06 January 2010

Untold Richness: A Knee-Jerk Review of Alan Lomax in Haiti

Even on picking up this 10-disc, 2-book boxed set of the music of Haiti recorded in 1936-7 by folklorist Alan Lomax you are impressed by its weight (both literally and figuratively). The front cover sports the statement "Recordings for the Library of Congress". On the back, a sticker on the shrink wrap is the promise of the box' contents, books, music discs, a map with Lomax' original travel notes, and film footage of their visit.

But as with all good boxed sets, it is in the actual opening and exploring that you get most of your value. The first thing you notice opening the over-sized cigar box is the smell. There is a scent of sweet tobacco (already, unfortunately fading in mine) as if the box had been found and repurposed by Lomax himself and sent straight to you from 1937. The Notebook: Haiti 1936-1937 is attached to the cover, in a separate sleeve. The title is handwritten and the book looks like a bound notebook. It is a collection of letters, notes, and commentaries written by (and to) Lomax during his travels.

The second book contains the liner notes, written by Gage Averill and consists of lyrics (translated and in the original Creole), notes and pictures. A foreword is written by Lomax' daughter (?), Anna Lomax Wood and the entire project is impressively intricate and rigorous. The map (as well as two mini-photos, which seem tossed in as an afterthought) provide an oddly exciting tactility to the experience of listening to the lo-fi recordings.

On the whole, the set is an invitation to a lost time, just a few years after the U.S. Occupation ended (1934), and in being transported, you're also given the opportunity to understand that world thanks to the copious notes and commentaries.

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Stogie! I need your new address - our holiday card to you got returned - again - this year as apparently I didn't follow up last year... can you email me your new digs?
thanks -
Kephart

オテモヤン said...
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