A Music Of Exile: Haiti During The Duvalier Years

The following is the introduction to an interview with Jose Tarvernier, Haitian musician of the band Ibo Combo. The interview appeared on NPR.

Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978

From Ricky Ricardo to the Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban music has always seemed to find big audiences here in the U.S.; for lots of people, it’s become the sound of the Caribbean. A new compilation hopes to expand our horizons a bit by introducing the sounds that came out of Haiti, before and during the Duvalier regimes. It’s called Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978.

“The Haitian sound was something that was extremely important across the Caribbean at the time, but has been ignored for whatever reason,” says archivist Hugo Mendez, who produced the collection. “It’s been difficult to get your hands on, so the idea behind the compilation was to represent music that has been very important for many people, but has not been available, say, in America or in Europe.”

Mendez unearthed 28 lost recordings. In the process, he got to know some of the people who played this music, many of whom had to flee the country to avoid the abuses of Francois “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. One of those musicians, José Tavernier of the band Ibo Combo, joined Mendez and NPR’s Kelly McEvers to talk about how these volatile years shaped Haiti’s musical profile. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

See for the audio interview: A Music in Exile

Culture diaspora Music

Author of Blues People Dies.

Amiri Baraka, playwright, poet, activist, and author of Blues People, died on Thursday 9th January in Newark, New Jersey. He was 79 years old. May he Rest in Peace.

BarakaAmiri Baraka and his wife, Amina, at the 2012 concert of the Cicely Tyson School of the Performing Arts Jazz Band. Photo courtesy Ken Archer

See the following report: Amiri Baraka Dies


William Grant Still’s Troubled Island

As advertised by the Center for Black Music Research.

South Shore Opera Company of Chicago presents

Troubled Island

an opera in four acts by William Grant Still
libretto by Langston Hughes

Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
Robeson Theater
South Shore Cultural Center
7059 South Shore Drive, Chicago

Tickets: $100 • $50 • $35
The $100 ticket includes a post-opera celebration including dinner. Please call 773-723-4627 for availability.
Purchase online at

William Grant Still’s Troubled Island chronicles revolution, the birth of a Black nation, and a charismatic leader’s epic fall from grace.

Troubled Island grapples with love and lust, trust and betrayal, set against the backdrop of Haiti’s historic battle for freedom. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the opera’s central figure, shook the world, defeating Napoleon’s forces in the Caribbean, forging a new nation, and inspiring slaves across the globe. The libretto by Langston Hughes gives voice to all people fighting injustice.

mural of Jean-Jacques Dessalines
mural of Jean-Jacques Dessalines in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Still’s music exhibits a mature and original voice, projecting an easy virtuosity. His style combines the intensity and grandeur of late Romantic opera with the piquancy and dynamism of traditional African-American music.

Our not-to-be-missed single performance makes use of the composer’s own piano version, representing his authentic statement of the opera’s musical essence.

Come experience this forgotten masterpiece!

To celebrate South Shore Opera’s fifth anniversary, the internationally acclaimed conductor Leslie Dunner has been engaged to lead the singers in this masterwork deserving a place in the standard repertoire. Maestro Dunner leads an all-star cast.

  • Leslie Dunner, conductor
  • Kirk Walker, baritone
  • Gwendolyn Brown, contralto
  • Cornelius Johnson, tenor
  • Dana Campbell, soprano
Culture diaspora Festivals Mask Music

Cambridge Carnival: A Caribbean Connection.

The 21st installment of the Cambridge Carnival took place on Sunday, September 8, 2013. The following is a gallery of images from the festive event.

Community Organizations Culture diaspora History

Caribbean-American History: The Manhattan-based Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society

The following article was written by Jared MacCallister and published in the New York Daily News, Sept. 14, 2013.

AntBarbThe national flag flies proudly outside the Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society’s Harlem headquarters, purchased in 1964. Picture by Jared MacCallister.

Those who think Caribbean immigrants are newcomers to New York really need to think again. The 79-year-old Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society shatters that untruth.

The Manhattan-based organization will have its history and decades-long dedication to Caribbean culture and Harlem, and some of its artifacts, touted in “A Lighthouse in New York: Opening Reception; Panel Discussion,” a free exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (at W. 135th St.), from 6 p.m to 9 p.m., in Manhattan, on Sept. 27.

