Digital Heritage GY: Reducing “cultural deficit”, enhancing diplomacy through digitization

Last Updated on Monday, 13 November 2023, 12:51 by Denis Chabrol

Rohan Sagar

Guyana’s culture, especially its rich diverse music, is being digitised and for the first time placed in an Online portal for use as a teaching-learning, research and soft diplomacy tool, according to ethnomusicologist Rohan Sagar.

“The whole website concept is an academic platform which was designed through Harvard University, and they are all created under the Creative Commons which is that it must be publicly available free of cost,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Digital Heritage GY, located at, is believed to be the first such portal Guyana and probably the Caribbean and has already been linked by the World Music Textbook Project, at , and the West Virginia-based Future Generations University ( has requested and granted permission to hyperlink his local site. The Guyana Cultural Association- New York and the International Council for Traditional Music have also shared the site’s link.

Mr Sagar said the project is archiving Guyana’s musical heritage and will potentially become a reference for music education in schools, community groups, clubs and cultural organisation regardless of their location. He said Digital Heritage GY is a free resource and is much cheaper to access when considers transportation costs for students from remote areas of Guyana.

The portal was developed to bridge the knowledge gap between contemporary Guyanese and those who lived centuries ag. He referred to a a sample that had showed only one person, a music producer, could have easily identified the relationship between musical instruments and people of different cultural backgrounds. “One of the key motivating factors was that we, here in Guyana, are at a disadvantage of knowing what our musical heritages are, even within our own cultural groups,” he said.

Rather than publishing the material in journals that are largely inaccessible, Mr Sagar said he opted to develop the project Online to demonstrate the “prevailing conditions” at the time that had influenced the composition of songs at particular juncture of Guyana’s history. “It is data science graphs and neural network theories to dig deeper into the musical construction, the lyrical construction of a particular song to understand what was the environment at the time, out of which these songs were born,” he said. He said the website pulls data on the socio-historical context of the songs based on his personal research. Digital Heritage GY has gathered music and related data on Indigenous, African, Indian and Indigenous Indian music.

Those are depicted in spider web-like images, an example of what, he says, are neural networks that use graphs to understand the relationships among all the variables such as key terms and relationships. “The data science software does that for you so when you look at that note, you can see everything that you have been taught but you also see significant gaps that you can further explore,” he said.

Mr Sagar highlighted that Guyana’s Indigenous Indian musical lineage and musical scales is connected to the Aztecs in Peru and other Indians in Brazil, dating back to 12,000 to 16,000 years ago. One of the highlights of his work goes back to 2009 when he was in West Coast Berbice and had reached out to a 95-year-old man, James Pluck in Number 7 Village, who had sung a song that his grandfather from the Congo had taught him. “Mr Pluck told me that that particular song was a Congo, Central Africa spiritual that his grandfather taught him when he was four years old…At the same time I was doing my Master’s at an American university, there were two students- one fro  Burundi and another one from Tanzania- and I took the song to them… and the one from Tanzania said, ‘yes, this is Central African’ but the language is what you will call classical Congo… which is understood but not spoken in modern Central Africa,” he said.

The creator of Digital Heritage GY said so far, he has not detected any negative feedback to hat project that fits into the discipline of  Digital Humanities, across academia.  Already, plans are in train, he said, to develop curriculum materials that can be used in Guyana’s education sector not only in music but also in geography, mathematics, language or literature. He is open to having conversations with the Ministries of Education and Culture as “I don’t see them losing anything.”

Digital Heritage GY, he said, would be willing to partner with any organisation that is deeply interested in Guyana’s cultural preservation, promotion. “All the years I have been through my research, I have been through this process only to find that the doors are being slammed shut in my face. I don’t intend to go through that again but if someone wants to put up their hands and say ‘we will support’, I will examine what they are coming with and both parties stand to benefit, fair enough,” he said.

Another plus for the portal is that it can be seen as a component of soft diplomacy compared to States that have superior military capacity and a means of rebalancing Guyana’s culture with those that the country has received from others.  Touching on recent fears about Venezuelans occupying and eventually taking possession of Guyana’s Essequibo County, he contended that Guyana has failed to promote its national songs and create, teach and promote new music, poetry and dance about the various geographical locations of the country. “We have not been educating, in these materials, that instill patriotism and nationalism so we have created our own Fifth Column,” he said.

“Digital Heritage GY can be an instrument in the toolkit of diplomacy that can now be taken to the rest of the world and say this is our identity,” he said. “We are not only 11 billion barrels of oil but this is who we are,” he quipped.