EOL video review: The Caribbean

EOL video review

The JVC/Smithsonian Folkways
Video Anthology of Music and Dance of the Americas

4. The Caribbean


Producer: The Victor Company of Japan, Ltd., Director:HIROAKI OHTA, Co-Producer: STEPHEN McARTHUR, Associate Producer: HIROSHI YOSHIDA, Executive Producers: KATSUMORI ICHIKAWA & YUJI ICHIHASHI. Video/color, 58:40 (this tape).

Editorial supervisor (books): TOMOAKI FUJI, Senior Editor: ANTHONY SEEGER, Editor (books): MARK GREENBERG.

Booklet notes (this volume) by Robert Witmer.

1995. Distributors: Multicultural Media, RR 3, Box 6655, Granger Road, Barre, Vermont 05641 USA, and Smithsonian Folkways, 955 L'Enfant Plaza, suite 7300, Washington DC 20560


This volume provides a broad, basic overview of the music and dance of the Caribbean. While there are countries and styles not represented, it is not designed to be an exhaustive archive, and the breadth and variety of the clips offers satisfactory introduction to the region.

Arranged by country, the video selections in Volume 4 of the anthology offer a broad sampling of Caribbean music and dance. The accompanying booklet offers an "Overview" of the topic, written by Robert Witmer, and provides elaborations on each selection, written by Anthony Seeger and Witmer. The booklet also provides a glossary of terms as well as the "Abbreviated Introduction" to the entire series of tapes.

The organization of the video progresses from rural to urban when there are multiple segments from one country. The production quality of the segments varies widely from one to the next, as the series relies entirely on previously released recordings. Still, the overall quality is good and, in effect, provides a variety of perspectives on the scenes, with looks ranging from that of an amateur recording to slick professional production.


Video 4-31
Phase II Pan Groove,
"Woman Is Boss"

160x120, 7 sec, 600K QuickTime

320x240, 22 sec, 5.7MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 55K JPEG

The rural to urban format is most evident in the segments from Trinidad and Tobago. The rural traditions represent the older practices in this case, and coupled with the information provided in the booklet, offer the viewer insight into the development of contemporary music of the country.

In the volume's introduction, Witmer states the compilers' intentions to avoid including styles already widely known outside the Caribbean, namely reggae, ska, various Cuban dances, and early calypso. Since they do include a Rastafarian song in the series of Jamaican selections, adding an example of contemporary styles influenced by Rastafarian practice might have been warranted.

The compilers have focused on more than high-profile genres. Children's songs and games as well as musical instruction are well illustrated on this tape. Examples include the segments from Dominica featuring two Ring Games and the Se Celebration of Curaao which shows a local ethnomusicologist teaching a harvest song to high school students. The Simadan, from Bonaire, gives another example of harvest celebrations.

Video 4-20
Manpa Song,
"An' bwiy law, pou nou f wadlo lapenn,"
Members of La Rose

160x120, 8 sec, 700K QuickTime

320x240, 19 sec, 5MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 83K JPEG

The Manpa Song from St. Lucia illustrates the complex social organizations that developed, historically, in many Caribbean countries. Rival groups within a community often use music as a means of competition, as this clip shows (4-20). Another example of such competition included in the video is the Trinidadian Calinda.
Video 4-12
Maroon Communal Song

160x120, 8 sec, 710K QuickTime

320x240, 15 sec, 3.3MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 51K JPEG


The inclusion of occasional staged events enhances the instructional utility of the tape. For instance, in the Jamaican Maroon Communal Song, each player holds up his instrument and names it before the song begins. This is indicated as being "for filmic purposes only," and the misleading name one participant gives his instrument is also indicated: "...the saliman, a box drum, although the player in this excerpt calls his a 'trambone.' " Curiously, the commentary for this segment offers no explanation for this discrepancy.
The accompanying booklet provides information for each segment on the video as well as a selected reading list and in many cases also includes a selected listening list. The paragraphs about each example concentrate on a concise explanation of the style, terms, instruments, participants, situation, and history of the music. Lyrics are provided for most songs in the original language and in English.

The booklet's descriptions also give clear cross-references to related clips from elsewhere in the volume, as well as related clips in other volumes, whenever appropriate. These references indicate the care and attention given to the selection and organization of the video and the compilers' attempt to provide as cohesive a presentation as possible for such a broad topic.

The selected reading lists seem uneven. In some cases, the only recommended texts are scholarly and may be difficult to obtain, while in other cases, the list includes readings that are more easily accessible to any audience.

The strength of this volume is its variety. The video provides a good general introduction to the region and, along with the information included in the booklet, could easily be used to supplement a lecture or presentation on music and dance in the Caribbean. The descriptions of all pertinent terms and instruments are clear and concise, and the musical descriptions (including several transcriptions of rhythmic patterns) are clear and easy to understand.

In the hands of a capable instructor, this volume would provide a valuable resource for introducing the rich cultures of the Caribbean to students at virtually any level. At the same time, in the hands of a student independently researching the subject, the material provided offers a suitable starting point from which further in-depth study is a natural progression.

reviewed by Cynthia Barlow


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