The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s incredible archive of music and spoken word is newly accessible through a redesigned Smithsonian Folkways Recordings site. The platform features the label’s 58,000 tracks, as well as liner notes and artist profiles. The portal was announced last week, alongside the launch of the online magazine Folklife and a revamped Smithsonian Folklife Festival site ahead of this summer’s edition.
“At a time when living culture has a profound role to play in fostering mutual understanding, I am especially proud that we are evolving globally with these new digital platforms and collaborating with partners to bring these stories of cultural diversity to light,” Michael Atwood Mason, the center’s director, stated in a release.
With decades of recordings from around the world, the Folkways audio can be overwhelming to explore, but visitors to the site can now easily navigate it through videos, articles, podcasts, and playlists sorted by genre, artist, country, and region. The playlists are particularly great at showcasing the breadth of resources on the site, where throat singing and fiddle tunes mingle with music from East Africa and the Appalachian Mountains. To get started, here are a few playlist recommendations from this resource of “music of, by, and for the people”:
- Songs of Protest: With selections from Argentina, Cuba, Haiti, Ireland, Vietnam, Angola, and the United States, this collection of defiant music ranges from Barbara Dane’s “I Hate the Capitalist System” to Suni Paz’s “La Bamba Chicana.”
- Endangered Languages: This 2013 compilation was made in collaboration with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival program “One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage” and highlights music performed in endangered languages, including Tuvan throat singing and Kichwa flute music.
- Women’s Liberation: Created this year in recognition of the Women’s March on Washington, this decades-spanning playlist touches on themes such as women’s health and civil rights, with songs performed by Peggy Seeger, Malvina Reynolds, and Quetzal.
- Sounds of the Civil Rights Movement: This playlist mixes music and spoken word, with Martin Luther King, Jr. giving a speech in Birmingham in 1963 and songs such as Carlton Reece’s lively “Ninety-Nine and a Half Won’t Do” and Bernice Johnson Reagon’s moving “Freedom in the Air.”
- Music of Mardi Gras Indians: This carnivalesque playlist highlights some of the earliest recordings of New Orleans’s Mardi Gras Indians, going back to 1957, as well as unreleased audio from 1985 concerts.
- Hidden Gems: Acting as a grab bag of more obscure audio treasures, this playlist contains Leonard Cohen’s poetry readings and Allen Ginsberg warbling “Come Back Christmas” to the accompaniment of the harmonium.
- Sounds of the Cold War: Since everything Cold War is new again, here’s a fitting playlist with samples of speeches, broadcasts, and songs from the era, including Senator Joseph McCarthy’s 1952 address at the Republican National Convention and Pete Seeger declaring “I Aint’ A-Scared of Your Jail.”
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