|Birth name||Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey|
|Born||February 18, 1942|
Tea Bay, Cat Island, Bahamas
|Died||January 15, 1997 (aged 54)|
Acoustic guitar, cowbells & whistles
|Associated acts||Tony McKay and the Islanders, Nina Simone|
Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey (18 February 1942 – 15 January 1997), known professionally as Tony McKay and Exuma, was a Bahamian musician, artist, playwright and author best known for his almost unclassifiable music, a strong mixture of carnival, junkanoo, calypso, reggae, African music and folk music. His lyrics were deeply immersed in the West African and Jamaican tradition of Obeah, a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies, practiced by many on the islands of The Bahamas.
In a 1970 interview, McKay, as Exuma said the "'electrical part' of his being 'came from beyond Mars; down to Earth on a lightning bolt'". He described his music as "all music that has ever been written and all music not yet written. It's feeling, emotion, the sound of man, the sound of day creatures, night creatures and electrical forces".
- 1 Early life
- 2 Musical career
- 3 Recording artist
- 4 Fine artist
- 5 Playwright
- 6 Community and charitable efforts
- 7 Personal life
- 8 Later life and death
- 9 Influence on other artists
- 10 Critical analysis
- 11 Awards and honors
- 12 Discography
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Born in Tea Bay on Cat Island, Bahamas, McKay and his mother Daisy Mackey moved to Nassau. He grew up there in a small house on Canaan Lane, shared by Ma' Gurdie, an older woman who McKay said "danced so well". "When I sing, I can still see Ma' Gurdie's beautiful moves".
McKay moved to New York City at the age of 17 to study architecture. He "promptly ran out of money". Friends give him an old guitar and knowing three or four chords, he started practicing old Bahamian calypsos. Homesick for Nassau, McKay began writing poetry about Ma' Gurdie and Junkanoo. These poems became the basis for McKay's "Brown Girl in the Ring", "Rushing Through the Crowd" and other Exuma songs.
Due to McKay's greater interest in music, he did not complete his architectural studies.
Manhattan and Greenwich Village
Nassau friends living in Brooklyn took McKay to Greenwich Village, introducing him to hootenannies in neighborhood cafes. McKay founded the group Tony McKay and the Islanders. During this time, McKay also performed at Cafe Wha? and The Bitter End.
McKay often performed with well known musicians and comedians in small Greenwich Village clubs and bars. "I started playing around when Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Peter, Paul and Mary, Richard Pryor, (Jimi) Hendrix and (Barbra) Streisand were all down there, too, hanging out and performing at the Cafe Bizarre".
In 1969 McKay launched the group "Exuma" with his then-partner and lifelong friend Sally O'Brien. He enlisted several musician friends, forming his backup band, the Junk Band. The band included O'Brien (as Princess Sally), Bogie, Lord Wellington, Villy, Spy Boy Thielheim, Mildred Vaney, Frankie Gearing, Diana Claudia Bunea (as Princess Diana), and his good friend Peppy Castro (Emil Thielhelm, lead singer of the Blues Magoos).
He soon gained the attention of Blues Magoos manager Bob Wyld. "I'd been singing down there (Greenwich Village), and we'd all been exchanging ideas and stuff. Then one time a producer (Wyld) came up to me and said he was very interested in recording some of my original songs, but he said that I needed a vehicle." Wyld recommended McKay to Mercury Records and convinced the record label to sign him.
Exuma, the Obeah Man persona
McKay was a knowledgeable practitioner of bush medicine. He specialized in herbal remedies, especially the "mystical cerasee vine" (Bitter leaves or Momordica charantia), which he collected in Nassau. "I grew up as a roots person, someone knowing about the bush and the herbs and the spiritual realm. It was inbred into all of us. Just like for people growing up in the lowlands of the Delta Country or places in Africa."
"I remembered the Obeah Man from my childhood - he's the one with the colorful robes who would deal with the elements and the moonrise, the clouds and the vibrations of the earth. So I decided to call myself 'Exuma, the Obeah Man'".
McKay further explained his interpretation of Obeah. "Obeah was with my grandfather, with my grandmother, with my father, with my mother, with my uncles who taught me. It has been my religion in the vein that everyone has grown up with some sort of religion, a cult that was taught. Christianity is like good and evil. God is both. He unlocked the secrets to Moses, good and evil, so Moses could help the children of Israel. It's the same thing, the whole completeness - the Obeah Man, the spirits of air."
