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Caribbean Sound Recordings

The Sound Archive is rich in material from the Caribbean region, collected since the beginning of recording technology. It originates both from the Caribbean itself or from its diaspora, in particular the UK, where many immigrants and their descendants have lived since the 1930s, making a significant imprint on British culture. Much Caribbean music and literature being oral in essence, sound recording is often the best medium through which they can be documented.

Recordings of Caribbean music, whether traditional or modern, feature prominently in the archive's holdings. World and Traditional Music includes mostly music described as traditional or at least strongly rooted in tradition. The colonisation of the Caribbean region by most European powers and the consequent huge movements of population between Africa, Europe, India and the Caribbean islands themselves, have resulted in extremely diversified, yet distinctive, musical styles which bear the trace of their various, successive occupants. Two of the earliest recorded and best-known musical styles from the region are calypso, originating in Trinidad, and mento from Jamaica, in which reggae finds its roots. The World and Traditional Music holds a sizeable collection of early calypso and mento recordings on old shellac discs, published on record labels such as Melodisc, Calypsotime and MRS, or on recent CD-reissues, notably on the established American labels Rounder and Smithsonian Folkways. Carnival music, of which calypso is an essential component, is also widely found on most Caribbean islands and is consequently well-represented in the collection.

More modern styles based on traditional Caribbean rhythms, such as Jamaican reggae, zouk from the French Antilles, and salsa from Cuba, have also conquered the international music scene, shaping many of the latest trends in pop music. All these styles and their off-shoots feature widely in the archive's holdings. The World and Traditional Music has a large number of Cuban recordings, from the 1920s era (e.g. on His Masters Voice GV series) to the present revival.

In addition to published material, field recordings, mostly made by ethnomusicologists and anthropologists in the context of their academic work, occupy an important place in the collection (eg. Helen Myers's recordings of Trinidad's Indian community - C7), as do radio recordings (e.g. Radio Progresso, Cuba - C412) and concert recordings (e.g. Como No! - C616).

Rasin Aisien - Rasin AisienRecorded by Licia Bronzin and Cristina Recio in Havana, Cuba, 11th September 1995. Duration: 30" (extract only).

Rasin Aisien (ie. 'Haitian Roots') is a non-professional group of musicians and dancers, mostly of Haitian origins, living in Cuba. They perform popular folk songs in Creole. This recording was made as part of Licia Bronzin's studies at Goldsmiths' College, London.

The Sound Archive's Jazz holdings are enriched by the works of both Afro-Caribbean emigres and their descendants. Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson's West Indian Dance Orchestra was the first all-black British band, popular on records and in concert before and during the Second World War. The group contained future bandleaders in trumpeter Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson (arrived from Jamaica, 1935) and saxophonists Carl Barriteau (arrived from Trinidad 1937) and Bertie King (also arrived from Jamaica, 1935). Another Trinidadian, Lauderic Caton (arrived 1940), pioneered the electric guitar in Britain. These musicians helped form the backbone of the "swing era" in Britain.

The promise of immigration in the 1950s brought trumpeter/poet "Shake" Keane and tenor saxophonist Joe Harriott, the first musician to explore "free jazz" in Europe. More recently, British-born artists such as the reggae-flavoured Jazz Warriors and the world-famous Courtney Pine have mixed their jazz with the cultural ingredients of modern Britain.

The Jumping Jive - Caton and WilsonLauderic Caton Quartet, recorded at Levy's Sound Studios Ltd., 73 New Bond Street, London W1, ca. 1940-1941.

Lauderic Caton (b. 1910) came to London in 1940 from Trinidad by way of Martinique, France and Belgium. Although viewed with scepticism by club operators and other musicians because he used an amplifier, he did in fact pioneer the electric guitar in Britain. During the Second World War there were no British indie record companies in existence as there are today. Since Caton's group wasn't signed by a major label, they did the next best thing by recording this session privately, on the 78 rpm acetate disc. This number was later recorded by Harry Parry and his (BBC) Radio Rhythm Club Sextet, with both Caton and fellow guitarist Joe Deniz.

The Drama and Literature Section attempts to preserve and document every aspect of English-language spoken word performance. Black British and African-Caribbean poetry is well represented, "from mainstream to dub", to quote the title of a James Berry lecture given at the British Library in 1985. Poets recorded live by the Sound Archive include Louise Bennett, Jean "Binta" Breeze, Valerie Bloom, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Grace Nichols, Michael Smith and many more.

Grace Nichols reads 'Sugar Cane' (1983) From, i is a long memoried woman.

Collections with a specifically Caribbean content include the ATCAL Conference recordings, featuring Caryl Phillips, Vic Reid, Samuel Selvon and others, and the Commonwealth Institute Conference on Caribbean Writing, featuring Edward Kamau Braithwaite, Merle Collins, David Dabydeen, Earl Lovelace and others. Off-air recordings include profiles of writers such as George Lamming and C.L.R. James, as well as more general documentary material, while our live theatre recording programme has captured dramatic work by Derek Walcott and Fred D'Aguiar.

The Oral History Collection has a great deal relating to Afro-Caribbean migration to the UK, both interviews with early migrants from the 1940s onwards and a smaller number with their children. Particularly recent and accessible recordings are found in the Millennium Memory Bank collection (C900), but a few other collections contain relevant material, such as the Oral History of British Photography (C459), where interviews of a number of photographers of Afro-Caribbean origins are featured; the Hallam Nursing interviews (C768) which document the arrival of Dominican nurses to Britain in the 1950s; and the Barbados Migration Project (C825).

The Wildlife Sound Collection includes recordings of most birds of the Caribbean region, particularly those of Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles region. There are also recordings of bats from Dominica, and amphibians from Cuba. Published discs and cassettes are held but the majority of recordings are unpublished recordings contributed by sound recordists, ornithologists and other scientists. Copies of many of the unpublished wildlife recordings may be provided for scientific and educational studies and for publishing, broadcasting and film-making.

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