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World and traditional music: Caribbean

The Sound Archive world and traditional music collections include music from the Caribbean.

Collection overview

Caribbean unpublished recordings comprise 9=nine separate ethnographic collections dating from the early 1950s, some amounting to hundreds of hours of recordings. Published holdings include recordings on regional and western record labels, our strongest representation coming, perhaps, from Cuba.

Published recordings

The Sound Archive's material from the Caribbean and its diaspora, in particular the UK, are rich and varied. The colonisation of the Caribbean region by most European powers and the consequent 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 Sound Archive holds a sizeable collection of early calypso and mento recordings on 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 widely found on most Caribbean islands and is well represented in the collection. More recent styles based on traditional Caribbean rhythms, such as reggae, zouk and salsa, have also conquered the international music scene, shaping many of the latest trends in pop music. All these styles and their offshoots feature widely in the archive's holdings. The collection of Cuban music is notable, dating from 1920s and 1930s publications on His Masters Voice oft-cited GV series to the present revival, with a wide range of contemporary musicians published on the Tumbao, Areito and Egrem regional labels plus a whole host of western labels.

Unpublished recordings

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. Helen Myers's extensive collection of recordings of Trinidad's Indian community (C7) made between 1974 and 1985 are well enhanced by her book Music of Hindu Trinidad: Songs from the India Diaspora (University of Chicago Press, 1997). The earliest recordings from the region in the Sound Archive's collections were made by Mike Smith in Grenada and Curacao in 1952-53.

Further information

Janet Topp Fargion
Curator, World and Traditional Music
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7427
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441


PDF files

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