Tuesday, May 19, 2009

“How the Haiti Project Came About” Pt. 1

Anna L. Wood, daughter of Alan Lomax, writes:

The multifaceted Alan Lomax in Haiti stems from Lomax’s original work in the Caribbean in the mid–1930s and has been a long time coming. It spans the history of sound recording and playback technology of the last 75 years, and it is thanks to progress in this field that we can now listen in to Haitian worlds that no longer exist. Such advances make realizable the humanistic goals of cultural equity and cultural feedback that Alan Lomax ardently espoused, so that it is now possible to bring a generous selection from this rich collection to the public, and to return it whole to the Haitian people.

In the 1970s Alan Lomax spent several months at the Library of Congress going through the early recordings of African American and Afro-Caribbean folk song that he and his father, John A. Lomax, had made in the 1930s and ‘40s. The Black Pride Movement was still in full swing, and it was Lomax’s plan to bring to the movement an encyclopedic collection of what he regarded as among the fundamental sources of black culture and history in the Americas.

Alan mapped out a series of twelve LPs with the working title Treasury of Black Folksong (later Deep River of Song), which included music from eight states and the Bahamas — but which did not include Haiti, where he had worked in 1936–37, probably because it was acoustically challenging. As it happened, publication of Deep River was delayed until the late 1990s — fortunately so, in that acoustic science had by then leapt into the digital age. Whilst at the Library of Congress transferring sound for this series, Lomax Archive Sound Archivist Matthew Barton took a look at the Haiti collection and was astounded to find fifty hours of recordings — some 1,500 items — and hundreds of pages of field notes and correspondence that had scarcely been touched.

A separate Haiti series was clearly called for...(to be continued)

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