“Everything is going very, very well,” society spokeswoman Mona Wyre Manigo said of the exhibition, which reflects the trials and tribulations of Caribbean peoples — here and abroad — over the organization’s first 50 years of exsistence. “It’s going to be an exciting moment for Antigua and Barbuda. I’ve looked at the documents and every time I think about it, I get chills.”

For example, said Manigo, there are documents about an urgent meeting calling “all Caribbean people in Harlem” to support a letter to Britain, demanding that the head of colonial Antigua be removed from office for mistreating island residents. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from Britain in 1981.

The donated materials also contain historic correspondence from institutions and individuals, such as Antigua Trades and Labour Union President V.C. Bird, before he became Antigua and Barbuda’s first prime minister.

Donated in 2011, the historic records provide a detailed glimpse into migration to New York and the life and pursuits of new arrvials. The records will later be available for researchers.

In 1934, James Roberts and 22 other Antiguan immigrants started the Antigua Progressive Society, which was incorporated the following year with the goals of promoting their culture, aiding members and their families in times of sickness and death, aiding their Caribbean homeland and encouraging “educational excellence” among youth.

The Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society was created through a 2010 bylaw change designed to incorporate Barbudian New Yorkers who were served by the now-defunct Barbuda Benevolent Society of America. The Barbuda group was established in 1915 and lasted 62 years.

Today, Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society members continue to work hard at maintining cultural — and many civic — commitments under a board of directors, including President M. Roz. Olatunji. The group meets monthly at society headquarters, the Antigua and Barbuda House on W. 122nd St. in Harlem.

In addition to aiding Antiguan and Barbudian nationals, the children in the Harlem and other projects, the group fulfills its civic responsibility by participating in the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, Central Harlem’s Community Board 10 and the 28th Precinct Community Council.

In October, the society will commemorate its birthday with a 79th Anniversary Celebration and Awards Banquet, “Honoring Our Past and Embracing Our Future.” The event will be held Oct. 19 in the faculty dining hall of the City College Of New York, 160 Covent Ave., from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Donation is $75 and proceeds will aid the organization’s building renovation fund.

Read more: NYDailyNews

Calypso Music Steel Pan

At 75, more still to come from Rodney

The following, which pays homage to steelpan great Earl Rodney, was written by Zahra Gordon and published in The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper, June 25th, 2013.

At the peak of his solo career, musician and arranger Earl Rodney was travelling frequently between the UK, the US and Trinidad performing at various events. Since 2008, he’s been based in Trinidad and has remained largely out of the public eye.

According to Rodney, travelling was rough and a well-deserved break was needed. The 75-year-old Point Fortin-native has spent a lot of time working on his garden, finishing his home, and generally relaxing.

This does not mean, however, that he’s given up music. During an interview with the T&T Guardian last week at his home in Point Fortin, Rodney said he is still learning.

“I keep playing all the time. I’m improving. Everyday I go on my pan and find out things I didn’t know before. It’s like you’ve never seen the pan before. I haven’t reached a bottleneck yet. It’s like out there (pointing to the sky), there’s no end.”

A few more “outings” are turning up for Rodney this year, however. During Carnival he performed at a Trinbago Unified Calpysonians Organisation (TUCO) event and in May was featured in the Point Jazz concert as part of Borough Day celebrations. Last weekend he was also the featured artist at the birdsong Benefit Concert held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA). Working with birdsong, Rodney has been introduced to young musicians whom he can envision future work with. Making a connection with real musicians, who have both talent and dedication is a rare occasion, according to Rodney.

Although Rodney said he’s able to bridge generational gaps, he doesn’t see himself fitting in with today’s local music industry.

“All over the world there’s a downgrade in music. You go to England you’ll hear the same complaints. In between there’s some good ones that could last a few years,” he said. “But these people who are into the Carnival thing, I wonder if they can remember the Road March or the Soca Monarch from last year. I hate to say that and I wish I didn’t have to say it. People used to sit down to write and arrange music for people to dance. It’s a different time and these people are enjoying their time, but for me, the music isn’t going anywhere.”

His disappointment with the industry will not stop him from producing. He has a few projects under his sleeve. He hopes to build a studio and has the scores of numerous compositions waiting to be recorded piled up at home. He also wants to work on scores for film or theatre as this is one area in his vast career that he has yet to venture into.

