various artists,
Caribbean Voyage:
Trinidad: Carnival Roots

(Rounder, 2000)

Caribbean Voyage: Trinidad: Carnival Roots is another in ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax's series of recordings made several decades ago and recently released on CD. This album was recorded in Trinidad in 1962, and contains primarily material relating to Shrovetide Carnival, a pre-Lenten celebration similar in many ways to New Orleans' Mardi Gras. The 28-track CD contains an assortment of music in various traditional styles, and some interviews and spoken pieces. All are fascinating, and the music is infectious, too!

In many ways this CD reminds me of the annual Christmas Revels, performed in various cities around the country. While this album is authentic and the Revels crafted, both contain a wealth of traditional materials as well as some context to help one understand and appreciate them. This CD adds extensive liner notes on the history of the 1962 field recording project, the culture of the island, the history of the carnival and more, including a complete transcription of every track and notes on the music. It's a lot of material, but well worth reading since it adds greatly to one's understanding and appreciation of the music.

Percussion is a theme in most of the music here, adding its polyrhythmic counterbalance to a wide range of musical influences and sounds. I was particularly taken with the call-and-response songs, whose structure is enriched by the elaborate drumming underlaying the vocals. It was interesting to hear these songs accompanied by distinctly Latin music, with a sound similar to some Brazilian styles, such as "Pasillo." "Castilian" has a sound reminiscent of zydeco, and "Call Ellen for Me" and "War" have a roots reggae/calypso sound -- all of which point out the melting pot aspect of Caribbean culture.

I particularly liked Lomax's inclusion of different versions of a song. "Ay Sí Ay No," "Fire Brigade Water the Road" and "Maysotis" each have two versions included, and I enjoyed hearing their similarities and differences.

World music fans will like this album a lot. It shows some of the roots of modern worldbeat, and not just Caribbean; the mixtures of European and African traditions that are so important to worldbeat have much in common with similar mixes in traditional Caribbean music. It is also a wonderful resource of pre-worldbeat music from this location; although I love worldbeat, there's a danger that in the excitement of the mixtures the traditions from which they sprang will be lost, and future music would be the poorer for that. Lomax has collected styles that were fading at the time of recording, allowing us to hear them. Incidentally, he gave copies of the tapes he made to the University of the West Indies, and shares publishing revenues with them. It's nice to be able to recommend and album both for being and doing good!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]