Saturday, May 1, 2010
video mother lode!
Yesterday, hopefully, I "bottomed" on my current NOLA obsession. I went searching for a capella Mardi Gras Indian recordings (as noted in my preceding post) and found them scarce as hens teeth. Having downloaded the only thing readily available, the bee was buzzing in my bonnet so I started bugging friends who are involved with releasing music of the general exotic/archival sort. My goal was to get someone down to NOLA with field recording equipment asap as it does seem that this particular tradition is in a relatively perilous position -- not distinctly poised for inevitable quick extinction but dicey enough that documenting it soon seemed important.
One friend, who works at the Association For Cultural Equity - the organization (a grand term considering the reality -- seedy offices behind the Port Authority with a handful of staffers, most of whom are part time at this juncture I believe -- clearly they don't spend the grant money they get on their own comforts!) who do a grand job of curating the archives amassed by the legendary folklorist Alan Lomax.
From the 1930's onwards John Lomax, followed by his son Alan were among the foremost documenters of "folk" musics in the world. They paid especial attention to American musical culture, MOST especially (but not exclusively) African American. To crudely sum up some of their central theses -- which were declared preposterous by their colleagues when first stated (!!!!) -- 1) that African American folk music had in fact evolved from African forms rather than being merely "degenerate" forms of European music (John had to leave the American Folk Music Society -- which he'd founded -- over this "heresy") 2) that the hopes, dreams, fears of African American peoples -- all the things that spoke so eloquently of their travails AND common humanity with European derived peoples -- were powerfully present in their music AND if that music were to confront the whites of America that they'd inevitably come to fully accept blacks as their equals and fight to make sure that their civil and human rights were established and zealously supported. Hard to understand how radical these thoughts were back then, but they, sadly, were.
Eventually Lomax's dreams came to fruition. Clearly not fully yet, but...times have changed somewhat from days when he was chased from Memphis side streets by the police for having a casual conversation with black citizens till today when we have a black President.
So that's who he was (ever so briefly).
But what he'd done that's pertinent to the opening discussion, was to visit New Orleans in 1982 and make extensive video tapes of musical performances by Mardi Gras Indian krewes, R&B performers (Ernie K-Doe!), brass bands, etc., interviews with these folks among others and much much more. And it's all accessible FOR FREE here:
There's TONS of other materials accessible here (15,000 songs!). but this is a cool place to start.