Singing planting wheat

Rich of field recordings on agricultural and feeding practices of Sahara’s desert population in the years 1955-1975, the Ahaggar area corpus of the ethnologist Marceau Gast1 also contains a few songs and some instrumental pieces.

Some are parts of ceremonies like weddings, others are recorded during informal moments, most are in link with agricultural works. This call and response labour song is a pervasive pattern, with some verses in tamahaq (tuareg langage) and some in arabic.

Today2 we chose this song to explain the methodology of the MMSH sound archive center for analyzing, digitazing, disseminating field recordings3 in the workshop organized in Mexico, at UNAM about Clinica para el análisis documental de grabaciones sonores y audiovisuales.

What kind of information did we have to analyze and to contextualize this field recording? There was not a lot:
– Information written on the package during the field recording (or just after) by the anthropologist;
– A book4, Marceau Gast PHD, pusblished 4 years after recording, in 1968 : Alimentation des populations de l’Ahaggar: étude ethnographique, especially pages 78 and 79 begining of the chapter about the wheat, because this song was sung to plant the wheat.

The song, called El Brih by Marceau Gast, is led by a man named Azoum. The call is picked up by a group of men who pray to the prophet and some saints of the region, mixing Arabic and Tamahaq. This agrarian song was led by the peasants from a village called Ideles to animate agricultural work in the gardens. Helping together for planting in the gardens, men, side by side, cadenced by the song sung all together, accompagny the leader.

We hear the sound of tools, feedback from farmers, exchanged greetings in Arabic dialect, between Mr. Gast and some people hanging around. During the recording we hear in the background the sound of women and children,

When we pusblished the song on the MMSH sound archive center sholary blog, an other anthropologist, Hélène Claudot-Hawad, added comments and helped us to improve our analyze. She insisted on the tamahaq word naming the song which has meaning of “collective and mutual assistance work”.  40 years after it was recorded, she illustrated it with several references, giving a new interpretation of the song. Four other comments were published in link with the post about this song. Engaging this on line conversation, we realized that dissemination is fundamental to help us to better understand our archives and it was really great for the MMSH sound archive center team to see how much citenzens are interested by our archives.

So what did we do to disseminate this archive ?
After the archive catalogued on Ganoub, it is exported in several formats.
We use Dublin Core to expose our metadata in OAI-PMH. Isidore harvests records on our repository. Nice to know, Isisore offer enrichments in english and spanich. For example this song is enriched in that way:
enrichissement isidore
See this archive on Isidore, in DC format – Dublin Core.
Then we export our metadata in CSV format, ingested next by MINT, a web platform developed to facilitate aggregation initiatives for cultural heritage content and metadata on Europeana. It offers a user and organization management system that allows the deployment and operation of EDM aggregation schemes and corresponding access rights. Europeana, harvest the metadata organized on MINT. You can see the sound archive, on Europeana, here in EDM – Europeana data model. Nice to know, Europeana offers a geolocation automatic and crowdsourcing tools, especially with MIMO – Musical Instruments Museums Online (this instrument thesaurus can be used through Pundit on the With platform) and HistoryPin.

At least, we organize our metadata in EAD  – Encoded Archival Description format participating to CALAMES  – Online Catalogue of Higher Education Archives and Manuscripts, a french union catalogue. From 2008, it  offers listing of archives and manuscripts held in French universities and higher education and research institutions.  Nice to know, Calames allows authentified users to annotate archive or manuscript bibliographic records, in order to propose new bibliographic references or links to other documents. All Calames library members can be followed through RSS feed on their records.
See this archive on Calames in EAD format – Encoded archival description.

How we proceed to have an interoperable cataloguing and what common  languages do we use to enrich this archive?
We catalogue our archive with a guidelines uptaded regularly5, which follows the standards and encourage to use common languages indexing archives. We saw above, with the Isidore example, that to enrich metada, we have to speak common languages. So we chose to use common languages linked with the Humanities ans social sciences as :
– For languages : ISO 639-3
– For gelocation : Geonames
– For music instruments : MIMO
– For tales :  Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system

