The Business School lecturer building a musical link between East Africa and Cornwall

02 July 2024

Two men playing instruments
Sam Jones East Africa music project crop
Type: Text

Sam Jones is a management lecturer at Cornwall Business School, running various businesses and creative initiatives, including a non-profit organisation focusing on cultural infrastructure development and content production internationally with a recent focus in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. 

One of these projects includes Resonations, an international online artist residency programme led by the British Council, delivered with the British Library and supported by the British Library Sound Archive. The programme offered two artists, Emma Mbeke Nzioka and Nicholas Calvin Mwakatobe, residencies in 2023. Resonations gave selected artists and creative practitioners the time, access and support to engage with the British Library’s sound collections. Resonations aims to support international artists by providing a unique opportunity to enhance skills and make new professional connections by mapping, collecting, researching, generating and sharing new perspectives on the British Library’s sound collections. 

An element of Nicholas’s work focused on the music of Siti Binti Saad, whose music is recorded in the Library’s sound archive. Born in 1880, she was a very prominent musician on the island of Zanzibar in the 1920s and 1930s, passing away in 1950. The genre that she was singing in was Taarab, which drew influences from countries across the Indian Ocean. In 2018, Sam went out to record a new record with Siti Binti Saad’s great-granddaughter, Siti Muharam, who has the same captivating voice. Sam worked with her and the musical director, Issa Matona, to recreate this songbook for today’s market. As the record producer for this work, Sam also became the project’s facilitator at the British Library’s Resonations project.

About the record Sam produced, Issa Matona commented: “The sound is new, although, in a way, it’s awoken something real that had been forgotten from the time of Siti Binti Saad. A new taste, a beautiful taste of the people of Zanzibar. It’s what my people will like, and this record will reach them and audiences overseas, which makes me happy. Zanzibari’s ears will hear how fantastic this record is. It’s a rare thing in Zanzibar to have such quality in lyrics and melody; some of the sounds on this record were dying. Siti Muharam’s golden voice carries the essence of Siti Binti Saad and her connection with Zanzibari culture”.

Sam told us: “The production of this album was able to reference Siti Binti Saad’s times, bring in the percussive Kidumbak style, and strip away Taarab’s formal layering to give a feel of the eclecticism of Zanzibar’s Swahili street culture that influenced Siti Binti Saad. The production and studio overdubs have let Siti Muharam’s golden voice ensure the legacy of Swahili romance and music of her great grandmother live on”.

Fast forward to the autumn of 2023, working with Nicholas from The British Library, they have encountered many examples of complexities around access and curation, including considering copyright for second, third and fourth-generation artists. 

Nicholas states “I have listened to quite a few recordings and explored different ideas. I’m very interested in how the Swahili language has evolved over time. Someone who exemplifies the way the language spread and changed is a musician, Siti Binti Saad, whose music is recorded in the Library’s sound archive. She was born in 1880 and died in 1950. In the 1920s and 1930s, she was a very prominent musician on the island of Zanzibar. The genre that she was singing in was Taarab, which drew influences from countries across the Indian Ocean”.

Sam suggests that, “There are all sorts of considerations with these old archive recordings. They exist in an archive, and people can listen to them, but how are these accessed, and who owns these archives? It’s an anthropological exercise full of internal conflicts. Through this process, Nicholas has been exploring themes of decolonisation and decoding these archived musical gems - and delving into the ethics surrounding what an archive makes possible. And Nicholas and I were at Music in Africa Conference presenting this work”

Celebrating East African music in Cornwall 

With a background in music and as a lecturer on Falmouth University’s Sustainable and Festival Management courses, Sam is also able to use his professional background and expertise to introduce students to this work, where there are ways for students to engage with the project and case studies in the classroom via live briefs and exercises. 

“We talk about appropriation. We talk about repatriation. We talk about the ownership and copyright of this archive material and the real examples of these…we’re working together to figure out what’s involved and how we scope out bringing these artists to Cornwall, getting them plugged into the scene, touring….” 

Currently, Sam is working with a great team on a new initiative to set up a new music venue in a historic Wesleyan Chapel in nearby Redruth. Many of Sam’s projects will find their way down to Cornwall. 

“The idea is that we get some of these artists down and start a conversation around music from around the world represented here. We’re setting up a network of people to showcase more of this type of music in Cornwall. We’re doing this wherever we can in collaboration with the students so they can get involved in event production, have a ringside seat to experience what it is to fundraise for these kinds of things so that they can either speak into or learn from these live briefs through the connections we’ve made both locally and globally…it’s increasingly difficult to bring international artists to the UK now, so this again is valuable discussion and learning for us to be having with students…” 

Students studying Falmouth’s Sustainable Festival Management and Music Business MA courses will this year have an opportunity to work on these projects, including Tommy Bird from the BA Sustainable Festival Management, who has assisted on some of these live shows showcasing international talent from around the world in Cornwall. Tommy states:

"Last July, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sam Jones at the 2023 Cornish Bank Summer Camp, an intimate music festival held in Flushing, showcasing musical talents from around the globe. This experience stands out as one of the most enriching and transformative moments of my time in Falmouth. Over the weekend, I progressed from a novice in lighting to confidently managing stage setups, efficient cable handling, and operating the lighting desk for dynamic live performances. This immersive journey not only enhanced my current skills but enabled me to develop many more, bought me many more opportunities such as Stage Managing that very same weekend! Marking a pivotal chapter in my professional growth—all of which wouldn't be possible without Sam's invaluable guidance. Beyond the technical aspects, a personal connection with Sam developed, enhancing our collaboration both professionally and casually. This connection has significantly improved my efficiency in both professional and academic endeavours. It was, and always is, a pleasure working with Sam. I loved every second and wouldn't have changed it for the world." - Tommy Bird