The Culture Of Haiti Comes To Life

Alan Lomax In Haiti box set documents musicologist's historic 1930s expedition in Haiti

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Editor’s note, Jan. 25, 2010: In mid-December, ran this feature on musicologist Alan Lomax’s sojourn to Haiti in the 1930s. His recording of Haiti’s culture and the recent release of that material may now prove more important than ever given the destruction caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

On Jan. 22, many notable music, film and television stars teamed for the multi-network airing of “Hope For Haiti Now,” a benefit concert to raise funds for Haiti’s disaster relief programs. The companion Web site provides a number of ways to donate to help rescue and rebuild Haiti.

In mid-December 1936, musicologist Alan Lomax, then 21, arrived in Haiti on a musical and cultural research and field-collecting expedition. He brought with him a cumbersome turntable-cutting unit for recording to disc and a stack of aluminum discs. Over the next four months he would struggle with language barriers; contracting intestinal malaria; dealing with a separation from his fiancée, Elizabeth Harold; cash-flow problems; and difficulties with receiving record supply shipments — all while lugging his 155-pound recording device around the country without a car.

Despite these obstacles, by March 1937 Lomax had collected nearly 50 hours of music and sound across 1,500 recordings, six short black-and-white 8mm films and hundreds of pages of notes. It was a remarkable effort, but for years it seemed it had been all for naught.

As late as the 1970s, Lomax examined his Haiti recordings but the noise and distortion contained within discouraged any notions of a release. (His Haitian expedition was the last time he would use the aluminum disc system for his field recordings.) The project was indefinitely shelved until the late '90s, when the Association for Cultural Equity and Alan Lomax Archive undertook a project that resulted in preservation work by the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.

The aluminum discs were transferred at the LOC's Sound Lab in March 2000. It took nearly 10 years to transfer audio from the source discs and catalog, restore and master the recordings. Three-time GRAMMY-winning producer Steve Rosenthal and GRAMMY-winning engineer Warren Russell-Smith, along with engineer Will Berlind, worked at the Magic Shop studio in New York City, employing digital technologies to peel off layer after layer of noise to reveal the music underneath.

Some 70-plus years later, the result is the stunning box set Alan Lomax In Haiti. Released in November, the set was curated by ethnomusicologist and Haiti scholar Gage Averill and includes 10 CD volumes featuring Lomax's collection of music and films; a transcription of Lomax's journal (edited by his niece, Ellen Harold); a facsimile of his annotated map; and a hardcover book with extensive well-researched notes about the people, the historic circumstances of his expedition and the music.

"I've been working on Lomax projects since 1995," says Rosenthal. "The thing you always have to remember with a Lomax project is that you need to retain a sense of place in the recording. It's an interesting battle in that you want to de-noise and restore the music, but you don't want to sanitize it. You need to retain some of the original 'problems' because that will help you understand where he recorded it and how he recorded it."

Volume one, Meringues And Urban Music From Haiti, showcases a style Lomax gave short shrift because he considered it the music of the urban elites. The samples suggest a sweet elegant blend of Caribbean grooves and jazz influences.

Other volumes feature Mardi Gras music, carnaval music, rara music, children's songs, work songs, examples of the nearly extinct romance song, and French-style songs — sung in a mix of archaic French and Kreyòl. Addressing one of the most intriguing and controversial aspects of Haitian culture, especially given the sensationalistic reporting at the time, the set also features Lomax's recordings of ritual Voudou music and ceremonial music of different branches within Vodou. "Lomax was the first to record a Voudou ceremony from start to finish," notes Averill.

One of the major partners in the project is the Miami-based Green Family Foundation. A repatriation of a full set of the recordings to Haiti is planned for spring 2010 and Green Family Foundation President Kimberly Green says, "The organization we hope will house the actual set and would make it available to everybody is FOKAL [Fondation Connaissance et Liberté], which has a library and several educational programs."

When he arrived in Haiti, Lomax had already worked alongside his father, folklorist John Avery Lomax, and their field-collecting efforts throughout the Northeast, Southwest, Midwest, and South regions of the United States had produced the book American Ballads And Folk Song, and the groundbreaking set of recordings by folk musician Huddie Ledbetter, best known as Lead Belly.