Rodney may best be known for his winning Panorama arrangements for Solo Harmonites and his work on iconic calypso music. As a member of the Troubadours he arranged seven albums for the Mighty Sparrow. He has also arranged and played with Lord Kitchener, Arrow, Black Stalin, Valentino, Lord Melody and Explainer, to name a few. Although Rodney has worked extensively in calypso, he admitted that his favourite genre is Latin.

“Almost everything I do has a little Latin in it,” he said. Rodney shared that while growing up in Point Fortin, it was Latin music that filled nightclubs.

Rodney is also remembered for his 1972 recording Friends and Countrymen. He has recorded two other solo albums: Steelband Music (1999) and Pure Original Music (2002). Rodney said he has all intentions of recording another album and developing new methods to record live steelband music, which can often be difficult.

“We need a good way to capture pan and I don’t know how come we haven’t come up with one yet,” he said.

His formula for longevity and the large body of work come from an undescribable source, he said.

“For me it’s not a labour really because most of my compositions just come to me. Sometimes I do sit down and manufacture something, but other times it just comes from nowhere. I’ll be watching TV and just hear music in my head. These things are magical. Music for me is a natural thing.”

Earl Rodney was co-founder of Tropical Harmony Steelband and a former member of the T&T National Steelband. He was also a bass player in the band Dutchy Brothers during the 1960s and 70s. As arranger for Solo Harmonites, the band won four Panorama titles.For the original post:

At 75, more still to come from Rodney | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Calypso Music

Roots Revives Caribbean Nights

Pelham Goddard, the man behind this fortnightly special, has been responsible for some of the biggest soca hits of the last four decades. He has been the musical genie behind the late Maestro, Calypso Rose, SuperBlue, David Rudder and Chris “Tambu” Herbert.

Musician, arranger, producer, Goddard began his career at a very early age, since the days of the combos, graduating into the studio as the keyboardist for all the big name artistes of the era. He played everything, be it calypso or local pop ballads and was eventually also part of the creation of a new hybrid calypso genre, made by Lord Shorty, the late Ras Shorty I.

In 1975 a small group of musicians which comprised of drums, bass, guitar, saxophone and Goddard on keyboards formed a band and called it Sensational Roots. The band was based at KH studios in Sea Lots where it did most of the studio’s products on its label, on the Kalinda label. The quickly hailed as the country’s top studio band and was hired the do a project with the Wild Fire singing group, embarking on a whistlestop tour, traversing the entire nation, with star guests like Mavis John. Roots also worked with celebrated playwright Derek Walcott on one of his productions at The Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook.

In 1976, when the studio upgraded to 16-track facility, New York-based Trini entrepreneur Rawlston “Charlie” Charles signed Goddard and Roots to record the calypso Savage with Maestro. The single was a mega hit. That year, Roots also was also a hit for Labour Day Carnival. After producing Kitchener’s Christmas hit Drink A Rum, Charles decided to sponsor Roots as a road band. Now known as Charlie’s Roots, the aggregation set about promoting the new wave sound of soca.

On Charles’ CR label, in 1977, Roots produced two songs for Maestro–Calypso Music and Play Me. The band also did More Tempo and Action Is Tight for Calypso Rose, and she won the Road March title, a first for Goddard.

After the Carnival ’77, Roots returned to New York and purchased all the instruments and equipment to start Charlie’s Roots, officially launched in July 1977. Ironically, simultaneously, on the same night of the launch, a new mas band was launched by a talented artist who would change the face of T&T mas forever–his name was Peter Minshall. Minshall and Charlie’s Roots remained joined at the hip for the next 15 years.

In 1978, Calypso Rose repeated the Road March with Goddard’s arrangement of Come Leh we Jam. What happened next was a slew of Road March victories for Goddard, producing hit after hit for Blue Boy (SuperBlue), Penguin, Rudder and Tambu. To this day no one has matched Goddard and Roots record of 12 Road Marches and most popular songs. Included among these hits are Soca Baptist, Rebecca, Ethel, No No We Aint going home, Free up, Bahia Girl, The Hammer, This party is it, Permission to mash up the place, and Bacchanal Lady.

In 1985, Goddard and Roots introduced Caribbean Night, on a Thursday night, at Atlantis Club in West Mall, later renamed Upper Level Club. This programme that grew into something very massive as the aggregation showcased all the music of the Caribbean.

The second coming Caribbean Night has quickly become a regular fixture at The Mas Camp. Blessed with a wealth of superb musicians, Goddard and Roots are guaranteed please crowds at any kind of event.

