When Alan Lomax initially envisioned his freely available Global Jukebox, a project that would bring together the recordings of vernacular music and stories he and others made around the world, it was a far off dream that the advent of the internet could only hint at. The 17,000+ recordings he had made since the 1940s (and these, by the way, don’t include the recordings he made for the Library of Congress in the 1930s and 1940s) would need conservation work, digitization, and a robust search and delivery platform. Recently that work has been completed by the Association for Cultural Equity, a nonprofit founded by Lomax in 1983 “to explore and preserve the world’s expressive traditions with humanistic commitment and scientific engagement.”
Progarchistas should be aware of this archive because — in addition to its contents being at the root of much rock, including progressive rock, music — the work of Lomax, probably the best known and most prolific of field collectors, represents recorded evidence of how people, in the pre-internet era and often in conditions where even a radio was a luxury, lived day-to-day with the music and dances and stories they and their ancestors created, for entertainment and for their own cultural identity. What can this body of work mean to us, and how does it reflect, or not, constants in the way we experience and participate in music across cultures? The richness of this archive, and of Lomax’s endeavor, is endless food for such thought.