In honor of an upcoming trip to the Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra in Puerto Rico, I've assembled ten Afro-Caribbean string band tunes from the recordings of the now defunct Etcetera String Band (Bonne Humeur
) and Kansas City based The Rhythmia to work on while there. Both bands have a knack for uncovering obscure tunes from Haiti, Trinidad, Louisiana, the Virgin Islands, Martinique and Venezuela.
Many of these tunes date back to the 1800's and share similarities to common fiddle tunes and rags, while still retaining a distinctly "island" feel that helps tag them as being from the Caribbean. Guitarist Kevin Sanders - a member of both the Etcetera String Band and The Rhythmia - helped me obtain a copy of the out of print Bonne Humeur
CD last year which is definitely worth seeking out if you're interested in this type of music. All transcriptions shown below were done by Nick DiSebastian
. Here's a YouTube playlist
where some of these tunes can be heard.
is a Creole song named after a woman. You can play it with a polka rhythm. It comes from Slave Songs of the United States
, the first authentic collection of slave songs ever published, where its transcription comes from a woman who heard it being sung in a time before the Civil War on the Good Hope Plantation, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.
|Aurore Bradaire – Coonjaille (Louisiana)|
was written by Lionel Belasco, the pianist, composer and bandleader from Trinidad known as the Scott Joplin of calypso. Belasco composed West Indian music from folk sources, which he found on his many travels throughout the islands, and was the first person to popularize calypso outside of Trinidad.
|Bad Woman – Paseo|
(Creole Song) is medley of two Creole pieces from Louisiana originally recorded by the jazz trombonist Kid Ory.
|Blanche Toucatou/Can-Can (Creole Song)|
is also known as Michie Preval. A Calinda is a dance. This tune is from Slave Songs of the United States
|Calinda – Louisiana|
Carnaval En Margarita is a paseo by Lionel Belasco. Margarita is an island off the Venezuelan coast which Belasco visited. Belasco was classically trained, but preferred playing indigenous music.
|Carnaval En Margarita – Paseo|
Chai Bai comes from Cape Verde, an island group off the northwestern coast of Africa, with an African-Portuguese culture. This tune was included in John Philip Sousa’s book National Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands (1890), published by H. Coleman in Philadelphia.
|Chai Bai – Cape Verde|
Dodo Li Pitite is a fun little Haitian folk tune, good for playing at a country ball. It was found in Jean Price-Mars' book So Spoke the Uncle, a work on Haitian culture published in 1928.
|Dodo Li Petite – Haiti|
is a hypnotic Meringue Hatienne written by Arthur L. Duroseau. The music is featured in Tell My Horse
by Zora Neale Hurston. More recently, it was recorded by BeauSoleil
on the album From Bamako to Carencro
|La Douceur – Meringue (Haiti)|
Lisette was composed by Ludovic Lamothe, the "Black Chopin" of Haiti. He composed several meringues and other dance and concert tunes based on local folklore. He recorded 10 of his pieces on an album called Fleurs d'Haiti.
|Lisette – Meringue (Haiti)|
Souvenir d'Haiti was written by Othello Bayard and is considered to be his masterpiece. It is one of the best known and loved meringues in Haiti. Selden Rodman wrote about this tune in his book Haiti: The Black Republic.
|Souvenir d’Haiti – Meringue Popular (Haiti)|