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West Indies: An Island Carnival

West Indies: An Island Carnival cover art

Track Listing

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About this Album

In order to provide a historical context for this recording, the liner notes that accompanied its original release have been reprinted in full. —Ed.

The West Indian island chain known as the Lesser Antilles stretches eastward from the Virgin Islands, southward to Trinidad, and then extends westward toward Aruba to complete an arching half-moon shape. For over half a millennium, the region has been host to a continuous ebb and flow of human migration that has left in its wake a kaleidoscope of cultural hybrids. When Columbus arrived on the scene in 1492, the politically aggressive Carib Indians were on the verge of completing their campaign to dominate the more peaceful Arawak inhabitants. The centuries of colonialism that followed saw Spanish, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, and other European nations vying for influence in the region. Many of the islands changed hands over twenty times during the fighting that ensued. The rise of the lucrative sugar plantation industry during this time, along with the near extinction of the native peoples, created a keen demand for slave labor, and the Yoruba, Congo, Ashanti, Mandinga, and many other West African tribal peoples that were imported in great numbers to fulfill this need soon dramatically outnumbered their European overseers.

After the Napoleonic wars, most of the islands came under British sovereignty and British policy became the predominant one in the Lesser Antilles. In 1806 the British banned the slave trade, and as a result, the Africans’ contact with African culture through newly arrived slaves came to an end. Later, when slavery was abolished in the British colonies in 1838, a new phase in the history of the Lesser Antilles began. The free Africans often refused to continue to work on the plantations, especially on the islands where there was plenty of untilled soil, which offered them possibilities to return to their own West African style of agriculture. Lack of available agricultural laborers for the large plantations led to a wave of immigration by contract workers, chiefly from other British colonies like India, China, and Lebanon-Syria. But large numbers of Scots, Irish, South Americans from Venezuela and Colombia, and Portuguese from Madeira also came. In addition, Indonesians came to the Dutch islands.

The varied cultural mix that resulted permeates all aspects of life in the Lesser Antilles and often involves dramatic contrasts. In Port of Spain, Trinidad, for example, you can sit in a little shop owned by a Chinese eating East Indian food served by a man whose mother’s father was African, mother’s mother Indian, father’s father Irish and father’s mother Lebanese, while the Japanese transistor radio blares out a parang (Hispanic-derived) tune in the local Spanish played by the Peace and Love Parang group! With language, English is mixed with French and French with English, and both contain words and intonations from West African languages and Hindi. There are also the West Indian languages of Creole (a mixture of West African languages and French) and Papiemento (combination of West African languages, Dutch, English, Portuguese, Indonesian and others), and an array of mutually intelligible but distinctly local dialectal variations. In architecture you can see houses with a jumble of African, European and Indian building styles. The same goes for religion, food, family systems, and music.

The musical mix embraces traditions with strong African characteristics in instrumentation, musical organization, and social function, others deriving directly from British song and dance pieces such as the jig, reel and quadrille, others more of a syncretic hybrid (calypso and steel drum music for example), and in Trinidad, music transplanted from the Orient. While each of these musics has a life of its own, it is not usually strictly confined to any one group or any group to any one music. The same musician, for example, may happily whistle the latest calypso hit while on his way to a religious feast where he will sing songs in Yoruba to Shango, after having played jigs and reels in a dance band the night before.



Originally released in 1983
Recorded in the Lesser Antilles and edited by Krister Malm
Mastered by Michele Stone
Coordinator: Elise Keen
Director: Keith Holzman

Remastered by Robert C. Ludwig
Design: Doyle Partners
Cover Photography: © David Alan Harvey / Magnum Photos

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