Leo Sarkisian Archive

tape reel


The Leo Sarkisian Archive, which was assembled as part of the work of the Voice of America’s broadcast programming, is now held by the University of Michigan Library and will be physically available for consultation. The Archive is one of the top four collections of African musical heritage in the world, and exceeds the others in its geographic and musical breadth. The heart and soul of the Leo Sarkisian Archive are the recordings that Mr. Sarkisian made in 38 African countries over a thirty-year period. The collection’s value lies, in part, in being a representation of African music that preserves the experiences, skills, and choices of many caring people. Leo utilized selections from these and other regional recordings as the raw material for weekly 30-minute broadcasts. He scripted the broadcasts – based on his first-hand knowledge of musical genres and cultures of the African continent – which were then performed by a series of popular announcers.

sarkisian radio program

Leo Sarkisian was the first ethnomusicologist to train African sound engineers, making possible African-initiated music archiving; this training process was part of his role as US cultural ambassador to newly-independent African nations, to ensure that Africans could carry on the work of documenting and preserving their own musical heritage. The radio program, Music Time in Africa, is the oldest and longest running English-language radio program broadcast to the African continent by the Voice of America. Music Time in Africa was first broadcast in May 1965.

The Sarkisian Archive affords an opportunity to explore of the relationship between musical heritage and the interpretive power of vocal expression through radio programming. The products of the project are primary sources for teaching and scholarship in a wide range of disciplines, including literature, history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and cultural, media, and information studies.