At an early age his road led to the West Indies, crisscrossed back through the States, curved through Mexico. . . . It led him back to a variety of experiences and jobs in New York City; and it is a tribute to his sense of integrity that he won the fight to keep his road from stopping at Tin Pan Alley. Perhaps this explains his ability at the age of twenty-eight to bring us a truly mature gift this album a really definitive work in the field of West Indian music.
In the belief that meaningful and exciting innovation is one of the responsibilities of the creative artist, Harry Belafonte in his selection of material for this album breaks through the stereotype which confines all calypso to a monotonous sameness. The result is not just another presentation of island songs tired from being trotted out for the tourist on the twenty-one-day cruise. . . . Here are songs ranging in mood from brassy gaiety to wistful sadness, from tender love to heroic largeness. And through it all runs the irrepressible rhythm of a people who have not lost the ability to laugh at themselves.
The delightful originality of these pieces is carried through into the musical accompaniment. The drum techniques produce sounds rarely heard outside of the islands. The keening flute tones are actually produced by a tin penny-whistle, a versatile instrument in the hands of a Jamaican.
A few of the new numbers in this cover merit special mention. Day O is based on the traditional work songs of the gangs who load the banana boats in the harbor at Trinidad. The men come to work with the evening star and continue through the night. They long for daybreak when they will be able to return to their homes. All their wishful thinking is expressed in the lead singer's plaintive cry: "Day O, Day O. . . ." The lonely men and the cry in the night spill overtones of symbolism which are universal
Hosanna, which means "Praise to the Lord," is based on the songs of the Jamaican Guilds . . . men of the building trades praise God as they construct the basic unit of Western culture, the home. It is a song of joy in the age-old ritual of house raising. And here also in this song of building is a note of primitive mystery . . . a note which tells us that every home is in its deepest sense a miracle.
Mr. Belafonte can be especially proud of his introduction of the West Indian love song to this country. The haunting beauty and poetic imagery of / Do Adore Her and Jamaica Farewell, and the light gaiety of Dolly Dawn are hard to forget. They might well sweep the nation.
This album proves that Harry Belafonte's success in his chosen field is well merited.
But perhaps, the most subtle aspect of that success is that in his unique presentation of
traditional songs he has, himself, created a tradition. However desperately imitators may
strive to close the gap, the artist and innovator is always in a land of his own making.
Harry Belafonte will have to resign himself to the loneliness which comes to a man who is
in a class by himself.