Forgotify, the Last Frontier: Work Songs of Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia as in the island in the Caribbean, not the woman who was the inspiration for German holiday wreath-wearing customs. 

This recording, made in 1953, is somewhat of a rarity — music in this genre has almost no commercial market, though the anthropological value is immense. Take a listen to “Work Song #4” on Spotify, here.

The music of Saint Lucia is derived from a longstanding and rich oral tradition which fuses musical elements from Africa with new ideas which have evolved over many decades. Though this particular piece does not feature a musical instrument, the banjo and the cuatro are both popular within Lucian music. Unfortunately, music from this area is regularly dismissed and ignored by musical academia even within the “world music” classes and disciplines, which has led to the devastating lack of intelligible, quality recordings. The musical tradition on the island has remained purer than other oral traditions in similar locations, due to the lack of Western music influence. Pop music familiar to us is almost unheard of, though they do enjoy live performances of soca and calypso music, which are native to Trinidad.

The most common form of work song is comprised of a call-and-response format featuring one leader and multiple responders, is called a chanté abwè, and is usually accompanied by two cultural percussion instruments played in an alternative fashion. I am unfortunately not an expert in Lucian music, and neither is anyone else publishing articles, apparently — so while I can guess that this might be a chanté abwè, I can’t know for sure.

If you or someone you know can translate the lyrics or give me some insight on Lucian music traditions, please give me a shout!

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