New Orleans Jazz Festival
Hearing of McKay's success performing "Junkanoo Drums", New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis tracked him down by calling the Bahamian Embassy. Davis invited McKay to perform at the 1978 Festival. McKay performed at the New Orleans Jazz Festival from 1978 until 1991. The 1983 Festival program described McKay as "Exuma - the Obeah man whose Caribbean music is similar in spirit to the street music of New Orleans".
By the 1980s McKay had moved to New Orleans and was a regular at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He performed regularly at the Old Absinthe House, a popular venue on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. These nights often became jam sessions, as McKay would play songs that were not in the set list, attracting accomplished musicians, such as Bill Wyman and members of Bob Dylan's band.
McKay said of New Orleans "I found New Orleans to be a very cultural place where if you bring love to the people, they will give you the necessary energy to bring even more."
In 1994 McKay lived in Colorado, saying he found himself inspired by the area's "peacefulness". "It comes from the love of what I am doing. Music is like eating and breathing - every fiber of me is in music. I've always been like that. The music energizes me and keeps me alive, I think. I have a lot I want to say in a positive way. I don't want to say anything negative. I try to go through every word and make sure that there is nothing negative gender-wise or any-kind-wise. If I have done anything in the past that is not that way, well, I beg forgiveness for that. But I try to move on a positive note." McKay said he had recorded 30 new songs during 1994 with New Orleanian Charles Hancock and fellow Bahamian Rudy Green. At the time he was "presently in the process of deciding which will make the final cut".
Smithsonian Institute's 1994 Festival of American Folklife
McKay was invited to participate in the Smithsonian Institute's 1994 Festival of American Folklife, an annual event presented on the Mall in Washington, D.C. At the event, he styled himself "Macfarlane 'Tony' Mackey, 'Exuma the Obeah Man'". McKay recorded a number of songs at the Festival, performing with many other Bahamian artists, including Thomas Cartwright And The Boys, Nathaniel “Piccolo Pete” Saunders and Cebric "Seabreeze" Bethel.
Over the years the group Exuma played and / or toured with Patti LaBelle, Curtis Mayfield, Rita Marley, Peter Tosh, Toots & the Maytals, Sly and the Family Stone, Steppenwolf, Black Flag and the Neville Brothers.
Musicians who have performed on his recordings and in his stage shows include Aziza Bey, Patti Bown, David Bromberg, George J. ‘Duke’ Clemmons, Jerry Congales, Chuchlow Eliebank, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, Alan Glover (Akinjorin "Juice" Omolade), Earl Gordon, Bill "Hutch" Hutchinson, Carl Jennings, Dave Libert, Bruce "Weasel" McDonald, George Porter Jr, Alfred "Uganda" Roberts, Ricky Sebastian, Kester Smith, Babatunde Olatunji, Michael O'Neil (as Ouimungie Pappa Legba), Bernard Purdie, John Russo, Victor Sirker, Michael Sklar, Dennis Taylor, David Torkanowsky, Earl Turbinton, David Lee Watson, Jacob Watson, Stanley Wiley (Kasa Allah) and Al Zanzler.
Early recordings as Tony McKay
McKay recorded a number of 7" singles beginning in 1963. He released the following as "Tony McKay":
- Ten Past Twelve Cinderella Blues / Riddle Rhyme Song (7", Single, Promo) Claridge Records CR-318 1963
- Nobody's Perfect / Detroit (7", Single, Promo) Claridge Records CR-307-N 1965
- Island Hog / The Ticking Of The Clock (7", Single, Promo) Josie Records 45-979 1967
- The Island Hog (Stereo) / The Island Hog (Mono) (7", Single, Promo) Brunswick 55407 (unknown release date)
Mercury Records releases
In 1970 McKay, recording as "Exuma" accompanied by a band with same name released two albums. Both featured full cover artwork painted by McKay.
Mercury Records released McKay's first album Exuma, produced by "Daddy Ya Ya", a pseudonym adopted by Bob Wyld. Wyld produced the first six of Exuma's albums. Singles released from that lp were "Exuma, The Obeah Man" and "Junkanoo".
Describing his process of musical creativity, McKay said "I try to be a story-teller, a musical doctor, one who brings musical vibrations from the universal spiritual plane through my guitar strings and my voice. I want to bring some good energy to the people. My whole first album came to me in a dream".
Mercury Records launched "a full-scale promotion and advertising campaign". Lou Simon, then Mercury Records' Senior VP for Sales, Marketing and Promotion said "the reaction is that of a heavy, big numbers contemporary album... as a result, we're going to give it all the merchandising support we can muster". McKay's second album Exuma II had two singles released, "Damn Fool" and "Zandoo".
