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SampleBar: Music, culture at fingertips

Arts and Culture
  The samplebar Kenya. (Courtesy)

Earlier this week, we were invited to an event that promised an interesting show of music. There were no mentions of popular musicians who would be performing; nor was there talk of dance routines. The rest was up to our imagination, and The Sunday Standard team headed to the Bomas of Kenya where the afternoon showcase would be taking place. An invitation by the British Council on the plans noted that the purpose of the visit would be to “experience the project”, dubbed The SampleBar Kenya.

“An interactive ethno-musicological exhibit aimed at preserving and showcasing Kenya’s cultural heritage through digitised music recordings,” the invitation read in part.

It added: “The project entails archiving, documentation and exhibition of sounds and melodies of the diversity of Kenyan traditional instruments that are facing extinction while relying on an innovative digital technology product.”

It was a show-and-tell presentation of an exciting new idea, where one can explore traditional musical instruments almost like a Disc Jokey. Using a special table and screen, Sample Bar Kenya Project Administrator Ann Maina showcased, how, using your hands to select a little chip and place it, you could pick and choose various traditional musical instrument sounds to make music.

“The SampleBar project is a partnership between Libido Music, a Swedish innovative company that deals with programming and innovative software,” Ann said, adding, “they pitched the project to us, and they had initially done a prototype using Mijikenda music.”

The project administrator said that after the two teams came together, they were both on the same page - in the pursuit of cultural preservation.

“We helped them secure their grant from the Swedish Institute, which is funding the software and technology part of this project whereas the Ignite Culture Fund under HEVA is funding the research and documentation process,” she said.

Ann said that The SampleBar is a project that can be tailored to suit any need.

“It is a technology that can be used for whatever. If for example, the Kenya Wildlife Service would like to preserve the sounds of different animals, they can accomplish that with The SampleBar project,” Ann said, adding, “the project is synonymous with the preservation of Kenyan traditional music.”

The project administrator explained that the innovative project can be used to preserve all aspects of our culture, without being limited to the preservation of music.

“The project started in 2021, and we just finished recording the Coastal region last week. So far we have covered five regions - Central, Western, Nyanza, Eastern and now the Coast,” Ann said, noting that The SampleBar team opted to tackle every region one at a time due to the diversity of Kenyan culture. 

“People will be coming to the Bomas of Kenya to interact with this technology and learn more about our culture through music.”

In the room where the project was showcased, there was an array of traditional Kenyan musical instruments. From the Irirandi and Ajawa which hails from the Nyanza region to the Bungo and Kinare from the Coastal region. 

The SampleBar has been described as a unique way to preserve cultural heritage, with Interaction Action, a cultural website, reporting that many traditional African instruments are in danger of facing extinction.

The report notes: “In this project, we are looking at a new and innovative way to preserve aspects of musical instruments that are facing the destiny of becoming extinct. In a collaboration between Sweden and Kenya, we are using a new Swedish innovation, together with Kenyan artistes and musicians, to uniquely protect and safeguard traditional Kenyan music and musical instruments.”

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