Hidden Years Music Archive Project

Hidden Years Music Archive Project

The Hidden Year Music Archive Project (HYMAP) is an archival project based at the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University, South Africa. This collection contains irreplaceable material documenting the popular music scene in South Africa between 1960 and 2005. The bulk of the material was collected by David Marks, owner of the 3rd Ear Music Company, and also includes various collections donated to him. Marks recorded wherever he went and has subsequently built up a vast collection of over 175 000 items representing concerts, events, theatre productions, political meetings and music festivals throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The collection was recently relocated from Durban to Stellenbosch. The aim of this project is to unpack, sort and catalogue this archive in order to make it accessible for national as well as international scholars.

Nowhere has the history of popular music existed in quite so bizarre a climate as that of South Africa during its ‘internal exile’ & it’s ‘international isolation’ – its hidden years. Much of our music past, like that of our political past, is hard to access. Just as people & books were banned & censored – no reasons given – so too were some musicians & their music. Most of the recordings restricted or avoided by the SABC were not even political. The Government at the time would claim that it was the artist, who by reflecting & questioning their racist policies, were the ones threatening the order, safety & security of the State.

Despite their popularity & their influence – attracting large crowds to concerts on campus, in townships & to the odd mixed club – without commercial industry support – many of these musicians remain ignored by the mainstream industry today. Our aim is to network with other music collectors & researchers – to acknowledge the contributions made by these musicians to our Hidden History …paying tribute to them by simply making their music available.

3eM are in the process of restoring, cataloguing & transferring the analogue archives (tapes, posters & photos) into a digital format – music & events that weren’t restricted to a particular commercial fashion, form or style. The archive tapes are fading & deteriorating as fast as the musicians that we believe should not be forgotten – simply because they never made hit records.

With today’s technology most of the ‘desk mix’ recordings that we have stored in the archives could be restored. It would be a sad irony indeed if the security establishment – who used all the tricks in their dirty book to prevent local musicians from being heard – were to now have the last laugh. Contributions would be greatly appreciated – anecdotes, suggestions, manuscripts, material, equipment, funds…


The Curious Beauty of African Music is that it uplifts as it tells a sad tale. You may be poor, you may have only a ramshackle house, you may have lost your job, but song gives you hope. African Music is often about aspirations of African people, and it can ignite the political resolve of those who might otherwise be indifferent to politics. One merely has to witness the infectious singing at rallies. Politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics.
(Nelson Mandela)

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