ALAN LOMAX IN GRENADA AND CARRIACOU

Everywhere I found tidal pools and freshets of indigenous music and dance styles reflecting both the particular qualities of local life and the mainstream Creole performance style that plainly stemmed from West Africa... Each island had a treasure of such melodies, potentially unlimited because still growing. I believed that all of this music could become a national resource for a federated West Indies. - Alan Lomax

 

The Rockefeller Foundation funded the expedition, and local authorities, scholars, and enthusiasts were eager to cooperate and assist. Lomax worked through the offices of the University of the West Indies and its associates throughout the area, enabling him to quickly establish good relations everywhere he went. Even more than usual, his recording gear was his calling card:

Lomax: "I wanted to test the effect of playing back to the village singers the recordings I would make: I called the notion culturalfeedback. There were no pocket-portable speakers at that time, and I hauled onto the plane two huge loudspeakers that stood three feet high and required high-voltage power so as to display even adequately the stereo sound that I tested out in my fieldwork. ... Wherever we recorded, we played back the music to its makers, filling mountain hamlets and village streets with the thunder of the speakers, while whole neighborhoods danced in delight."

In terms of detail, authenticity, and quality, the materials Lomax recorded have proved since to be of the highest fidelity and scientific documentation. Under the colonial system of education, peasant and African music, dance, theater, tales, and legends had not been recognized as culture. The cooperation and enthusiasm shown by villagers who had never been exposed to such an inquiry encouraged the collectors to work all the more diligently. The villagers welcomed us as friends who recognized them and their lore as valuable to the outside world. Most of them had never heard their voices recorded and played back tofriends and admirers. ... Hard fieldwork was not the only highlight of this exacting undertaking. Working with organizations such as village councils, youth groups, friendly societies, occasional gatherings, "limes" of fishermen straight from the sea, and religious groups gathered in temples and churches made the project a humanistic enterprise.

Many of the traditional styles recorded on this trip have disappeared. Some, infrequently performed, struggle to survive, while others live on in the urban popular styles that have drawn upon folk traditions throughout the Caribbean. This collection affords a wide panorama of the musical complexity of the region, in both its diversity and its unifying elements, at that watershed time in Caribbean history.

- Kenneth Bilby, Ph.D., and Morton Marks, Ph.D.

 

Reviving the Big Drum Nation

When Alan Lomax entered Carriacou and Grenada in August, 1962, I had no idea that by sheer luck, by design, or by providence that he had discovered a freshet of thriving, authentic African drum dance and metropolitan folk culture, so richly ripe for his plucky and timely recordings. The artists, born 1890 through 1915, were direct oral-culture bearers by descent, but by 1967 many of the drummers, like Sugar Adam, Collie Ledore, Daniel Aikens and others were dying or becoming disabled. The earlier ethnomusicologists did not have the stereo playback Alan had for the artists to hear themselves. When migration to Europe and other countries in the 1950s and 60s affected the Carriacou society in particular, the Big Drum Nation was heading for annihilation. In 1974, Winston Fleary and a few others in Brooklyn had to re-intervene. Again, it was through the indomitable and vivacious and far-seeing Alan Lomax's recordings that the culture was resuscitated. Today, the Big Drum Nation Dance on Carriacou and the Shango in Grenada are in full swing, thanks to Alan Lomax and his timely intervention. - Winston Fleary

 

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