out as much as possible about the music and artists featured. When possible, he tracked down the artists or people who knew more about the music and interviewed them to get more information for the blogs. We learned from our interview that Matthew greatly enjoyed writing these blog posts, because they provided him with an opportunity to share African music that he did not have the time to feature on Music Time in Africa.

The current host of Music Time in Africa, Heather Maxwell, has chosen to publicize the program via Facebook. But Matthew Lavoie’s Music Time in Africa blog still provides a look into some of the treasures of the Leo Sarkisian Archive the Music Time in Africa program from the 1960s and 1970s. The Music Time in Africa blog can be found here, and all of Matthew Lavoie’s blog posts can be found here.

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Happy Birthday Leo Sarkisian!

Leo Sarkisian sits in his Bayberry apartment on Thursday, November 5, 2015. Wicked Local Staff Photo/David Gordon.
Leo Sarkisian sits in his Bayberry apartment on Thursday, November 5, 2015. Wicked Local Staff Photo/David Gordon.

Everyone’s favorite music man, Leo Sarkisian, is celebrating his 96th birthday today! Wishing Leo another wonderful year full of music, art, and (of course) his beloved Mary. In celebration of Leo’s birthday, here are five facts you may not know about him:

1. While employed by Voice of America, Leo created chalk sketches of public figures, musicians, and locals he met throughout his travels in Africa. Most of his sketches are currently in the collection of the Gallery Miriam in South Africa.

2. In 1986, Leo established the Armenian National Committee of America Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship (LSI) Program to give Armenian-American students leadership experience in politics and advocacy.

3. Leo speaks Arabic, Armenian, English, Farsi, French, and Turkish.

4. Leo not only recorded music but dabbled in playing musical instruments himself. Among his repertoire are the lute, bamboo flute, santur (dulcimer originating from Iran), and kanun (stringed instrument most often played in the Middle East, Central Asia, West Africa, and Eastern Europe). At one point, Leo played kanun music at the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution.

5. Leo is also well-known for his dancing ability.

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First Status Report Available

Ethical Access to Music Time in Africa is off to a good start.  The project started on June 1, 2016.  The First Quarter Status Report, 30 Sept 2016 summarizes the work done to recruit student staff, set up the project, and undertake the detailed work required to identify and process at least 900 sound recordings from the Voice of America’s long-running radio program Music Time in Africa.

By the end of the first quarter, we have found, logged, and shipped to The Media Preserve over 750 radio programs.  The vast majority of the recordings consist of full 30 -minute programs, along with the associated reading script for the program.  The recordings typically start with a spoken welcome and theme music.  The program then features between 4 and 8 musical selections on a particular topic with the selections introduced and explained by the announcer.

The First Quarter Report concludes with a list of goals for the next quarter of the project.

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Project featured by NEH

The University of Michigan’s project, “Ethical Access to Music Time in Africa,” is a featured project on “Tune In Tuesdays,” a blog series by the National Endowment for the Humanities highlighting NEH funded projects that preserve and provide access to audiovisual resources.  The blog post is a lead in to a one-day symposium on audiovisual preservation held on 30 September 2016.

Read the full blog post here.

History

A brief history of Music Time in Africa

Music Time in Africa was first broadcast exclusively to African nations on May 1965 by the Voice of America, a federal agency that is part of the United States Information Agency. Production for the weekly radio broadcast began in Liberia’s VoA Program Center, under the direction of musicologist Leo Sarkisian, then relocated permanently to the VoA headquarters in Washington DC in 1968, when VoA appointed Leo as Music Director of the Africa Division. He continued to travel to Africa through 1985 to make live field recordings in over 35 countries through 1985. He also promoted the program by developing marketing strategies, responding in person and in

Leo Sarkisian and Rita
Leo Sarkisian and Rita Rochelle

writing to fans, keeping in contact with musical artist and their communities, and hiring charismatic co-hosts: Bryn Poole (1965-1968), Susan Moran (1969–1978), Rita Rochelle (1978–2005), Matthew Lavoie (2005–2012), and Heather Maxwell (2012–present). Leo Sarkisian directed MTiA through his semi-retirement in 2004 and his full retirement in 2012, at the age of 91. In 2012 the Library of Congress added one of Leo Sarkisian’s Music Time in Africa radio programs to the National Registry of Recorded Sound. The July 29, 1978 program—music from Mauritania—was enshrined with twenty-four other recordings, including Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

The University of Michigan has acquired the Leo Sarkisian music library on loan from the Voice of America and is in the process of digitizing nearly 1,000 Music Time in Africa radio programs and scripts for eventual re-broadcast through the Web.

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UMSI receives NEH Grant

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In spring 2016, the University of Michigan School of Information received a grant to fund ethical access to the radio show Music Time in Africa, which is the oldest continuously operating broadcast to the African continent. The $260,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant will help make an archive of African music and radio programming available to US and global audiences. The grant period began on June 1, 2016 and ends May 31, 2018. Co-principal investigators include Kelly M. Askew, U-M professor of anthropology and Afroamerican and African studies, and University of Michigan Associate Professor Paul Conway. Shannon Zachary, head of preservation and conservation at MLibraries, and Robert McIntyre, digital asset management consultant at the MLibraries, will also work on the project along with teams of UMSI students.

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The MediaPreserve™ to digitize Music Time in Africa

The University of Michigan has chosen the Pittsburgh-based audiovisual laboratory MediaPreserve™ to digitize audio files for the Voice of America’s Music Time in Africa radio program as part of an initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. MediaPreserve™ was founded in 2006 as a specialized laboratory focused on the digital reformatting of the full range of heritage audiovisual resources.  MediaPreserve’s parent organization, Preservation Technologies, has become a trusted source of mass digitization for the University of Michigan.

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Leo Sarkisian Collection comes to University of Michigan

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In 2015 the Voice of America loaned the African Music Collection of the Leo Sarkisian archives to the University of Michigan School of Information for study, cataloging, and digitization.Two tons of material was transferred on January 22, 2015.These four pallets of material contain original field recordings, the Music Time in Africa radio broadcasts, and various other records. The University of Michigan has laid plans to digitize many of the radio programs and then produce an extensive online archive over the next few years.