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#2878: the Alan Lomax 1937 Haitian Recordings (fwd)

From: Gage Averill <gage.averill@nyu.edu>

I wanted to update the list on a project that should result in the
appearance of 10 or more CDs of music recorded in Haiti in 1937!

Some of you may have heard of American folklorist Alan Lomax, an early
"song collector" who was instrumental in the depression-era recordings of
American music, many albums of which were issued on the Folkways label.  He
"discovered" performers such as Ledbelly and Woody Guthrie and was
instrumental in launching the "folk revival" in the States.  He also
travelled the world extensively with his portable recording device.

Few people knew of his extensive recordings from Haiti in 1937 (myself
included!).  But I have been working with the Library of Congress, the Alan
Lomax Archives, and Rounder Records to add material from this collection to
the major multi-year release of Lomax recordings (over 100 CDs will be
released on Rounder Records overall  for the Alan Lomax Collection).  The
Haiti material will be called "The 1937 Haitian Recordings."  He also made
a small movie during his two months in the country and shot many

I have already spoken with a few colleagues who will be helping me with
this and expect to contact some more.  I have just spent a week at the
Library of Congress transferring some of the collection from aluminum discs
to DAT and can report that there are simply incredible things on the
recordings.  For instance:

1) lots of carnival maskawon, mardigras bands, and "orthophonic" bands,

2) early meringue ensembles and string bands (some were playing tributes to
Pres. Vincent and Trujillo because Trujillo was making a state visit during
the recording period).

3) fascinating old French "romance" style ballads (in Renaissance modes!)
recorded in the countryside

4) Juba (djouba) sosyete performances, malimbula ensembles (so called
"thumb piano" groups), banda dances

5) cantiques from Easter Vodou services

6) stories and song-stories

7) chariopye and rara

8) children's and game songs

9) konbit work songs

10) manje lwa and many other seremoni vodou

11) and the most amazing thing I ever heard in Haiti, a high school men's
vocal group that performed scatted versions (with improvisation) of vodou
drumming and rara vaksin ensembles!! (this sounds very much like the
contemporary Cuban group Vocal Sampling, if you know of them...or perhaps
like a group of Bobby McFerrins!)

In any case, lots of treasures are buried in the over 1,500 recordings.
This should provide a wonderful baseline for comparisons with later
recordings and I hope we can pay homage to the great musical ancestors,
none of whom I expect are with us any longer.  Eventually, I hope to locate
descendents of the performers and repatriate some of the sound recordings
(and any proceeds that accrue from them).  We will be releasing CDs from
the collection at a rate of 2 or 3 per year for some years, so stay tuned.
If anyone on the list knows anything about Lomax's recording trips, please
let me know.  He was, of course, a controversial figure, not universally
loved by those who worked with him, and there were many ethical questions
that hovered around his fieldwork methods and interpersonal relationship.
However, he left an amazing recroded legacy.

Gage Averill
Department of Music
New York University
24 Waverly Pl., Rm. 268
New York, NY 10003-6789
(212) 998-8302 (bus)
(212) 995-4147 (fax)

Home: 82 Puritan Drive
Port Chester, NY 10573
(914) 939-4193 (home)

e-mail: gage.averill@nyu.edu

Home page for _A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey:
NYU Music Department: http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/music/