...a separate Haiti series was clearly called for, although we knew that demanding sound engineering and cultural/ linguistic translation issues were involved which would make it a complex — and costly — undertaking of long duration. Borrowing funds from other budgets, we began by making faithful, high quality transfers from the original aluminum discs to DAT. We also enlisted the ethnomusicologist, Gage Averill, a specialist in Caribbean music, to re-catalog, compile, and annotate the recordings. Gage, who had just begun teaching at NYU at the time and was about to become a father, was nonetheless eager to listen to the whole lot, and soon came up with a thematic scheme for nine CDs, and over the next couple of years, sequences and notes for two.
Other projects pushed Haiti into the background, because three years later, sophisticated sound restoration technologies, capable of removing the hisses, pops, and crackles that nearly drowned out the recordings, were offered to us at an affordable price by the Magic Shop, our mastering studio.
Meanwhile, we at the Association for Cultural Equity had embarked on a full-scale effort to disseminate and repatriate digital copies of Alan Lomax’s media documentation to their places of origin. Thus, rather than resurrect only those tracks selected for publication on CD (a mere fifteen percent of the collection), we elected to restore and pre-master the entire fifty hours, with the intention of repatriating them to Haiti. We would also make copies available to the Library of Congress and the Schomburg Center and offer samples of all tracks on the Association for Cultural Equity’s online catalog.
Enter David Katznelson of Harte Recordings. Jeffrey Greenberg brought Dave to us a couple of years ago to discuss issuing hidden treasures from the Lomax collections. We considered several possibilities, among them Haiti. Dave had been an A&R man at Warner Brothers, immersed in rock and pop, so it was a happy surprise when he offered to embrace the Haiti project and produce an attractively designed box set.
Dave’s enthusiasm for all aspects of the project reignited our own. Gage Averill and his Haitian colleagues returned to the demanding task of selecting and identifying songs, tracking down the meanings of obscure and obsolete forms of Kreyòl, transcribing and translating song lyrics, and writing notes. Ellen Harold began the months’ long process of transcribing and editing Alan Lomax’s handwritten diaries and letters. At the same time, work on the box supported our preparations for repatriating the full collection to Haiti.
In every respect, we wish this endeavor to be an hommage to the Haitian people. It is also a tribute to Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress for having had the foresight to undertake and support this project, which recognized African American culture as a distinctive network of affiliations extending far beyond the boundaries of the United States, and to and from Africa.
Anna L. Wood, Ph.D. is Director of the Association for Cultural Equity and the Alan Lomax Collections in New York City.