Alan Lomax recordings of Haitian music released

The Wall Street Journal has just reviewed the newly released 10-CD box set of the music that Alan Lomax recorded in Haiti in 1936-1937. The brief review follows, with a link to the original article:

In 1936, in the middle of scouring rural America for folk music that might have vanished forever if not for his efforts, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax traipsed off to Haiti for four months with his 19-year-old fiancée and a 55-pound recording unit. The results are only now available for anyone to hear.

Mr. Lomax was out to document the music of everyday Haitians, in whatever form, and to hunt for the influence of African music, as he had in the U.S. A 10-CD box set, “Alan Lomax in Haiti,” traces how Mr. Lomax moved from the most accessible sounds, such as the dance bands of Port-au-Prince, who had incorporated New Orleans jazz from records imported by occupying U.S. Marines. Following leads around the country, he acquired celebratory carnival songs, work songs, and eventually the music of officially forbidden Vodou (what is commonly known as voodoo) ceremonies.

As the musicians played for Mr. Lomax (pictured at right), his recording device cut sound grooves onto aluminum discs. He produced some 50 hours of sound. But the music was never publicly released. Mr. Lomax rushed on to other places and projects, and when he did revisit the Haiti recordings in the 1970s, the sound quality disappointed him.

About 10 years ago, daughter Anna Lomax Wood helped launch an effort to clean up the recordings. New software minimized surface noise and enhanced the sound. A nonprofit founded by Mr. Lomax co-produced the 10-CD set, which is also available for download and was released this week. It includes film footage shot by wife Elizabeth, whom he wed in Haiti, and a transcription of Mr. Lomax’s field journal.

In the music, scholars are hearing sounds believed nearly extinct. “I was agog on a daily basis,” says Gage Averill, who heads the Society for Ethnomusicology and compiled the box set. For instance, cantiques, hymns in the medieval tradition, were “like hearing a 300-year-old preserved practice.” For casual listeners, however, the scratchy recordings of meringues and “djaz” bands will seem more familiar.

For the complete article go to

To purchase the set go to

One thought on “Alan Lomax recordings of Haitian music released

  1. Mr. Lomax had the foresight, knowledge and dedication to undertake this and many other similar musical heritage preservation projects. All of us who enjoy, respect and appreciate the origins of ethnic music owe him a debt of gratitude. RIGHT ON!!

    Great post!!

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