In 1962, the British West Indies were on the verge of independence. With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and sponsorship from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Alan Lomax arranged to record the music of the Lesser Antilles, the chain of islands that form the south-eastern edge of the Caribbean archipelago. His idea was to document the region’s musical and cultural commonalities in order to support the Trinidadian and Jamaican plan for post-colonial Caribbean unity, which it was hoped would be realized through a West Indian Federation. He also wished to continue and expand the Caribbean research he had begun in the Bahamas (1935) and Haiti (1937).
This collection samples the rich linguistic and stylistic variety of then still-living and growing folk traditions in the Caribbean, rooted in West and Central Africa, Britain, France, Spain, Central America, and the Bhojpuri-speaking regions of India. Work songs of numerous types, lullabies, pass-play songs, antique French ballads, chant-fables, beguines, Shango, Nation dances, chaupai, steel band music, funerary music, Doption, anthems, string band (a-cling a-ling), tamboo-bamboo, parang, and calypso were recorded on portable stereo equipment. Folklorist J. D. Elder, Minister of Culture for Trinidad under Eric Williams, worked with Alan Lomax on the project; other collaborators included Dan Crowley, Roger Abrahams (Nevis and St. Kitts), and Derek Walcott (St. Lucia). Antoinette Marchand and Anna Lomax assisted in the field.