Source: The Miami HeraldThe remarkable voices, songs and images in the recently released box set Alan Lomax in Haiti are a stunning, delightful treasure, a vivid portrait of a time and place.


Alan Lomax, who was a musician, singer, author folklorist and more, has recorded snapshots of the daily life, celebrations and expressions of belief of Haitians on his remarkable 10-disc set.On the set's 10 discs average people sing their everyday stories, berate corrupt politicians, celebrate children's toys, lament lost loves or call on the spirits. The singers were recorded by musicologist Lomax more than 70 years ago with a cumbersome, portable aluminum-disk system, and the results were so discouragingly noisy and distorted that the project was set aside until new technology and a slow, painstaking effort over the past decade restored the hidden music. As Alan Lomax in Haiti (Harte, $129) proves, time has not weakened its spirit.Ethnomusicologist, author and Haiti scholar Gage Averill, who was instrumental in cataloging, compiling and annotating the material, recently recalled being at a conference in Chicago and about to introduce dancer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham, a champion of Haitian culture.``I had my notes, and then I remember I had this Alan Lomax material in my computer,'' says Averill, vice principal and dean of the University of Toronto at Mississauga. ``As it turned out, Alan had been in the temple, a month or so later, where Katherine Dunham had received her initiation in voudou. So I went over to her and said `Ms. Dunham I have recordings of people you know in Pont Beudet, including Théoline Marseille and Cecile Esperance.' And she looked at me as if she had seen a ghost and said, `Yes, of course. Please.' So I played this recording for the audience, and at the end she got up in tears and said to me: `You know, you have a govi in there. You really truly have a govi [an object that temporarily shelters the souls of the dead].' So I came to think about these recordings as digital govi.''SNAPSHOT OF LIFEIf Lomax's recordings do not store souls, the music and images he captured in his four-month stay in Haiti beginning in the middle of December 1936 nonetheless provide an extraordinary snapshot of the daily life, celebrations and expressions of belief of a people at a particular time in their history.Lomax, who died at 87 in the Pasco County town of Holiday in 2002, was an extraordinary figure. In a career spanning six decades, he worked as folklorist, ethnomusicologist, author, record producer, singer, concert promoter, radio host and activist for the world's folk music. He arrived in Haiti barely two years after the end of it 19-year U.S. military occupation.As Anna Lomax Wood, his daughter and one of the project's producers, notes, this was ``a pivotal era in Haiti's cultural story, when the country was throwing off U.S. imperialism and embracing both its African roots and the coming influence of jazz and African American / Afro-Caribbean popular music and dance.''The Lomax recordings include a set of meringues, considered by some the national music of Haiti and played here with courtly elegance by urban dance bands, and a disc of songs by twoubadou, rustic troubadours accompanied by small string ensembles. There is a volume of Mardi Gras and Carnaval music; other discs are dedicated to voudou ritual music (``Lomax was the first to record a voudou ceremony from start to finish,'' Averill says), children's songs and work songs.There are also fascinating examples of Rara music -- a cultural and religious tradition in which bands play music and dance in the streets -- and of the almost-extinct Romance song, a mix of archaic French and Creole.Lomax was 21 when he went to Haiti with support from the Library of Congress and at the behest of his friend and colleague Zora Neale Hurston, who, Averill notes, was there on a Guggenheim fellowship finishing her great Florida novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Fittingly, Hurston, who grew up near Orlando, sings on three of Lomax's tracks.By the time Lomax arrived in Haiti, he and his folklorist father, John Avery Lomax, had produced the book American Ballads and Folk Songs and a set of recordings by Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly.HUGE IMPACTLomax would have been a notable figure just for those accomplishments, but the impact of his broad span of work in American and global culture is immeasurable. His contributions include the first-ever recordings of Woody Guthrie, Moody Waters and Honeyboy Edwards and the recorded autobiography of Jelly Roll Morton. He recorded folk music from Kentucky to Edinburgh to Pontevedra in Galicia.``Alan had met Zora when he was about 19 or 20, and together they did the first collecting trip Alan did without his father,'' Averill says. ``They went through the Southeast, Georgia, the Georgia sea islands and Florida. Then they . . . went to the Bahamas. At this point the connections between African-rooted music [in different places in the Americas] was starting to beguile Alan. Zora had an interest in Haiti, which she got from reading about it in a book during the Haitian occupation, and they talked about maybe going.''Lomax's 1,500 direct-to-disc recordings (almost 50 hours of music and talk), six black-and-white short 8 mm films and hundreds of pages of field notes, make an impressive package. Alan Lomax in Haiti's CDs feature music and films, an annotated transcription of Lomax's journal, a facsimile of his annotated map and a richly informative booklet that includes well-researched, contextualizing essays about historic circumstances, the people and their music styles, plus notes about each song. The film, along with a PDF document of Lomax's notes, is included on disc 5 and playable on PCs and MACs.Major partners in the project include the Alan Lomax Archives / Association for Cultural Equity (founded by Lomax as ``a center for the exploration and preservation of the world's expressive traditions''), the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and the Miami-based Green Family Foundation.``There is more to Haiti than what gets portrayed in the media, which is poverty and despair,'' foundation president Kimberly Green says from Port-au-Prince. ``It's important to me that the beauty I see in this country is also highlighted, and getting involved with a program like this seemed to be so natural to me.''As if to close the circle, the foundation is also donating $66,000 for the repatriation to Haiti of a full set of the digitally restored, pre-mastered and cataloged recordings.And because one person's academic research is another person's family story, there are also plans to take the material to the places where it was recorded. Averill says he's curious about ``how this might be perceived by family members of those who were recorded; how they would feel about hearing the voices of their grandparents after all this time.''

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