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Terry Documents Traditional Drumming

Terry Documents Traditional Drumming

Fifty years ago noted ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax traveled to the remote Caribbean island of Carriacou to capture local music and dance traditions on film. The Big Drum dances he recorded had first surfaced in Carriacou via slave ships from West Africa and were passed down through the generations.

In the summer of 2012 Lomax’s daughter Anna (who now heads the Association of Cultural Equity, or ACE) returned with FAV Professor John Terry and his longtime filmmaking partner John Bishop to document how the dances – specifically, the Tombstone Ceremony, which honors deceased relatives – have evolved and to help keep the traditions alive. Their footage was recently released on ACE’s YouTube channel.

“This time ACE put the films on YouTube so that the people of Carriacou could see them and interact with them,” Terry explains. “In the past, footage was locked up in an archive somewhere.”

In shooting the films, Terry and Bishop spent about three weeks on the island, which is a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Grenada. Although Carriacou does have electricity, many of the buildings in which they worked were not wired for it. The pork and lamb served during the Tombstone Ceremony, for example, came from hand-scraped pigs and sheep prepared in a slaughterhouse lit with a kerosene-filled wine bottle.

Terry is not yet sure whether the Tombstone Ceremony footage will be edited into a longer documentary, but he was happy that a RISD Faculty Development Grant enabled him to make the trip and stay active in this kind of hands-on work.

“I originally studied photography at MIT with [the late] Minor White, who was a kind of guru,” says Terry. “He taught photography as metaphor – almost a spiritual experience. Then when I went into film, I was exposed to American cinema verité, which is all about people. Since then, except for occasional forays into architectural film, most of my work has been about human interaction.”

Simone Solondz

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