Lomax's extraordinary 60-year-career would take him from Kentucky to Galicia, Spain; and the impact of his work on cultures worldwide is immeasurable. His archival contributions include the first-ever recordings by Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, as well as recordings by Pete Seeger and Jelly Roll Morton. In the mid-'90s, he completed work on the Global Jukebox, an interactive software tool designed to organize and synthesize the findings of anthropology and musicology. Lomax died in 2002 at age 87, and was awarded a posthumous Recording Academy Trustees Award in 2003.

But back in 1935, Lomax followed up his experiences with his father with expeditions to the Georgia Sea Islands, Florida, and the Bahamas. According to Averill, what he saw and heard during those trips furthered his interest in the African roots of African-American culture and the connections between African rooted cultures in the Americas.

"He was really hearing, and thinking about, how music seemed to relate across national boundaries," says Averill. "[Lomax collaborator] Zora [Neal Hurston] had an interest in Haiti, which she got from reading a book during the Haitian occupation. They talked about maybe going to Haiti, which they considered the most African-influenced region in the new world."

The difference between Alan and the other ethnographers was that he was deeply focused on the sound recording as his methodology. [Anthropologist Melville] Herskovits and others who went to Haiti would use recordings, but by and large they were writing. Alan wanted to record. That's what he brought to the ethnography of the Caribbean. He was interested in producing what he later called an alternative oral history."

Both a fascinating anthropological document and a stunning collection of music, Alan Lomax In Haiti is a fine example of a people's history captured in sound and film.

(Fernando Gonzalez is a contributing editor to The International Review of Music. He is based in Miami.)



McCartney Honored With Gershwin Prize

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

McCartney Honored With Gershwin Prize
Thirteen-time GRAMMY-winning artist Paul McCartney will become the third recipient of the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, a lifetime achievement award recognizing artists for their contributions to pop music. McCartney will be honored at a ceremony hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on June 2 at the White House. The ceremony will include tribute performances by GRAMMY winners Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock, Emmylou Harris, Faith Hill, and last year's Gershwin Prize recipient Stevie Wonder. The first prize was awarded to GRAMMY winner Paul Simon in 2007. (5/25)

Baseball Hall To Enshrine "Centerfield"
GRAMMY winner John Fogerty's "Centerfield" will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame's induction ceremony on July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y., marking the first time a musician or song has been recognized as part of the hall's ceremonies. Fogerty will perform the song at the ceremony, which was originally released on his GRAMMY-nominated 1985 album Centerfield. Over the span of 25 years, "Centerfield" has become a part of the cultural fabric of baseball in being played at major and minor league baseball parks across the United States. (5/25)

Slipknot's Paul Gray Dies
Paul Gray
, bass player for the GRAMMY-winning heavy metal band Slipknot, died Monday in Des Moines, Iowa. No cause of death was provided. He was 38 years old. Gray, often referred to as "#2" or "the Pig," co-founded Skipknot in 1995 with drummer Joey Jordison and percussionist Shawn "Clown" Crahan. In 2005 the band won a GRAMMY Award for Best Metal Performance for "Before I Forget" and their 2008 release All Hope Is Gone reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. "Paul Gray had a passion for music and a flair for the theatrical," said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow. "The heavy metal world has lost an immense talent. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, his friends, and the fans that have too soon lost one of their heroes." (5/25)


EducationWatch: Music And The Mind

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Researchers examine the relationship of mind, language and music
Laurel Fishman

Researchers presented findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Diego this past February substantiating the mind's complex relationship between music and language. According to Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Ph.D., a neurology professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, stroke patients who have lost language facility can sing words they are incapable of speaking. Schlaug made the discovery while working with a patient who could not speak the words "happy birthday," but could sing them. During an AAS podcast, Aniruddh D. Patel, Ph.D., Esther J. Burnham senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute, said understanding how the specialized abilities of music and language work in the brain would have "lots of implications for lots of practical things like treating language disorders or aiding language learning." Patel also cited evidence indicating that musically trained people have improved language-learning ability.

In conjunction with the Library of Congress' Music and the Brain II series, music therapist Dr. Jayne Standley presented the session Wellness And Growth: Acoustic Medicine And Music Therapy on May 14 in Washington, D.C. The following day, music therapist/consultant Anne B. Parker conducted Managing Stress And Enhancing Wellness With Music Therapy. Both events were free to the public and followed renowned music therapist Dr. Connie Tomaino's related presentation, The Positive Effects Of Music Therapy On Health, held earlier this year.

