The name of Alan Lomax undoubtedly holds a unique place in the annals of folklore, one matched by only a few of the most prominent European song-collectors. Arguably the most important scholar of musical folklore in the latter part of the 20th century, Lomax was as responsible as anyone for the (increasingly prevalent) view of folk music as a part of a universal human patrimony, rather than the more nationalist view that had previously tied it to the soul/spirit/destiny of a particular people.
Furthermore, his work was absolutely crucial to the preservation of folk culture in the United States; without his groundbreaking efforts, a great deal of the blues and folk music that has since come to be seen as a cultural treasure of the highest order would have been lost to time (for proof, check out any of his Southern Journey, most of which is available for streaming).
Less well known is the fact that Lomax also undertook several extremely productive recording trips through the Caribbean from the Bahamas to Haiti and all the way down to Trinidad & Tobago. Over the past several years, the Association for Cultural Equity (an organization founded by Lomax to “explore and preserve the world’s expressive traditions”) has been working to make the enormous archive of music recorded by Lomax available for free streaming online. A vital adjunct of this has been the Association’s project of cultural repatriation. Essentially, this recognizes that by recording huge swathes of music that had traditionally been preserved by oral transmission, Lomax and his peers had preserved a record of these cultural traditions in a fixed form. However, in order to help the actual living culture from which the recordings were originally taken, it is necessary to make them available for dissemination and study in the areas that gave them birth.
In order to do this, the ACE has created high quality reproductions of Lomax’s materials to give to research centers in the Caribbean. According to the ACE, it is absolutely vital to “broadcast that [these recordings] are there and available, and let people know what they are and why they are important.” If you want to get a sense of the kind of treasures that Lomax stockpiled, you should definitely check out the audio recordings currently available for streaming on the ACE’s web site. There is literally no way to remain unimpressed by the breathtaking quality of this music, so enjoy listening!
Listen to the music HERE.
Learn more about the effort HERE.
Oh yeah- Lomax also took some amazing photographs during those trips…