Saraca: Funerary Music of Carriacou
Rounder Records (www.rounder.com)
In the spring of 1962, the legendary folk musicologist Alan Lomax traveled to the Lesser Antilles, where many islands were in the midst of the exciting transition to independence from Britain. The recording sessions that Lomax held, therefore, had a political dimension, i.e., to discover and disseminate the cultural commonalities that might help form a basis for a unified pan-West-Indian nation. Although the dream of a postcolonial federation never materialized, the music and story-telling collected in this Caribbean Voyage series point out the various signifiers and motifs that are common to the region, and which illuminate their roots in African and European cultures. Lomax's analysis of this material is contained in the book, Brown Girl in the Ring.
Carriacou is a small island in the Grenadines. Although much of this CD is devoted to documenting the Big Drum, a repertoire of song and dance that is believed to have direct antecedents in the ritual musics of specific West African ethnic groups such as the Temne, Manding, Ibo, and Cromanti, the Euro-African synthesis as manifested in the call-and-response renditions of classic Baptist hymns are also well represented. "Gone to Nineveh" is an especially fascinating example of this latter style, with circular harmonized singing driven by a form of rhythmic breathing called trumping that helps induce trance in the singers. Trumping is somewhat reminiscent of the periodic grunting heard in certain Balinese music, e.g., in the Ramayana Monkey Chant. There are also folk stories recorded here, as well as a previously unreleased interview by Lomax of Mary "May" Fortune with interjections by her common-law husband Ferguson "Sugar Tamarind" Adams, considered the "first couple" of music in Carriacou at the time. Not only do we get the rare chance to listen to the musicians talk about their music, but also to the field musicologist who normally remains discreetly off the record. We get a hint of the passion that lies behind the music and behind the man who dedicated his life to getting it all down for posterity. -- John Cho
Audio: "Gone to Nineveh"
©2000 Rounder, used by permission
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