With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz brought its peer-to-peer jazz education program to Seattle-area public schools April 26–30. Six exceptionally gifted jazz students from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts participated in concerts and workshops with acclaimed professionals including jazz educator Dr. J.B. Dyas, saxophonist Antonio Hart, vocalist Lisa Henry, and Thelonious Monk Jr., the institute's chairman of the board of trustees and son of legendary jazz pianist and composer/Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Thelonious Monk. Topics included why jazz is important to the United States, how a jazz ensemble represents a perfect democracy, and the positive values reinforced by jazz: teamwork, freedom with responsibility, unity with ethnic diversity, the results of diligent efforts in goal accomplishment, the importance of finding a passion early in life, and perseverance.

Though she has now graduated from Huntingtown High School in Chesapeake Beach, Md., Lauren McClellan hopes to continue supporting Making Musik, an organization she founded in 2007 to collect and redistribute used instruments and music books to local music teachers. A violinist since the fourth grade, McClellan was motivated to establish Making Musik after learning that music education correlates with better academic achievement, higher SAT scores and increased social interaction for children.

Musical instrument "petting zoos" are allowing children nationwide to get friendly with the idea of making music. On April 16 one such event was held at the Austintown Library in Youngstown, Ohio, welcoming kids of all ages to examine and play various instruments. Representing the woodwind, brass, string, and percussion families, instruments were provided by members of Youngstown State University's Dana School of Music. A brief history was given on each instrument, followed by a musical piece demonstrating the instrument.

In support of music education in schools, State Farm Insurance completed the Music Is My Ticket program in April. The program collected new and used musical instruments from local music fans in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. The collected instruments, along with $5,000 in funding, was then presented to local schools including Cesar Chavez High School in Houston and Grover Cleveland High School in the Los Angeles area. In exchange for their instruments, State Farm gave donors a pair of free tickets to a private concert featuring Latin GRAMMY winner Luis Enrique and Xtreme.

A creative means of "peaceful protest" over music education budget cuts is gaining grassroots popularity. Before a meeting of the Glynn County Board of Education on June 9 in Brunswick, Ga., four Glynn Academy students played pieces by Mozart and other classical composers to demonstrate why funding for the strings program in local schools should not be cut. Mounted in front of their music stands, a poster read, "SOS — Save Our Strings." The students collected 450-plus signatures to support their cause, and insisted that the cuts would not only tear apart entire music programs in local schools, but also affect the Youth Symphony of Coastal Georgia, which features several musicians from Glynn County.

In related news, the Camden County Board of Education has been recently hearing from resourceful community members and music and arts teachers in St. Marys, Ga., who are also working to keep fine arts alive in the face of similar budget cuts. One proactive parent, Carol Plumer, pointed out that studying music encompasses a higher order of thinking skills, perceptual motor development, teamwork, creativity, individuality, self-discipline, and commitment.

Pickering, Ohio-based Rock Factory Art & Music Studios is working to educate and develop the talents of local musicians. One Union Project, the studio's house band made up of students from fifth grade through high school, is getting a big piece of their music education through immersion in professional settings. The young band members study at the facility, play live concerts and receive musical instruction presented in a space that includes a stage, recording studio, practice rooms, and lounge.

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and GRAMMY magazine, and she is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy, and music-and-the-brain research.)


