The pioneering anthologies of traditional Caribbean and African music produced by John Storm Roberts for his Original Music record label provide a wonderful portal to worlds of music which bear a very close relationship to our own.
After a teenage fascination with calypso and flamenco and learning several languages at Oxford, John Storm Roberts reviewed local records for a newspaper in Nairobi, and then returned to England to produce programs on African music for the BBC before coming to America in 1970 to work at another African newspaper.
In 1982, Roberts and his wife, Anne Needham, created Original Music, a company devoted to disseminating African and Caribbean music, and issued a number of LP compilations drawn from commercial singles or their own field recordings. Original Music was a mail-order company distributing world music books and records to non-city dwelling Americans, who, in a pre-internet age, had found them almost as hard to come by as the young Roberts had in postwar Britain.
Long before the term was bandied about, Roberts was listening to, seeking out and reporting on what is now called world music. He wrote several seminal books on the subject for a general readership, most notably “Black Music of Two Worlds” (Praeger, 1972) and “The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States” (Oxford University, 1979).
By placing value on music that had been relegated to the fringes, seen as having marginal academic worth or as music only worth dancing to, he opened new vistas of appreciation.
John Storm Roberts: “There’s a royal road to bankruptcy, which is to put out and make available a really terrific range of genuine music. I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific.”
Look here for a complete discography of Roberts’ Original Music label.
The following John Storm Roberts recordings might be of most interest to readers of Old Time Party. Though mostly out-of-print, they can frequently be found in library collections.
Street Music of Panama (Original Music LP)
Under the Coconut Tree: Music From Grand Cayman & Tortola (Original Music LP)
Mento/Merengue/Meringue: Country Dance Music from Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic (Original Music LP)
Caribbean Island Music: Songs and Dances of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica (Nonesuch CD)
African Elegant:The Kru-Krio Calypso Connection (Original Music LP)
Before Benga, Volume 1: Kenya Dry [Acoustic Guitar] (Original Music LP)