The International Library of African Music (ILAM) was founded by Hugh Tracey (1903-1977) in 1954 at the apex of 25 years of field recording and research into African music. This included 12 years of promoting African music as head of the Natal studios of SABC radio (1936-47), production of numerous commercial 78 rpm records with Gallo Records as head of their African Music Research Unit, and publication of his research findings in two significant books, Chopi Musicians (1948) and African Dances of the Witswatersrand Gold Mines (1952). Funding from a Nuffield Foundation grant matched by a contribution from the mining industry of southern Africa enabled Tracey to establish ILAM as an independent research center, archive, and library intended to expand upon the work of the African Music Society, which he founded in 1948.
From its inception Hugh Tracey’s vision for ILAM was to encourage respect for African music and perpetuation of its traditional styles through the following objectives:
- Recording (Documentation and Preservation)
- Community Outreach
Publication of the annual African Music Journal began in 1954. In the 1960s, two major LP series - the 210 LP Sound of Africa series for educational purposes with support from the Ford Foundation and the 25 LP Music of Africa series for general release with Decca Records - were published by Hugh Tracey from his field recordings. Training of researchers to carry out his “Textbook and Codification Project” intended to produce materials for the teaching of African music in schools throughout sub Saharan Africa was initiated by Tracey but never brought to fruition due to the inability to raise funds because of sanctions on the apartheid government in South Africa at the time.
After Hugh Tracey’s death in 1977, his son Andrew Tracey became the Director of ILAM. In 1978 he moved ILAM to Rhodes University where it was affiliated with the Institute of Social and Economic Research until 2005 when it was officially attached to the Rhodes University Department of Music and Musicology. This move was undertaken to facilitate the offering of BMus and Post Graduate degrees through the Ethnomusicology Programme which was created by ILAM in cooperation with the Music Department in 1999.
The decision to move ILAM to Rhodes University was necessitated by the ever-tightening grip of the South African apartheid government, which made it increasingly difficult to raise the funds necessary for ILAM to function. With assistance from of the Chamber of Mines and the Chairman’s Fund of Anglo-American Corporation, ILAM re-established itself on the Rhodes University campus. ILAM is now housed in a purpose-designed building erected in 1989 with funds raised by Andrew Tracey.
Once part of Rhodes University, ILAM’s focus turned more towards the teaching, archival and area study aspects of its work. (Particular areas of interest have been the mbira in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and the timbila xylophone of the Chopi in southern Mozambique.). Under Prof. Andrew Tracey’s leadership the Symposium on Ethnomusicology and publication of the Symposium Papers was initiated in 1980 and has continued through the 19th Symposium which was held jointly with the South African Musicology Society (SAMUS) at the University of Capetown in 2005. At this meeting the forward-looking members of the Symposium on Ethnomusicology and SAMUS voted to join forces to form one society to meet jointly in perpetuity.
In 1998 producer Michael Baird started work on the 'Historical Recordings by Hugh Tracey' series, in collaboration with Professor Andrew Tracey under Baird’s SWP Records label. This now complete 21 CD series includes tracks that were never published before. It gives an overview of Dr Hugh Tracey's work during his lifetime and the music of the people he recorded.
In 1999, with the hiring of Dr. Diane Thram as Liberty Life Ethnomusicologist (funded by Liberty Life Educational Foundation) an undergraduate degree, B.Mus. Ethnomusicology, as well as post graduate studies in Ethnomusicology were introduced. Undergraduate coursework covers the history of thought, theory and method in ethnomusicology, transcription, practical performance and field research. Rhodes University funds two ILAM Senior Bursaries in Ethnomusicology for post graduates.
The ILAM.Digitization Project (ILAM.DIG) was started in 1999 with funding from the Norwegian Government (NORAD), via the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), to digitise the entire archive. In 2001 the project was assumed by the Smithsonian Institute in return for material for the Smithsonian Global Sound website. This project has made hundreds of published and hitherto unpublished recordings available in digital format. Fifty percent of royalties accruing from the sale of ILAM recordings on the Global Sound website will be distributed to the original musicians, or their descendants, or failing that a suitable recipient in their region.
In 2002 Prof. Andrew Tracey was honored with the Eastern Cape’s Premier’s Arts and Culutre Award for his contribution to African music. He retired as Director of ILAM on December 31, 2005. Prof. Diane Thram was appointed to the position of Director effective January 2006.
Currently the ILAM.DIG project is on-going, funded by a grant from the South African National Lotto and initiatives are underway to catalogue the archival holdings and library and to resuscitate ILAM’s journal, African Music. Community outreach activities include regular free concerts featuring community musicians, ILAM tours and workshops on African music, and opportunities for local musicians in produce recordings using ILAM’s studio.