Alain Boulanger, John Cowley & Marc Monneraye, Creole Music of the French West Indies: A Discography 1900–1959. Holste-Oldendorf, Germany: Bear Family Records, 2014. 367 pp. (Cloth US$ 61.18)
This book is a rarity—a discography that dazzles: one part visual treat, one part meticulous scholarly document. Its publisher, known for lavish boxed sets of rereleased popular music of the past (mostly American and European), took its first major plunge into Caribbean music in 2006 with ten CD s of classic Trinidadian recordings from the late 1930s accompanied by a thick, beautifully illustrated book including chapters by several of the world’s leading calypso scholars.1Though lacking companion CD s, the present book makes an equally noteworthy contribution. It began in 2008 as a less elaborate publication with limited distribution.2 The 2014 version, vastly improved, is the only extensive discographic treatment of French Antillean music to date. Drawing on the authors’ personal archives, the audiovisual department of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the British Library Sound Archive, and a number of other libraries and private collections, it lists what must be the great majority of commercial recordings of French Caribbean music released (on 78 rpm discs, LP s, and 45 rpm singles) during roughly the first half of the twentieth century. It also includes a handful of “ethnographic recordings” made by linguists, folklorists, and musicologists during this period.
The book’s two main components—the discography and historical essay—evidence years of painstaking research, and include, in addition to basic discographic information (names of singers/band leaders and/or orchestras, album and/or song titles, dates, recording locations, labels, and catalog numbers), many valuable details. For instance, the names of all (or most) participants in individual recording sessions, along with the vocal or instrumental role(s) played by each contributor, are often listed. Particularly valuable are identifications (when known) of the country of origin of every participating musician not originally from the French Antilles or French Guiana. This reveals just how cosmopolitan even the earliest French Caribbean recording artists were, mixing repeatedly with their confreres from across the region and beyond (many of them renowned in their own homelands or internationally) to produce music for various markets. For example, appearing along with Martiniquan or Guadeloupean stalwarts such as Alexandre Stellio (leader/clarinet), Gilles Sala (vocals), Ernest Léardée (leader/saxophone/clarinet/violin), Moune de Rivel (vocals), and Al Livrat (leader/trombone/guitar/vocals) are Jamaicans Bertie King (clarinet), Sam Walker (clarinet), and Yorke de Souza (piano); Trinidadians Russell Henderson (string bass), Boscoe Holder (piano), and Michel Wyatt (trumpet); Barbadian Hilton Wiles (banjo); Cubans Filiberto Rico (flute/clarinet), Fernando Collazo (vocals), and Oscar Calle (piano); Nigerian Danny Johnson (drums); and Cameroonian Fredy Jumbo (drums).