31 January 2006

Alan Lomax, World Music Pioneer

We live in a golden era, musically if not politically. More than ever before, one can find with relative ease recorded music from all over the planet. Music from the Central African rainforest-dwelling Baka people? No problem! Inuit women's throat-singing? You got it, bub! But the internet is just a medium. Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the heroes who wandered the planet long before anyone who had thought up the phrase "world music," recording other people's local music and bringing it to a wider audience.

But Alan Lomax wasn't doing this just for the Western world. He says, in a 1991 interview with Charles Kuralt, that along the way he realized how empowering the recordings were for the musicians and singers.

The incredible thing is that when you could play this music back to people, it changed everything for them. They realized that their stuff and they were just as good as anybody else. Then I found out that what I was really doing and my father was really doing was giving an avenue for those people to express themselves and tell their side of the story.

In 1962 and 1967 Lomax traveled to the islands of the Caribbean. On Trinidad, he recorded a complete album of Neville "Growling Tiger"Marcano called Portraits: The Growling Tiger Of Calypso. This calypso duet with Lord Airey is from The Caribbean Collection, which apparently is out of print (though one can also find the song on The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler, along with 37 other tunes from his travels).

[mp3] Growling Tiger & Lord Airey: "War"

Lomax died in 2002, but left many writings and recordings. Google him and you'll get a wealth of info, including his own site at www.alan-lomax.com and his music published by Rounder. Happy birthday, Alan!


Christopher W. Speaks said...

I didn't realize today was Lomax's birthday. I just recently discovered the work of Alan Lomax by his role in recording the music of Southern African-Americans here in America. Since I'm interested in the roots of American music, which is the subject of my blog, I've not had a chance to explore Lomax's recordings in world music although I knew they existed. This song really makes me wanna hear more of what Lomax heard back in the day.

SpinTheGlobe said...

Hey Chris -
Yeah, Lomax traveled to many places where folk/traditional music was being lost, or wasn't being preserved. From the deep South of the USA to the Caribbean to Europe. Your focus on the South reminds me of one Lomax-based album that came out in 2004, called Alan Lomax's Southern Journey Remixed. It's Lomax recordings plus electronica mixed by the Tangle Eye collective. To my ear, some of it works, some doesn't. But it's an interesting experiment, and hopefully one that will send more people back to the music's roots!

David Pohl said...

I was very influenced by the Alan Lomax recordings
released on Smithsonian Folkways.
He is one of America's great music heroes, finally getting some long overdue credit.
A music
project I began in 1983 was deeply
influenced by the primal funk recordings that
Mr. Lomax made during the 30's + 40's in the
deep south.