The band comprises of a 12 piece orchestra and can be contacted for bookings at 738 6940/628 1823, or by e-mail at

For the original report go to

See also: Roots to jam with 3canal at Caribbean Night | Repeating Islands.


Gandy dancers

Posted in Bibliolore, May 31, 2013

gandy dancers

Before the 1950s, all railroad tracks in the U.S. were laid and maintained by hand labor. In the segregated South, this work was mainly done by black men.

The section crews responsible for maintaining the tracks were sometimes known as gandy dancers, probably because of the coordinated rhythmic movements required for repositioning tracks that had become misaligned. They synchronized their movements with call-and-response singing of improvised couplets and stock refrains.

The tradition is documented in Gandy dancers by Maggie Holtzberg and Barry Dornfeld (Cinema Guild, 1994). Below, the trailer for the film; the complete 30-minute film can be viewed here.

For the original post: Gandy dancers | Bibliolore.

Ethnomusicology Music

J.H.K. Nketia, Ghanaian ethnomusicologist

The following appeared in Bibliolore, Feb. 24, 2011.

Ever since the publication of his African Music in Ghana (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (b.1921) has been reknowned among ethnomusicologists. His distinguished career has included many fine publications on music in Africa and its diaspora. The first volume of his collected papers, Ethnomusicology and African music: Modes of inquiry and interpretation, was issued by Afram Publications in 2005.

Nketia’s extensive background in musicology gave him the tools to revolutionize the analysis of African drumming, and since the 1980s he has produced landmark articles on more general aspects of ethnomusicological theory. He is also a composer—he studied with Henry Cowell in the late 1950s—who has written works for both Western and African instruments.

For original post: J.H.K. Nketia, Ghanaian ethnomusicologist | Bibliolore.

Calypso History Music

Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putnam’s “Radical Moves”

The following review of Lara Putman’s Radical Moves was written by John Cline and published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2, 2013.

IN 1987, THE EMINENT ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST Richard K. Spottswood compiled an LP for Arhoolie Records titled Where Was Butler? It was subtitled “A Calypso Documentary from Trinidad,” and features many of the stars of the island’s music scene from the 1930s, including Attila the Hun and Growling Tiger. While this record has never been re-released on CD, nor is it available on iTunes, its 16 tracks constitute one of the most fascinating calypso collections ever produced. Long before Public Enemy’s Chuck D proclaimed his oft-repeated maxim that hip-hop is the “black CNN,” calypsonians from Trinidad were narrating the struggles experienced by the island’s oil field workers, led by one Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. In addition to being a labor leader, the Grenada-born Butler was also a Spiritual Baptist preacher, a faith practice then outlawed in Trinidad due to anxieties provoked by its Pentecostal-like emphasis on shouting and physical “possession” by the Holy Spirit.

You Tube – “Where was Butler”, Raymond Quevedo -Atilla The Hun.

Butler is a major figure in Lara Putnam’s Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age, his life illustrating the core thesis of her book. In her conclusion, Putnam states that:

black-internationalist and anti-colonial movements that would shake the twentieth century were rooted in the experiences of ordinary men and women — not only the cosmopolitan streets of Harlem and Paris but also in the banana ports and dance halls of the tropical circum-Caribbean.

Radical Moves thus implicitly offers a corrective to conventional histories of African Diaspora. Paul Gilroy’s 1993 The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness stressed the international character of the literature and politics of African-descended peoples in the 20th century, and focused his attention on major figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Richard Wright. In the ensuing years, scholars like Brent Hayes Edwards and Minkah Makalani have expanded on Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic,” focusing on metropolitan centers like New York, Paris, and London, filling in the details with somewhat lesser known individuals and organizations. These authors, like Gilroy, prefer to write about individuals with international profiles and concrete political movements, from Claude McKay to the African Blood Brotherhood in Harlem and from George Padmore to the International African Service Bureau in London. In Radical Moves, however, Putnam chooses to focus instead on “the forgotten editors of port-town newspapers and the many thousands of men and women who read their pages and debated the merits in rum shops and butcher store queues.” Within the historiography of the African Diaspora, this is a shift akin to that between the union-centric studies of the “Wisconsin School” of labor history and the opening up to the quotidian of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

For the full original report: Los Angeles Review of Books – Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putman’s “Radical Moves”