Special Projects

The Association for Cultural Equity undertakes special initiatives reflecting its basic premise that primary cultural documentation is a revitalizing source of creativity and strength for communities coping with radical change. Such projects include the recuperation of rare collections and the restoration and circulation of endangered intangible oral heritage.

Preservation of Haiti and Bahamas Recordings
With the aid of grants from the Concordia and Rock Foundations, ACE has restored Alan Lomax's 1937 Haitian recordings with a custom restoration and de-noising process applied by mastering producer, Steve Rosenthal. Specialists in Haitian music at the University of Toronto are entering the recordings into our digital cataloging system. Field diaries, letters, drawings, and diagrams by Alan Lomax are being transcribed and edited at ACE. The collection will be returned to the Library of Congress in digital form, and will be streamed through the ACE website. It will also be united with Alan Lomax's later Caribbean recordings at the Center for Black Music Research aand with his corpus of African American recordings at the Schomburg Center. Most importantly, this rare documentation will be repatriated to its country of origin in a donation to a Haitian. The forthcoming publication of a selection of these recordings has helped to finance this.

We also wish to restore and denoise Alan Lomax's 1935 Bahamas recordings and 1937 Kentucky field recordings — including the first known recording of "House of the Rising Sun" — and to include them in ACE's Dissemination and Caribbean Repatriation programs.

Cultural Feedback and Capacity Building in the Caribbean
One of Alan Lomax's legacies was the paradigm of cultural feedback. In the 1930s and '40s the music of downtrodden and neglected African and Anglo Americans (recorded by the Lomaxes and many others) was played over the airwaves and published in books and on discs. The music and the musicians found a niche in the marketplace and became part of the national consciousness. As a result, local and regional culture was elevated in the eyes of the people that had produced it. The livelihoods of hundreds of musicians and their families were transformed, bringing them local, national and international fame.

Why shouldn't this happen elsewhere? Alan Lomax devoted a great portion of his career to the music of the Caribbean, recording and photographing folk culture and oral traditions in the Bahamas, Haiti, the Eastern Caribbean, Santo Domingo, and St. Eustasius. This experience profoundly influenced his comparative research on performance style, as well as his writings on the blues. Popular music has long been a feature of Caribbean cultural life. It arises directly from the folk tradition, which is far more varied and inventive, and has been widely influential over the course of almost a century, even providing the models for new musical genres in Africa, such as highlife.

Yet the public sector institutions across the islands that support traditional music and musicians cannot compete with the moneyed omnipresence of tourist-driven commercial culture, and resources available to them are few. As an outgrowth of its repatriation activities, ACE would like to lend a hand to institutions in the Caribbean that support documentation, preservation, and diffusion of the intangible oral heritage of their localities. We are willing to join with another organization and a Caribbean partner to undertake a cultural capacity-building program in that region. Such a program would, as we envision it, reintroduce archival recordings and documentation along with living folk artists into the contemporary scene, through schools, the media, and the tourist scene in a intensive revitalization effort.


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