Music, Memory and Belonging: Oral Tradition and Archival Engagement Among the Somali Community of London’s King’s Cross

Brinkhurst, Emma. 2012. Music, Memory and Belonging: Oral Tradition and Archival Engagement Among the Somali Community of London’s King’s Cross. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis focuses on the transmission and role of poetry and song within the Somali community in London’s King’s Cross, which has developed since 1991 as Somalis have fled from violence in their homeland. I explore the relationship between past and present, continuity and change within Somali oral artforms, and the role of song and poetry in transmitting cultural knowledge. I also consider the potential of sound archives – specifically the British Library’s World and Traditional Music section, which neighbours the Somali community in King’s Cross – to support the continuation of oral tradition and impact upon individual and collective memory processes within diasporic communities. I demonstrate the ongoing role of poetry and song in mediating and communicating relationship with place and negotiating multiple subjectivities among Somalis in the diaspora, presenting examples of Somali community members in King’s Cross renewing, constructing and expressing sense of belonging to different locales and group identities through composing, listening to, discussing and performing song and poetry. With “proactive archiving” (drawing on Edmonson’s “proactive access” 2004: 20) at the heart of my methodology, I elucidate the relationship between song as an archival form and the place and practice of ethnomusicology sound archives, demonstrating the challenges and benefits of engaging diasporic communities with archival recordings. I consider the dynamism of the Somali oral network and the ongoing mobility and change experienced by Somali residents of King’s Cross, which stands in notable contradistinction to the permanence and fixity of the British Library, and I call for a move forward from the notion of proactive archiving to one of sustainable archiving – an approach that would empower community members to record and archive their personal musical heritage in a systematic and ongoing way.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Additional Information:

Finnancial support provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Library


Ethnomusicology, applied ethnomusicology, music, poetry, Somalia, sound archiving, proactive archiving, oral tradition, memory, belonging, place, diaspora, migration, identity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



13 November 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

25 Apr 2013 10:04

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:18


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