It is one of the most important sound archives in the world. It is certainly one of the most important for African Music and it houses the original recordings.

The International Library of African Music was founded in 1954 by the late Hugh Tracey at Msaho, north of Roodepoort, near Johannesburg, on land belonging to the record company Gallo (Africa) Ltd.

In 1991 ILAM moved into the new purpose-designed building on the Rhodes Univesity campus in Grahamstown which it still occupies. ILAM’s understanding with Rhodes University is that the collections belong to the University. Rhodes also provides the salary for the Director and Secretary. The musical instruments, however, remain the property of Hugh Tracey's son, Dr. Andrew Tracey. Andrew is the ILAM Director. All further funding, whether for staff, research, publishing or development, has to be found outside.

In 1999, the post of 'Liberty Life Ethnomusicologist' was funded by the Liberty Life Educational Foundation, Johannesburg, and filled by Dr. Diane Thram, a graduate of Indiana University, USA. Her particular area of research has been the religion of the Shona people in Zimbabwe.

In 1998, in addition to normal teaching for University departments such as Anthropology, African Languages and Drama, an undergraduate degree (B.Mus. Ethnomusicology) was introduced for the first time, in conjunction with the Music Department.

In early 1999, the 'ILAM.DIG' project was started with funding from the Norwegian Government (NORAD), via the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), to digitise the entire archive. This will make available to the public hundreds of previously unpublished recordings.