various artists,
Caribbean Voyage --
Nevis & St. Kitts:
Tea Meetings, Christmas Sports
& the Moonlight Night

(Rounder, 2002)

Tea Meetings, Christmas Sports & the Moonlight Night is another in the Alan Lomax collection of field recordings from the Caribbean, and part of the ongoing effort by our friends over at Rounder to capture all of the ethnomusicological work of Lomax fils et pere and preserve it digitally for future generations.

But, I hear you say, you know nothing about the musical ambiance of Nevis and St. Kitts! Heck, I might not even be able to find them on a map, but -- not to worry, gentle reader -- Rounder has seen your consternation and ably provided yet another superb set of liner notes, this time penned by Roger Abrahams. Not only does Abrahams give a cut-by-cut analysis of each selection (complete with a best-guess approximation of what the lyrics of a given song might be), but he also sets the musical stage by discussing at length those forces that shaped the native musical tradtions on these islands, from the multiple legacies of life as a British colonial enclave to the attempts in the post-World War II islands to woo tourism to the islands using music festivals organized around holidays as a major ploy.

The Christmas sports mentioned in the title really reached fruition in a gradually institutionalized native musical competition which reached its zenith during the Christmas holidays. The freestyle banter prefacing the tea meeting music speaks volumes about what the natives thought about the social habits of their British "betters," while the two sets of shanteys included provide a look at the sea-based life of many islanders in as vivid and fundamental way as possible. All in all, the offerings provide a sterling crossection of the role of local music in the social lives of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis.

The disc opens with a pair of quadrilles (dances) essayed on guitars, flutes and local percussion. These give way to the Christmas song "Good Morning," a cheerful tune which in turn leads into a set of shanteys, the best of which is the opener, "Do, My Jolly Boy." These call-and-response tunes focus on the fundamentals of a life earned from the sea, money earned, and in "Feeny Brown," the women who take or seduce it away. The daily menu is up for scrutiny in "Blow Booy Blow," and there is no room for confusion of the central metaphor in "See the Nanny-O."

The ribaldry of that tune yields in turn to the children's counting song, "One, Two, Three," and is followed in short order by the story-telling calypso, "Brimstone Hill." There follow two female chorales, the a cappella "Mr. Dog He Came to Town" and an interesting local variant of the folk standard "Willie Boy (Darlin' Willie)." The second shantey set follows, with the standout here the old standard "Yankee John Stormalong." Next up is a bizarre island reading of "Streets of Loredo," and a set of dialogue and singing in the tea meeting collage "Mr. Highback." The disc closes with "Rag Time," an instrumental march, and the call-and-response tune, "Bull Dog Goin' Bite Me."

In closing, I encourage you to seek this out if you have any interest in Caribbean folk music at all. Keep in mind that these are vintage 1962 field recordings, and modern digital wizardry can only impose so much fidelity on these masters. Given the spontaneity of the music, though, I feel it is best served in all of its original raw authority. Wrap yourself around a beverage of choice and allow yourself to be carried off to a faraway beach with these gifted musicians from Nevis and St. Kitts.

- Rambles
written by Gilbert Head
published 22 March 2003

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