Alan Lomax Presents Haitian Impressions

Alan  Lomax in Haiti
Alan Lomax in Haiti
Alan Lomax in Haiti (Harte Recordings, 2009)

In December of 1936, a young Alan Lomax arrived to Haiti to collect music. Lomax, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold (whom he married in Haiti), and his assistant Révolie Polinice collected 50 hours of field recordings over a period of four months, from 1936 through 1937. The fascinating collection provides a broad picture of Haitian traditional music at the time.

The recordings include urban and rural genres, such as merengues; Haiti’s rustic troubadour music;  Mardi Gras, Carnaval and other celebrations;  Vodou music; children’s songs; songs from the French tradition, including Romances, Canticles, and Contredanse;  songs of labor and leisure; and worship songs.

Now, in 2009, much of Alan Lomax’ work in Haiti is available to the general public for the first time. The music from the Haiti expedition has been released in a boxed set titled Alan Lomax in Haiti that includes 10 volume and an extensive booklet. "This collection is significant for a number of reasons," says ethnomusicologist Gage Averill, who specializes in the popular music of the Caribbean. "For one thing, it captures an audio impression in the heady years after Haiti returned to self-determination and during which there was a resurgence of interest in expressions of Haiti’s African heritage. Indeed, the recordings are the best audio documentation we have of the work not just of the Lomaxes, but of a wave of folklorists, anthropologists, and writers who went to Haiti in the late 1930s."

The monumental collection will certainly attract the attention of ethnomusicologists, researchers and Haitian music fans. Even though Haitian music has evolved considerably since the 1930s, this boxed set will show the roots of Haitian music and may even rediscover some long forgotten songs. "…this collection extends what we know of the music, dance, and storytelling of Haiti in this period, serving as a baseline for later studies of the same genres, and documenting others that have disappeared or nearly disappeared in the decades since," says Anna Lomax Wood in the CD booklet introduction. "The songs and stories in this set chronicle not an official history—although they make reference to Haitian political history and current events—but rather the hopes, beliefs, humor, wisdom, grievances, and day-to-day life of ordinary Haitians."

In addition to the The Story of the Haiti Recordings, the booklet includes essays by Todd Harvey, Matthew Barton, and Steve Rosenthal. Alan Lomax in Haiti is an essential set for any serious collector of Haitian and world music in general.

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