In 1991 Alan Lomax visited Carriacou, Grenada, for the first time in nearly 30 years to attend the Stone Feast of Sugar Adams. Adams, one of the island's most revered musicians, had died ten years earlier and tradition demanded a round of sacrifices, feastiing, and ritual music-making for the raising of his headstone. Lomax brought along a camcorder and copies of his 1962 Carriacou recordings to share with participants, including local musicologist Winston Fleary and Canute Caliste, a fiddler in the local quadrille tradition, who had also recorded for Alan in '62.
While in Carriacou, Alan shot an interview with Mr. Caliste, and nearly two hours of the Shakespeare Mas' — the remarkable Carnival tradition in which men in outlandish Pierrot outfits engage in "combats" — reciting from Julius Caesar and thrashing one another with switches when a speech is deemed poor or incorrect. These video recordings constitute Alan Lomax's last field trip.
This playlist is a celebration of the enduring Big Drum tradition and a platform for cultural feedback with the people of Carriacou, Grenada, and throughout the Grenadian Diaspora.
The Big Drum Nation Dance is a religious and social ritual that has been maintained on the Grenadian island of Carriacou since the 17th century. A way of uniting diverse African ethnicities, Big Drum salutes each one and reverences the Ancestors and the Gods. It is a key element in the Tombstone Feast, when a tombstone is erected for a deceased person after the passing of years; it is also used at marriages, births, boat launchings, the building of a new house, and at village Maroon festival. Kromanti Cudjoe, a legendary Maroon drummer, established the Big Drum in its current form in the early 1800s.
Scholars believe that Big Drum is remarkably close to original West and Central African music brought by Africans to the Caribbean four hundred years ago. Players of Big Drum cite oral traditions that date back to the early 1700s, relatively unchanged.
We encourage friends from Carriacou to share their knowledge and leave comments so as to deepen our understanding and appreciation of Big Drum. Suggestions and corrections are welcome.
Alan Lomax, his sister Bess Lomax Hawes, and his daughter, Anna Lomax Wood, have all worked closely with musician, dancer, and cultural activist Winston Fleary. A tireless advocate for Carriacou's rich heritage of folklore, Winston was made Cultural Ambassador for Grenada in 2011.
Winston Fleary: "My aunt had been a dancer and singer in Big Drum and had recently passed away. In 1968 she came to me in a dream. She told me, 'You must take up the drum and play.' I dug out one of the old drums and put it in my apartment in the hope that I would have no more such dreams. But then a few years later I was at a friend's house. He played me some ethnomusicological recordings made in Carriacou and I heard my aunt singing. I was transfixed and knew what I had to do for the rest of my life. I soon returned to Carriacou to learn to perform the art of the Big Drum from the old living masters. Since that day I have never stopped playing. Later on in New York I met and befriended Alan, who supported every aspect of my career."
In 2012 Winston Fleary and descendants of dancers and musicians that Alan Lomax first recorded in 1962 invited Anna Lomax Wood (Association for Cultural Equity), Kimberly Green (Green Family Foundation), and filmmaker John Melville Bishop (Media-Generation) to Carriacou to document a Big Drum dance and other traditional performances and rituals. Winston provided commentaries and song translations; Ronald Kephart, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Florida, generously revised our song trancriptions.
We thank all of the participants in these scenes who made us welcome in their homes and private ceremonies, and sat and talked with us. We appreciate the support and collaboration of Dr. George Vincent, Minster for Tourism and Culture; the Hon. Dessima Williams, Grenadian Ambassador to the United Nations; George Prime, senator from Carriacou; Gloria Payne Banfield, Chairperson of the National Service Commission; Livingston Nelson, President of the Grenada Cultural Foundation; Anthony "Sugar Patch" Douglas, President of the Carriacou Cultural Institute; and Winston Fleary, Cultural Ambassador for Grenada who made this all possible. Many scholars have documented folklife and history in Carriacou, leaving an invaluable record: M.G. Smith, Pearl Primus, Kathleen Dunham, Andrew Pearse, Donald Hill, Lorna McDaniel, Angus Martin, and Beverly Steele. We are indebted to their work.
The Association for Cultural Equity Green Family Foundation Media-Generation