Caribbean Repatriation

Raoul ("Ti Raoul") Grivalliers, left, with Florent Baratini, center, on drum. June 1962, in Pérou, Sainte-Marie, Martinique.

Alan Lomax devoted a great portion of his career to the music of the Caribbean, documenting and publishing on folk culture in the Bahamas, Haiti, the Eastern Caribbean, Santo Domingo, and St. Eustasius. Insight gained from these experiences influenced his comparative research on performance style and culture and his later 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 pride in the folk music and culture of their localities. We are willing to join with 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 an intensive revitalization effort.

Alan Lomax and the Caribbean, Then and Now

In 1935, Zora Neale Hurston took Alan Lomax to migrant labor camps on Lake Okeechobee, Florida, where he first heard and recorded Caribbean music. Between the mid-1930s and the 1960s, Lomax recorded a wide range of traditional music in the Caribbean, documenting popular genres as well.

Alan Lomax recording in Dominica, 1962. Photo by Antoinette Marchand.

The Bahamas (1935). On a budget of $198 from the Library of Congress, 19-year-old Alan Lomax sailed to Nassau, Cat Island, and Andros Island to record sailors, sponge fishermen, farmers, and dockworkers. African and New World styles and traditions are intertwined in their boat-pulling songs, chanties, anthems, and Old Story Songs (a cross between Jack tales and African Anansi tales of trickster boys outwitting the devil). "The John B. Sails" from this collection became a popular hit and was covered by The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Roger Whitaker, Dick Dale, The Beach Boys, and Johnny Cash.

Haiti (1936-37). Working under the auspices of the Library of Congress, Lomax recorded seventy hours of Haitian music, documenting early rara, antique French ballads and hymns, combit and other rural music, as well as pianist and composer Ludovic Lamothe (1882-1953).

Calypso Concerts (1946). On December 21, 1946 Lomax produced "Calypso At Midnight" at Town Hall, New York City, a star-studded concert featuring Lord Invader, the Duke of Iron, Macbeth the Great, and Gerald Clark and His Invaders. The live recordings are fascinating documents of Trinidadian calypso at a time when the genre was spreading from New York City into the mainstream of popular music in the United States.

The Eastern Caribbean (1962-91). Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of the West Indies, Lomax recorded the music of the Lesser Antilles, the chain of islands forming the eastern rim of the Caribbean. Over six months, Lomax made 1,859 field recordings and 1,093 photographs in Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, Carriacou, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Barthèlemy, Anguilla, St. Kitts, and Nevis. Jacob D. Elder, Dan Crowley, Roger D. Abrahams, Philip Sherlock, and Andrew C. Pearse were advisors to the project. A complete copy on open-reel tape was deposited at the University College of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad.

In 1967 Lomax made a few hours of recordings in St. Eustatius and the Dominican Republic. He returned to Carriacou (Grenada) to film the Shakespeare Mas in 1991.

From this material, ACE curated seventeen CDs, which were released on Rounder Records: Caribbean Voyage Sampler; Carriacou Calaloo; Tombstone Feast: Funerary Music of Carriacou; Saraca: Funerary Music of Carriacou; Grenada: Creole and Yoruba Voices; The French Antilles: We Will Play Love Tonight; Neville Marcano: The Growling Tiger; Bahamas Shanties and Anthems; Bahamas Ring Games; Nevis and St. Kitts; Martinique: Cane Fields and City Streets; Dominica: Creole Crossroads; East Indian Music in the West Indies; Trinidad: Carnival Roots; Brown Girl in the Ring; Calypso at Midnight; Calypso After Midnight.

In 2000, J.D. Elder, Bess Lomax Hawes, and Alan Lomax's Brown Girl In the Ring was published, a book and CD of Caribbean children's game songs, with music transcriptions, song notes, game instructions and Dr. Elder's essay about the function of game songs in Caribbean society.

Alan Lomax in Haiti, a box set with notes by Haitian music scholar Gage Averill, was released in 2010 and nominated for two Grammies. The collection is accompanied by film footage and Lomax's diary and correspondence, illustrated with diagrams and drawings, chronicling the trip.

In 2010, in collaboration with the Grenadian Consulate and Delegation to the U.N., ACE and Winston Fleary produced a series of concerts and workshops on the Big Drum tradition of Carriacou held at schools and other venues in Brooklyn.

In 2011, ACE and the Green Family Foundation were invited to film a private Big Drum ceremony held in honor of Lucian Duncan, dancer and chantwell at Mt. Desir, Carriacou. Sequences from the Big Drum, a boat launching with string band music, and interviews, may be seen on the Cultural Equity channel on YouTube.


Repatriations to Nevis and St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe and the French Antilles, and Trinidad have been completed, with Grenada, Carriacou, and Haiti pending.

ACE's Caribbean Repatriation Program has been carried out in collaboration with the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, Chicago, for the Eastern Caribbean, and the Green Family Foundation for Haiti.

Lomax's Caribbean recordings, photographs, film, and notes are the legacy of the countries he visited. As such, they should reside in permanent national repositories. It is equally important to return them to the communities, families, and individuals who created them, in meaningful and accessible forms. We try to ensure that they will be circulated and used to provide a basis for cultural identity, for an understanding of history, and for a creative future.


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