African Musical Instruments: a selection from the Percival Kirby Collection.


Percival Robson Kirby (1887-1970) was a musician, musicologist and historian. Having graduated MA in philosophy and biology in 1910 from the University of Aberdeen, he went on to study music at the Royal College of Music in London. He worked as Music Organiser at the Natal Education Department from 1915.

In 1921, he took up the post of Professor of Music at the University College in Johannesburg (later the University of the Witwatersrand), a post he held for 30 years. It was during this period that he began a study of the musical practices of South African people and became aware that the music of many local communities was disappearing. Through field trips, he built up a large collection of musical instruments made and played by indigenous Southern African groups. This collection of musical instruments is housed at the South African College of Music.

The photographs in this digital display come from a collection of more than 500 photographs and slides found in the P R Kirby Collection, which is held in the Manuscripts and Archives Department at the University of Cape Town Libraries. The Collection includes correspondence, notes, photos, slides and illustrations on African tribal music and musical instruments. All the photographs and slides have been digitized and may be viewed in the Manuscripts and Archives Department.

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