They say if you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you and everyone else in the world with internet access, then the partnership between the Association for Cultural Equality and Trinidad’s University of the West Indies means Alan Lomax’s Caribbean Collection is truly yours. All of yours. And it’s all thanks to repatriation. It’s like that movie where Haley Joel Osment teaches people about doing right by one another and then everybody starts doing the right thing and then Bon Jovi shows up and… what? Haley Joel Osment got stabbed at the end of that movie? Whoa! The repatriation of the Alan Lomax Caribbean Collection is NOTHING like that. It is all good. It’s all good, dude.
So what IS it like? It’s like a ceremony that took place last week at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain that marked the 50th anniversary of the 60+ hours of recordings that Lomax made in Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Carriacou, St. Lucia, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, St. Kitts, and Nevis in the early 1960s. A ceremony marked by performances from local traditional music ensembles like Tobago’s Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Singers, Maraval’s The Cantique Singers, Blanchisseuse’s The Rose of Sharon Singers, and The San Jose Serenaders (you know where they’re from). Columbia College Chicago prof Dr. Rosita Sands represented the Alan Lomax Archive/Association for Cultural Equity at the ceremony, repatriating the complete Eastern Caribbean field recordings to the Alma Jordan Library at the University of the West Indies. It’s like all that, but with hundreds of field recordings just waiting to be discovered online.
And now the partnership between the university and the cultural association is allowing people to check out the hundreds of ballads, Shango ritual performances, carnival and Christmas songs, chante fables, calypso, East Indian jams, dances, game songs, and religious numbers online. Interested parties can also check out the 1100 photographs Lomax shot in the Lesser Antilles as he journeyed with his research partner, folklorist/Trinidadian Minister of Culture J.D. Elder. The Association for Cultural Equity has more on Lomax’s journeys and an absolutely huge online archive of recordings on their website.