Roots, racket, and redemption is just what Colin Mulligan, a tripwolf blogger and author (see some of his texts here: Laos, Malawi) went in search of this summer as he headed towards the Caribbean. He left inspired, and with hours and hours of video footage of local music from Puerto Rico to Antigua. He has been sharing his travel stories on the tripwolf blog, and now here is the trailer for his documentary, “Destination: Music.”
Tell me about the most interesting instrument you encountered.
“The most interesting instruments I came across were the ones that the slaves on Caribbean plantations constructed for themselves. Because their European masters lived in constant fear of rebellion, slaves were forbidden from any activity that might allow them to communicate, or even recall the heritage that was taken from them. Dancing and drumming were at the top of this list, so the Africans learned to fashion instruments out of things that their captors discarded, such as cheese crates, goat carcasses and old barrels of molasses. Learning about this really moved me, because it demonstrated how the human drive to create, remember and celebrate something fine is so strong that it can survive even the worst of circumstances.”
Was anyone hesitant about sharing their traditions or musical history?
“Not in the least. In fact, when people learned why I had come to their island, they would usually go out of their way to help. In Tobago for example, I stopped a woman on the street who was wearing a t-shirt made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of slavery’s abolition there. When I described my project to her, she happily put me in touch with her boss at the Ministry of Community Development and Culture. Within two days, her boss, a very nice woman named Ms. Victoria Pat Mitchell, had arranged for me to attend and film a demonstration of traditional Tobagonian folk dancing and drumming. She also helped me get media credentials for the Tobago Heritage Festival, so I could film and photograph all the events from up-close. This kind of gracious hospitality was typical of the reception I got, and it played a greater role in my project’s success than anything I could have planned for or anticipated.”
Did you find that the ‘popular’ music of a region was just as telling of the culture and the people as traditional music?
“Yes, but in a different sense. Despite the fact that each of these islands–Tobago, Antigua, Puerto Rico and Jamaica–possesses its own unique and rich cultural legacy, their popular music genres now bear more resemblance to American Hip-Hop than they do to traditional Calypso, Salsa or Reggae. To each his own, of course, but after learning about the sacrifices that African slaves made to preserve their stolen heritage, I couldn’t help but feel that these new ‘upstart’ genres like Soca and Reggeaton owe much of their success to the willingness of Caribbean youths to disregard these same cultural roots that I had come to study.”
Did it feel different to travel while having an intention and goal?
“It was a more stressful, regimented way to experience life on the road, but in the end, it was also much more rewarding. I’ve always felt that the true benefit of travel is that it teaches you as much about yourself as it does about the world, and this trip was no exception. My goal was to combine the three great passions of my life–travel, music and history–into something that would move people to reevaluate the seemingly mundane foundations of their own identities, and I succeeded in doing just that for myself.”
Any future travel/documentary plans?
“I had a great deal of success with this formula of using music as a means of discovering clues about the past, and my dream is to repeat the adventure in as many different parts of the world as possible–starting with Spain, Brazil and India.”