Northcote Thomas banner wax_cylinders.jpg

The Northcote Whitridge Thomas Archive

PRM000088585Mask (1909.67.21) with red-brown paint, representing a face, from Benin or Nigeria. Donated by Northcote Whitridge Thomas.Northcote Whitridge Thomas (1868–1936) was a British government anthropologist who conducted field research in Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915, recording songs, music and the spoken word onto hundreds of wax cylinders. Thomas also assembled a major artefact collection, which he subsequently presented to the University of Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. His thousands of field photographs were split between the Royal Anthropological Institute (negatives) and Cambridge (albums).

The Pitt Rivers Museum holds a collection of 448 wax cylinder recordings of Edo and Igbo peoples recorded by Thomas, donated in 1914. The British Library Sound Archive holds an even larger selection of over 700 of Thomas's recordings. The set in Oxford duplicates that at the British Library and is of a similar quality.

The Recordings

Many of Northcote Thomas' wax cylinder recordings are of very good quality. He has recorded songs and spoken word in a variety of different languages, including Igbo, Bini (Edo), and Ibo in Nigeria, and Mende, Fuuta Jalon and Susa in Sierra Leone. Thomas has recorded several examples of instrumentation, including flutes, trumpets and balangi (a type of xylophone in Sierra Leone). His collection includes many examples of both male and female solos, as well as group songs, and antiphonal call and response songs. Northcote Thomas himself can be heard announcing the recording time, place and content on many of the wax cylinders

The Playlist

The playlist below includes examples of group and solo singing, flute, wind instrument and xylophone playing, and an Ibo male shouting war songs.

Sound Galleries

Musical torchlit trails at the Pitt Rivers Museum

On Friday November 23rd 2012, the galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum were plunged into evening darkness and bathed in Bayaka music and sound from the Central African Republic. Visitors were given torches to explore the galleries that were transformed into a rich forest soundscape with sung fables, snatches of laughter, beautiful variations on harps and flutes, and the stunning polyphonic singing of Bayaka women. Hidden surprises included mini projections from the rainforests and a visualiser designed by Nathaniel Mann, the PRM's Embedded Composer in Residence. The evening was filmed By Mike Day of Intrepid Cinema as part of the Reel to Real project, and complemented the Oxford City-wide Christmas Light Night organised by Oxford Inspires. A four hour playlist of Bayaka music from the PRM's sound collections, originally recorded by Louis Sarno, was curated on the evening by Nathaniel Mann and Dr Noel Lobley. The event was streamed online, and was watched live in the Central African Republic by Louis Sarno and some of the Bayaka community.





Copyright 2012 The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford