Various Artists - Caribbean Voyage: Caribbean Sampler: The 1962 Field Recordings of Alan Lomax

Caribbean Voyage: Caribbean Sampler
The 1962 Field Recordings of Alan Lomax

Various Artists

Rounder CD 11661-1721-2

Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Linton Corbie (LCorbie@sbd.com)

During his subsequent voyages to the Indies, Christopher Columbus made his way further south along the archipelago of Caribbean islands now known as the Lesser Antilles. He was in search of gold, spices and even more land for Spain. For hundreds of years afterwards, millions of people from every corner of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia settled in the Caribbean. Most of them, like the Africans, were brought by force, while the rest came in search of profit, adventure and a better way of life.

Island territories in the Lesser Antilles like Trinidad & Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe and Martinique are comparably smaller than their neighbors further north like Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. This relative smallness in size resulted in closer living conditions which, in turn, fostered greater miscegenation and intermingling of all aspects of the resident cultures. Today, particularly in islands like Trinidad, this melting pot of races and cultures is strikingly evident. Not surprisingly, this fascinating blend has intrigued and provided fertile ground for the studies of numerous social scientists, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists such as Melville Herskovits, and Louis and Alan Lomax.

In 1962, renowned American ethnomusicologist, Alan Lomax retraced Columbus' path through the Lesser Antilles armed not with sword, musket and imperial flag, but with a potent, friendlier arsenal of modern technology known as field recording equipment. To some extent Lomax was continuing an investigation initiated decades earlier by his father, Louis Lomax, regarding "the sources and varieties of Afro-American music, its links to Africa, and its relationship to European music." Alan enlarged the scope of his study in the Caribbean by including the influence of East Indian music, which was extremely prevalent, especially in Trinidad.

Working under the auspices of the University of the West Indies, and through the funding of The Rockefeller Foundation, Lomax traveled to villages and remote hamlets throughout the Lesser Antilles recording various styles and types of folk music . He was guided and assisted by countless community leaders and several local researchers such as J. D. Elder, who had done prior groundbreaking research and fieldwork.

Those Lomax field recordings have now been released as separate CDs by Rounder Records as part of its Caribbean Voyage series. The CD that is the subject of this review is titled, Caribbean Voyage - Caribbean Sampler. The Caribean Sampler features an overview of the field recordings made in Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Carriacou, St. Lucia, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, Trinidad and Nevis.

The CD contains thirty-one lively, rhythmic songs with titles such as, Djerika-O, Corporal Williams, Mwen Boyko Samba, Beguine Noce-Ta, Ramayan Chaupai" and Rio Manzanares. They reflect the rich and diverse influences of Central and West Africa, Britain, France, Spain, India, North America and the Netherlands. Just about all of the songs contain vocals. Furthermore, depending on their nature, origin, or function, the tunes are sung a cappella or to the accompaniment of one or more of the following assortment of instruments: various kinds of drums, cocoa lute (mouth bow), banjo, cuatro, accordion, fiddle, guitar, maracas, boom pipe, rattle, steel drums, tamboo bamboo, sticks, steel rod, handclapping, Indian ghang (hand cymbals) and dhole (drums).

In spite of certain individual differences between each island's music, these recordings reveal a great deal more commonality among them. This should come as no surprise considering their shared heritage of European colonization and African slavery. Lomax found creolized versions of jigs and reels originating in the British Isles, along with European figured dances like the quadrille and lancers throughout all of the islands. With the exception of the Venezuelan-influenced musical tradition in Trinidad known as parang, homegrown or locally developed genres like bele and kalinda also proved to be ubiquitous.

The field recordings are exceptionally clear, and the accompanying CD liner notes are extremely well-written and informative. The songs possess an infectious charm. While listening to them, one can't help but imagine what an exhilarating experience it must be to actually witness these performances as Lomax did.

Lovers of modern Caribbean musical styles like calypso, soca, reggae, chutney and zouk will deepen their understanding and appreciation of these artforms by listening to the Alan Lomax 1962 field recordings in Caribbean Voyage - Caribbean Sampler.

Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz (rschwartz@oeb.harvard.edu)

Copyright 1999, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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