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More Haitian Voices: The Rigaud collection finding aid goes online

This guest post was authored by Marcia K. Segal, an archivist at the American Folklife Center who processed and authored the finding aid to the collection she describes below.

Melville Herskovits, Alan Lomax, and Laura Boulton – three notable collectors, whose recordings of religious expression in Haiti are among the collections at the American Folklife Center. In 2019, another collection joined this distinguished group: The Odette Mennasson Rigaud, Milo Rigaud, and Shirley Keller collection of Haitian Vodou recordings. You can read the finding aid here. The collection was donated by Scott Keller, the son of folk singer and radio show host Shirley Keller, who received the sound recordings from Odette Mennasson Rigaud in the early 1980s. The collection primarily consists of 81 sound recordings, with 31 now digitized. Most of the wire recordings document Haitian religious expression circa 1940s-1950s. The balance of the recordings are on sound tape reels and cassettes: some are dubs of the wire recordings, while others are include interviews of both Milo and Odette, and also Max Beauvoir (a source for the Wade Davis book, The Serpent and the Rainbow). Songs and some discussions are in Haitian Creole or French. Other recordings, including those with Odette Rigaud and with Max Beauvoir, are conducted for the most part in English.

recording container from the collection

Wire recording container from the collection. 

Both Rigaud and Beauvoir, in their respective interviews, try to demystify Vodou, and overcome stereotypes regarding both the religion and its followers. Odette Mennesson Rigaud explains the role of tourism in the perpetuation of stereotypes about Vodou:

During Keller’s interview with Beauvoir she asks about “voodoo dolls,” and he explains the meaning and use of paquet congo, which differs significantly from the role and form of these dolls in the popular imagination:

Most of the songs are fast-paced, high-energy, and intense, with vocals frequently sung in unison but also led by one or more voices. Instruments may include various types of drums, as well as whistles, rattles, and other instruments. In this selection you can also here the beat change:


Some songs are performed a cappella, as here:

Here, the skills of the singers are presented with minimal percussive accompaniment:

Another clip of leaders and group singing, with percussive accompaniment:

For the field of Afro-Caribbean studies, these materials provide another link to this interdisciplinary field. Some connections between the work of the Rigauds has been noted and documented elsewhere: the BHS inventory notes the relationship between Cicero St. Aude (a performer recorded by the Rigauds), who traveled as a dancer with Katherine Dunham’s dance troupe; correspondence between the Rigauds and Maya Deren, a poet and filmmaker, can be found in Deren’s collection (at Boston University), and even the brief mention in this collection of wire recording equipment used by the Rigauds, which belonged to Teiji Ito (a composer, and Maya Deren’s husband). Also, Deren was an assistant to Katherine Dunham for a year; yet another connection. With this collection, scholars have a new opportunity to deepen an understanding of the role of music in Vodou, and Vodou faith in general.

Here are a few collection bibliographic records to explore:

  • Melville Herskovits collection of Haitian recordings (AFC 1945/003)
  • Alan Lomax Haiti collection (AFC 1937/010)
  • Laura Boulton Collection, part 19: folk music in Haiti (AFC 1973/028)

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco from Mexico

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco, a trio playing one of the traditional music styles of eastern Mexico, known as son huasteco or huapango music; As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Son huasteco music is built around two variants of the guitar, the jarana and the quinta huapanguera, as well as the violin and the voice. Son huasteco singing employs a distinctive falsetto style. Improvisation plays a strong role in this music, with each group adding their own lyrics and arrangements to a standard repertoire of songs. The result is acoustic string-band music that is both traditional and contemporary, with direct emotional appeal.

AFC’s Community Collections Grants: Foodways in Chicago with Jorge Félix

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Jorge Félix and his project, Sofrito Conversations: Bridging the North and West of Chicago. Congratulations on the grant, Jorge! First, tell us a bit about you and your work. Thanks! It is […]

Cecil Sharp, Nagra Decks, Tony Barrand, and Mick Moloney on the Folklife Today Podcast

We’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! In this episode, John Fenn and I talk about some of our favorite items in the archive, including a Nagra IV-S portable tape recorder, and invite Jennifer Cutting along to talk about commercial recordings of traditional folk dance tunes collected by the English folklorist Cecil Sharp. We used the opportunity to honor folklorists  Tony Barrand, who built upon Cecil Sharp’s dance scholarship, and Mick Moloney, who made some great recordings on our Nagras. Barrand and Moloney both passed away in the last year. As usual, I’ll present more complete recordings of the music and other related collections in this blog post, along with links to download the podcast itself.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: The Armagh Rhymers’ Music and Rhyme from Ireland

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with The Armagh Rhymers, one of the most celebrated traditional music and theatre ensembles on the island of Ireland. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Crowdsourcing Information and Disinformation: The World War II Rumor Project available through By the People

Staff from the American Folklife Center and By the People have again teamed up for a crowdsourcing campaign. We are asking volunteers to read and transcribe the Center’s World War II Rumor Project. The digital collection is online and the crowdsourcing campaign is now live. The World War II Rumor project was conceived by U.S. […]

Web Archives and Cuban Songs: Interns and their Interests on the Folklife Today Podcast

We’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher. In this episode, John Fenn and and I interview the American Folklife Center’s recent interns, Bryan Jenkins and Elisa Alfonso, about the items and collections that caught their […]

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Vigüela’s Traditional Song and Music from Central Spain

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Vigüela, a a traditional folk quintet with a commitment to the rural musical traditions of central Spain. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Vigüela was established in the mid-1980s, after the Franco regime, by young people who looked to folk culture for a way to channel their creative desires while staying rooted in their local communities. Grounded in this history, the band members value their tradition and perform it with accuracy and energy, as a living music, full of joy. They play traditional Spanish music, including jotas, seguidillas, fandangos, and sones, using the centuries-old singing styles, dialects, and instruments of their region. That region is Castilla-La Mancha, the southern part of the Iberian plateau, sometimes called “the heart of Spain,” or “Don Quixote country.”

AFC’s Community Collections Grants: Puerto Rican Coffee Traditions with Russell Oliver

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Russell Oliver and his project, Documenting the Stories, Agricultural Traditions, and Culture of Specialty Coffee Farmers in Puerto Rico. Congratulations on the grant, Russell! How did the idea for the project come about? Thank you […]

Homegrown Plus: Windborne

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Windborne, a vocal quartet from New England. BBC Traveling Folk called them “the most exciting vocal group in a generation,” and they have certainly done great things with AFC archival materials. Just like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video, a video interview with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections.