Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lionel Belasco's Song of the Jumbies and Back Down to the Tropics (as recorded by Nick DiSebastian)

BTL Music Notes chart for Song of the Jumbies
In 2013 I hired musician Nick DiSebastian of Built To Last Music Notes to transcribe all 18 tracks from the rare, out-of-print Bonne Humeur album by The Etcetera String Band.  I sent him mp3s from the CD (early string band music of the Caribbean: Creole Louisiana, Haiti, Trinidad, Martinique, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands) and Nick transcribed the music, sending back pdfs containing chords, notation and mandolin tab, per my request.

BTL Music Notes chart for Back Down to the Tropics
The tunes from that CD have become some of my favorite music to play.  One discovery made via this Bonne Humeur CD was orchestra leader and composer Lionel Belasco.  Born around 1882, Belasco grew up in Venezuela and Trinidad. He was classically trained, but composed indigenous pieces such as joropos, paseos and danzas.  I learned from the Bonne Humeur liner notes that a couple collections of his music were published over 70 years ago.

Recently I was able to obtain a copy of one of those volumes: the 1944 booklet Calypso Rhythm Songs: Authentic Tropical Novelty Melodies by Lionel Belasco and Leighla Whipper.  The booklet contains fifteen "authenticated West Indian calypsos".

I like to have audio and sheet music when learning a new song.  In this case I had the sheet music but no audio, so I asked Nick if he could make source recordings of a couple of the pieces from this collection and he said yes.  Sort of a transcription in reverse!  I sent Nick copies of the sheet music and not only did he make professional sounding overdubbed recordings for me (adding some embellishments and arpeggios where it fit), but he also created his own charts with some minor revisions to the chords and melody where it seemed to make sense.

Below are the recordings Nick made for me.  I have his permission to share them here.

I think these sound great!  Now I have clean sounding basic recordings featuring lead melody plus rhythm backup to get the sound of the tune into my head.  Without this I would be relying on my own somewhat unreliable reading skills and sense of timing.  If you have a similar need I encourage you to reach out to Nick to see if he can help.

See below for the original images that Nick had to work with.

Song of the Jumbies page 1 of 2
Song of the Jumbies page 2 of 2
Back Down to the Tropics page 1 of 3
Back Down to the Tropics page 2 of 3
Back Down to the Tropics page 3 of 3
Calypso Rhythm Songs front cover

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