Laura C. Boulton (1899-1980) was a famous and eager ethnomusicologist from Conneaut, Ohio. She made many trips to remote, strange and otherwise misunderstood parts of the world to record the music of “pre-civilized” peoples: Nepal and Ethiopia to name a couple. She also made recordings of African musicians as part of the Straus West African Expedition of the 1930′s, which was sponsored by Chicago’s own Field Museum of Natural History. Almost all of the material was recorded on sight in rural settings, i.e huts, dirt roads, plains, and called for one-take performances by the best of the local singers and players. At that time recording technology was cumbersome, to say the least, and teams of researchers were required to travel around in truck convoys to transport and operate the machinery needed to capture the inspired magnetism to tape. Boulton made a total of twenty-eight visits to Africa for this project, yielding hundreds of invaluable documents.
The example here is two parts of a long song cycle celebrating former kings who became deities after natural death. The ceremony would last for three months and it was a great orgy of worship, and human sacrifice. The first excerpt is the accompaniment to the dance of the wives of the Obba, or “king”. The second excerpt is the Obba’s song which follows immediately in ceremony (as well as on this record). After the last notes, the priest kills the candidates who are then offered up to the gods.
This was recorded in Benin Province in the south of Nigeria by the Bini tribe royal musicians who had all participated in the annual sacrifice. These musicians held incredible prestige in their community and were likened to spirit messengers.