ArtsWatch: GAO Questions Industry Estimates Of Piracy's Harm

Doubts over estimates' accuracy mostly due to covert nature of the problem

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On April 12 the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported on its efforts to quantify the damages caused to the economy by counterfeiting and piracy. Industry efforts were smacked down as inadequately rigorous, but the GAO was unable to recommend a proper approach. The illicit nature of piracy received most of the blame since it causes a lack of data. The report suggested a more careful approach would be needed, using formulas based on assumptions that dealt with each of the many industries affected. The Copyright Alliance called attention to the agency's acknowledgement that damages go beyond lost sales and said, "…it is important to note GAO's endorsement of the fact that piracy has a multiplier effect that ripples throughout the economy." The report notably included views expressed by consumer advocates that infringement produces benefits such as saving consumers money and granting access to creative works before their release date. This report was called for by the same legislation that created the new position of U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator and relates to comments the IPEC received last month. Although the quantitative estimates produced by content industries are severely questioned by this GAO report, the consequences are worse for consumer advocates' insistence that enforcement actions should only be taken after a rigorous cost-benefit analysis has been performed. When it comes to quantifying economic harms caused by piracy — let alone so-called "benefits" — it seems an adequately rigorous approach remains beyond what today's state of the art can accomplish.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 3125, the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, on April 14. Describing the bipartisan bill before its passage by a vote of 394–18, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said, "It directs the [Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration] and the [Federal Communications Commission] to undertake a comprehensive survey of the nation's spectrum and report to us on current spectrum utilization, with recommendations of which, if any, of the least utilized blocks of spectrum should be reallocated for commercial use or be subjected to spectrum sharing with commercial users. The measure is a thoughtful approach to meeting the extraordinary spectrum demands the nation will soon face." Companion legislation S. 649 is pending in the Senate.

On April 14 the Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski regarding the National Broadband Plan. Genachowski expressed confidence in his agency's ability to make satisfactory progress despite the size of the job, the court setback to FCC authority covered in last week's ArtsWatch, and some senators' strong opposition to the FCC reclassifying Internet service to gain greater regulatory authority. Consumer advocates Public Knowledge noted that no senators complained in 2005 when the FCC used its own authority to reclassify Internet service under looser regulations.

Speaking to a group of French regulators holding a Net neutrality conference on April 13, European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes announced she will launch a public consultation on Net neutrality by summer and report the results before next year. In her remarks she endorsed the FCC's other five Open Internet rules but suggested Net neutrality needed an agreed-upon definition before a regulatory approach could be determined. She observed that some concerns could be met by enforcing other regulatory approaches such as minimum quality of service requirements, fair competition rules, or restrictions on Internet service providers' marketing language. Kroes seemed to believe it would be regulatory overkill to forbid charging companies a fee to guarantee high-speed delivery of their content because such a prohibition would inhibit future business models.

Since the UK's Digital Economy Bill became law earlier this month with strict antipiracy provisions included, attention has shifted to questions of what regulatory details remain to be put in place. On April 13 the Los Angeles Times editorialized that the focus on account-holder liability could stifle public Internet use at libraries and coffee shops. Separately, BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor told that the UK recording industry organization would have to initiate lawsuits against some individual Internet users because the bill's legal protections for consumers make that a necessary first step before technical measures can be used to reduce online infringement.

Anticipation of Common Sense Media's upcoming digital literacy curriculum has included coverage in The New York Times and Cnet News. Designed for grades 5–8, it includes a standalone unit on "Respecting Creative Work. How to get credit for original creations and respect other's creative property."

On April 14 the Library of Congress announced it will archive public Twitter posts since the service's inception in 2006. The most recent tweets will be preserved after a six-month delay. The library portrays this as consistent with its efforts to preserve other digital material of historical importance.


Global Jukebox: A new music website a century in the making
Alan Lomax

Photo: Shirley Collins


Global Jukebox: A new music website a century in the making

Alan Lomax's life work has come to digital fruition as his collection of rare folk recordings from around the world is launched online

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

The New York Times reported on April 18 that one man's early vision for a digital sound library of world folk songs, the Global Jukebox, is now available to the public.

Its creation began in 1910 when John Lomax published Cowboy Songs And Other Frontier Ballads, which opened the world to the folk power of an American song heritage that put the "country" in country music long before the birth of the commercial genre.

Lomax's son, Alan Lomax, continued his father's work, preserving cultural gems from around the world. Alan Lomax died in 2002 having slaved over a vision for what we today call a streaming music service.

Shortly after Alan Lomax's death, he was awarded The Recording Academy's Trustees Award in 2003. His nonprofit, the Association for Cultural Equity announced its commitment to finish Lomax's website in 2012, and has since labored to complete his life's work and fulfill his digital dream. In 2015 ACE's endeavors were supported by a $20,000 grant from the GRAMMY Foundation's Grant Program, which recently merged with the GRAMMY Museum.

The Global Jukebox opens with a choice between interfaces organizing its annotated database of recordings on a world map or on a map of global culture. A veritable a landmark in the history of music preservation, it takes only a few clicks to join in these marvels of indigenous life in song.

Alan Lomax, the preservationist: The culture of Haiti comes to life