How contextualizing more this archive ? This field recording must be listened with the scientific approach of the anthropologist in mind. Marceau Gast is dead but he left behind him a lot of documents which can be enlighten his records, as photographs and field notes.
– Photographs have been deposited on an open archive, Médihal, where visual, scientific images can be deposited. MédiHAL was developed in 2010 by the CNRS centre for direct scientific communication (CCSD) and the CNRS national centre for the digitalisation of visual material (CN2SV), with the support of the Très grand équipement ADONIS (TGE) – now Huma-Num -, a very large research infrastructure led by the CNRS.
See Marceau Gast photographs on MédiHal.
– Field notes had been digitized and are available on an OMEKA platform, “Transcrire” (transcribing) with several anthropologists field notebooks. Five Marceau Gast’s notebooks are online in JPEG format, waiting to be transcribed in text. Then, you can found comments on tamahaq languages, genealogy’ withnesses, sketches, thoughts, readings… In this page, you can read – among others words – the translation in tamahaq of “asalib” : raw land between square gardens.

Asalib : transcrire, terme en tamahaq

In conclusion… The MMSH sound archives set up best practices and rules to create a comprehensive methodological package from the collect to the dissemination of the sound archives. We think that we cannot stop at the preservation step. We are in the middle of one of the most fundamental shifts in how we preserve and access to our cultural heritage ; to achieve this goal, we need to share fundamental values that enables universal online access to cultural heritage. FAIR Archives, as EU project for FAIR Science :
should be our common values to share.

This presentation was done for the workshop “Clinica para el análisis documental de grabaciones sonores y audiovisuales” part of the Jornada académica sobre preservación de colecciones sonoras y audiovisuales de origen digital ((Organized by IIBIInstituto de investigaciones bibliotecológicas y de la información, LANMLaboratorio Nacional de Materiales Orales – UNAM – Universidad nacional autónoma de México, l’École Européenne Supérieure de l’image (Poitiers, France),  CITEDI-IPN  – Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de Tecnología Digital del Instituto Politécnico Nacional and the Alliance française of Mexico)), Mexico, septembre 2016.

See the storify of these days.

What is the Phonotèque de la Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme (Mediterranean Research Centre for the Humanities; henceforth MMSH)? It is an archival research center, created in Aix-en-Provence (France) at the end of the Seventies by Philippe Joutard, a contemporary historian, and Jean-Claude Bouvier, a specialist in ethnic dialects, both researchers at the Centre de recherches méditerranéennes sur les ethnotextes, l’histoire orale et les parlers régionaux of Aix-en-Provence (CREHOP). The collections consist of deposits by scholars working with oral inquiries or by associations dedicated to heritage preservation. Wishing not only to preserve their recordings and to have field interviews published, they strived to make their sources available for the general public. In connection with the MMSH researchers, CREHOP holds field recordings collections in the domains of anthropology, sociology, linguistics, political sciences, history, music and literature, all focused on the Mediterranean area. It illustrates fields poorly covered by conventional sources or complements them with the point of view of witnesses. In 1997 CREHOP integrated MMSH creating a research and training campus, including 11 research laboratories, all based in the South of France and specialized in the Mediterranean culture. In 2015, the collection held more than 7000 hours of audio archives. They were recorded since the late Sixties and concern four main themes:
– Intangible Cultural Heritage: oral literature, ethnomusicology, techniques and know-how;
– Life experiences, oral history, collective memory;
– Language and cultural identity;
– Epistemology and methodology: workshops, seminars, courses, seminars.

Crédits photographiques : Ahaggar : Radidja et Kanaca vers 1952, photographie de Marceau Gast, CC-BY-NC-SA

Citer ce billet
Véronique Ginouvès (2016, 8 septembre). Singing planting wheat. Archives de la recherche & Phonothèque. Consulté le 22 juin 2024, à l’adresse

  1. Marceau Gast (1927-2010), ethnologist, is a food specialist in the Sahara, Yemen an Alps area []
  2. The workshop Clinica para el análisis documental de grabaciones sonores y audiovisuales is organized in Mexico, UNAM the 8th of september 2016, included in Jornada académica sobre preservación de colecciones sonoras y audiovisuales de origen digitales []
  3. In febbruary 2010, in this blog, Laure Principaud explainded already how the Marceau Gast collection was important to share with other researchers hoping a re-use of theses archives. []
  4. Édité à Paris, Arts et métiers graphiques, 456p. []
  5. This collective work, on line in open access, was first published in 1994, 2001 translated in spanish language and published in 2007, the last update was in 2015 []

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