The problem with the banjo recordings on this site is that the guy changed the key and then used a 5 string banjo, which as far as we know did not exist until 1840. I've actually already tabbed out "Koromanti". To play it as written on a four string, you have to go up to the 12th fret and the whole piece doesn't play out smoothly at all. Now the Caribbean gourd banjo exact replica that Pete Ross makes, called the Haiti Banza, is actually unplayable above the 3rd or 4th fret. I don't think these represent banjo tunes at all, but vocal lines which may have been accompanied perhaps.
Yes i see your point Mark. I do think the songs were transcribed by the book author into standard notation simply from the perceived melodies- which could have been heard as vocal lines, or as any other instrument. I agree that creating the audio samples of the songs as played on a 5 string banjo seems not the most logical choice. I wish the website there was giving a more extensive look into the book- surely there must be written descriptions of slave instruments in it. Perhaps one of us could contact the website creator and ask for details on any instruments described.
We read about Cecil Sharp around 1910 and how he and Olive Campbell transcribed what they heard while 'song catching' in the Appalachian mountains in remote long-isolated areas. They had a hard time putting down on paper the quirky nuances of the a capella singing with archaic roots. They emphasized that what they heard was difficult to put on paper- that some of its subtle and compelling beauty - vocal rolling, microtones, etc- didn't translate into our modern standard notation system, but that they did their best to approximate it.
I can only imagine the (white) author of the Jamaican book had an equally hard time transcribing very early slave music into standard notation.
The website is the brainchild of Dr. Laurent Dubois, whose book about the banjo was published earlier this year, so anything that he found of interest concerning instruments made it into his book. He is a professor at Duke University here in Durham and he stops by my studio every once in a while and plays a few tunes, but we mostly talk shop!
Ah, I completely missed that connection! Thanks Mark! (d'oh!) lol