Music of the Bahamas
|Music of The Anglophone Caribbean|
The music of the Bahamas is associated primarily with junkanoo, a celebration which occurs on Boxing Day and again on New Year's Day. Parades and other celebrations mark the ceremony. Groups like The Baha Men, Ronnie Butler and Kirkland Bodie have gained massive popularity in Japan, the United States and other places.
Soca is a form of dance music which originated from many calypso music. It originally combined the melodic lilting sound of calypso with insistent percussion (which is often electronic in recent music) and local chutney music. Soca music has evolved in the last 20 years primarily by musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries including Trinidad, Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, United States Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Belize.
The word junkanoo is said to be derived from a Ghanaian leader, John Connu, or from the Qujo supreme deity (Canno) and ancestral spirits (jannanin). The junkanoo was formerly practiced in North Carolina and remnants still exist in Belize. It is most well known, though, from Nassau and Freeport. Since the 1950s the influence of American culture has increased, mainly through TV and radio broadcasts from Florida stations, and other Caribbean styles have made inroads: calypso, reggae and soca, from Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad, and other islands. Tourism has also had an impact, bringing in Japanese, European and North Americans with their attendant forms of cultural expression. In this milieu more traditional Bahamas performers such as Joseph Spence, have still enjoyed successful careers playing junkanoo, Christian hymns and the ant'ems of the local sponge fisherman, which include "Sloop John B", later made famous by The Beach Boys.
Junkanoo's origins are obscure and much-debated. Researchers like E. Clement Bethel have studied the issue extensively, and likely conclusions include that African slaves were allowed celebrations only around Christmas-time, and chose to celebrate John Connu, a headman from 18th century Africa. Another theory is that the term derives from scrap metal or other objects (junk) used to create the distinctive goombay drum. Similar celebrations once existed cross the Caribbean and in North Carolina, but are now virtually extinct except in the Bahamas and Belize.
In 1973, the year the Bahamas achieved independence from the United Kingdom, black professionals of the middle and upper classes began to dominate junkanoo celebrations. Costuming and competitions became more complex and commonplace, and soon became a tourist draw.
Aside from being a type of drum, goombay is also a percussion music made famous by Alphonso 'Blind Blake' Higgs, who played to tourists arriving at Nassau International Airport for several years. Rake-and-scrape music is a unique type of instrumental music made by bending a saw and scraping with a small object, most typically a screwdriver; it is used to accompany dances derived from European forms like polka and waltz. Rake-and-scrape's popularity has been declining in recent years, but performers like Lassie Do and the Boys continue to keep the tradition alive. Christian rhyming spirituals and the ant'ems of sponge fisherman are now mostly dead traditions, decimated by the arrival of pop music, a 1930s sponge blight and other causes.
E. Clement Bethel's master's thesis on traditional Bahamian music was adapted for the stage by his daughter, Nicolette Bethel and Philip A. Burrows. Music of The Bahamas was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1991, and was revived in 2002 for fresh Bahamian audiences. A recording of that show is available for sale from Ringplay Productions.
Rake and scrape
Rake and scrape music comes from the musical traditions of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is characterized by the use of a saw as the primary instrument. It was brought by immigrants from those islands from the 1920s to about the 1940s, who settled on Cat Island, and elsewhere. Rake and Scrape is traditionally used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the heel-toe polka all relics of the initial mixture of Africa and Europe. Many of these Turks and Caicos Islanders became some of the most famous musicians in the Bahamas. Many eventually moved back to their homelands, bringing with them junkanoo. Turks and Caicos are now the second home for junkanoo.
Organology of Instruments
Membranophones: The Goombay drum is main rhythmic component in rake-n-scrape. It is also referred to a goatskin drum, as the skin of a goat was stretched over a wooden barrel. It is decorated by simple or complex geometric designs in bright colors. The drum is always heated over fire to retain its tone. In 1971, when manufacturers started shipping products in metal barrels, Bahamians switched the drum to metal, slightly changing the tone of the drum.
Idiophones: The main component that makes Rake-N-Scrape unique is the use of the Carpenter's Saw. This instrument is scraped with a nail or butter knife. Bent against the body of the player and flexed, various timbral effects are obtained. In more modern music, the saw is replaced with maracas or a guiro.
Aerophones: The accordion is the component that adds the round form which enables dancers to dance the ring dance. This is of European descent. In more modern bands, it is replaced by an electric guitar or electronic keyboard.
- Ingraham 368
- Ingraham 369
- Rommen 173
- Ingraham 369
- Kaliss, Jeff. "Junkanoo and Sloop John B.". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 317–324. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
- Rommen, Timothy. "Come Back Home: Regional Travels, Global Encoutners, and Local Nostalgias in Bahamian Popular Musics." Project Muse: Latin American Music Review, Vol 30, Number 2, Fall/Winter 2009. University of Texas Press, 159-183.
- Ingraham, Veronica. 2007. “The Bahamas” in An Encyclopedic History: Music in Latin America and the Caribbean, vol. 2, Performing the Caribbean Experience, Ed. By Malena Kuss. Texas: University of Texas Press, 359-376.
- The Bahamas: Islands of song, recorded and produced by Oete Reiniger, with introductory essays by Gail Saunders and Kayla Olubumni Lockhart Edwards. I CD, Smithsonian Folkways SF 40405 (1997).
- (French) Audio clips: traditional music of the Bahamas. Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève. Accessed November 25, 2010.
- "Drive the Nail A'Right, Boys." (Downloadable recording) Bahamanian conch song. Library of Congress, Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections; performed by Naomi Nelson on 15 January 1940 in Riviera, Florida. Accessed 10 September 2010.