Saturday mornings are my time to sit down and relax while I try to learn something new. I’ll usually look around for National Geographic videos, but today I stumbled upon some new auditory knowledge. I found a treasure trove of RL Burnside video recordings. The videos were filmed in 1978 by Alan Lomax at Burnside’s home in Independence, Mississippi. I’d never heard of Alan Lomax, so I was surprised that there were such early recordings of RL Burnside.
Allen Lomax (1915-2002) was a musicologist who dedicated his life to documenting the world’s folk music. He spent the better part of sixty years traveling around the world documenting and analyzing the folk music of the various peoples he encountered. His knowledge on the subject of folk music was so great that he was asked to work as an advisor on Voyager Golden Record. Alan wasn’t just documenting music; he was documenting history. Histories which faced, and still face, the risk of being forgotten by mankind. Histories that are important for us to understand who we are, who our neighbors are, and where we’ve all come from.
“For me, the black discs spinning in the Mississippi night, spitting the chip centripetally toward the center of the table ... heralded a new age of writing human history.” -Alan Lomax
In 1983 Alan Lomax founded the The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE). ACE’s stated mission is to “stimulate cultural equity through preservation, research, and dissemination of the world’s traditional music, and to reconnect people and communities with their creative heritage.”
They’ve created a Global Jukebox which allows you to search and listen to folk music from various regions and cultures throughout the world. You can use the map feature to search for music and cultures by region, or the wheel feature which organizes songs by culture. Part of my cultural heritage is Arbëreshë. My great grandfather spoke Arbëresh, but never taught any of us the language. He was the only person in his family to leave his family’s farm in Calabria, creating a cultural roadblock for the American branch of the family. There are currently only about 100,000 native Arbëresh speakers in the world, and many of the Arbëreshë communities in Italy have begun shifting Italian. Through the use of ACE’s Global Jukebox, I was able to find and listen to a Arbëreshë folk song. Il Gallo Conta, the Cock’s Song, is sung by a woman to her lover, informing him that the sun will soon be rising. Great stuff.
The Global Jukebox gives you a detailed musical and historical analysis of each of its archived songs, allowing a glimpse into the cultures which created them. Being able to hear a piece of music that my ancestors may have listened to is extremely empowering. It offers insight into the history of me, a history that otherwise would have been forgotten. When I got the music, I got a place to go.