Paper presented @ DGSKA Conference, 25–28 July 2023, Munich, Germany

in Session 30 „Contested Sounds: Post-Colonial Encounters, Representation and Appropriation in Music“, organized by Lisa Johnson and Hauke Dorsch

„Tell me Tolly“: Indigenous Appropriation, Ethnographic Knowledge Production, and Sound Heritage in Kiribati

Wolfgang Kempf (University of Göttingen)

This paper is based on the exploration of an archival tape collection as an effect of a socio-technical assemblage of institutions, funding, technical devices, transport chains, documentation systems and local actors. The focus is on a collection of audio documents assembled by Gerd Koch and his wife between 1963 and 1964 in the southern Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati). My main interest centers on one of the few recordings with explicit reference to labor migration, appropriation, and cultural change. An indigenous adaptation of a popular song disseminated on gramophone records, “Tell me Tolly” had, according to Koch, found its way from the phosphate island of Nauru to his research area. Koch’s specific representation of the song, I will argue, was closely related to his methodological approach of a general survey of culture that offered little room for detailed analysis. New findings on “Tell me Tolly” point to cultural appropriation as mimesis and address the question of the value of such recordings today as intangible cultural heritage.