The second album, Exuma II, featured performers were: Tony ‘Exuma’ McKay – lead vocals, guitar, ankle bell, & Sacred foot drum; Daddy Ya Ya – backing vocals, bass, attar & elephant bells, & marching drums; Yogi - backing vocals & junk bells; Spy Boy Thielheim – high harmony congas, cabassa, & Sacred sand; Lord Cherry - congas & whistle; Lord Wellington – congas; & Princess Diana & Sally O'Brien – backing vocals & whistles.
Kama Sutra Records releases
McKay left Mercury Records in 1971 to sign with Buddha Records' subsidiary Kama Sutra record label, where he released the albums Do Wah Nanny (1971), Snake (1972), Reincarnation (1972), and Life (1973). Singles released from the album were "Do Wah Nanny", "The Bowery", "Brown Girl", "Rushing Through the Crowd", and a cover of Paul McCartney's "Monkberry Moon Delight".
Seeking greater artistic freedom, McKay's recordings were not released on a major record label for the rest of his career. He founded Inagua Records and self-released Penny Sausage, Going to Cat Island, Universal Exuma and Street Life in the early 1980s, but none of these albums received much exposure. By this time, McKay was enjoying his greatest recognition. In the Bahamas, two of his singles were hits, "Shirlene" and "Rose Mary Smith."
In 1986 Exuma released Rude Boy on the ROIR label.
McKay painted, using chalk pastels, oil paints and water colors during his music career. He created the cover artwork for many of his albums, beginning with the first in 1970. Musicologist Julian Cope said McKay's album covers were "adorned with Exuma’s own fantastic paintings... transforming human faces into their respective animal spirits".
In August 2010 a multi-media exhibition of McKay's art, memorabilia and music was held at the Doongalik Studios Art Gallery in Nassau City, New Providence, Bahamas. Artist Joseph Spence was showcased in the exhibit as well.
McKay's art is still offered in art galleries in the US and the Bahamas.
In 1971 McKay obtained a copyright for Godevan - A Play in Three Acts. The filing listed McKay as the author and staging by Exuma band member Sally O'Brien.
"Junkanoo Drums" musical
McKay created "Junkanoo Drums", a Bahamian concert that showcased a dozen of his songs. McKay used the production to weave a story told by a "Grand Deacon". In August and September of 1977 Exuma performed "Junkanoo Drums" multiple times during that year's free Lincoln Center "Out-Of-Doors" concert series at the band shell in Damrosch Park.
New York Times critic Robert Palmer said of the show "...it consists of a series of original songs by the Bahamian singer, songwriter and guitarist Exuma, but the songs have been elaborated into theatrical sketches, with 40 dancers, singers and musicians participating".
At each show's conclusion McKay would lead the entire company in a carnival procession around the audience in the park.
Community and charitable efforts
McKay and Exuma were a continual presence in charitable efforts across America, performing concerts and sharing receipts with various organizations.
In December 1972, Exuma performed a free concert to support the Black Expo held at the Americana Hotel in Manhattan as well as a concert at Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI) Hall to benefit East, a music club in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Wife and son murdered
McKay's estranged wife Marilyn "Sammy" Mackey (née Guse) and their first son Shaw were murdered by Fritz Montalalou on May 10, 1972 at 217 Avenue A in Manhattan. Married in 1962 and separated from McKay for a year, 32 year old Mackey suffered a slashed throat and a chest wound. Their nine year old son was stabbed once and later died in Bellevue Hospital. Their eight year old son Gavin, who had been sleeping in another room, called the police after the murders. Montalalou was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. During the trial, Montalalou was said to have "kicked in the apartment door" and killed the two in revenge for Mackey having called the police after Montalalou had assaulted his ex-girlfriend who lived across the hall from Mackey.
Marriage and family
In 1974 McKay married Inita Watkins in Manhattan.
McKay fathered many children, including Shaw, Gavin, Kenyatta Alisha and Acklins. Acklins and Kenyatta Alisha are vocal artists, carrying on their father's tradition of entertainment.
Later life and death
In the late 1980s, McKay suffered a heart attack in New Orleans. Bahamas Tourism Officer Athama Bowe recalls visiting McKay in hospital. "His skin was coated with olive oil and candles were burning all over the room for "the sperrits". He was mixing modern medicine with Obeah."
Influence on other artists
Aspects of McKay's "Obeah Man" persona influenced other artists, notably singer Nina Simone. Converting McKay’s "Obeah Man" into "Obeah Woman", Simone assumed the role of "priestess", a role she for which she was eminently suited. Her live performance was recorded on her album "It Is Finished". The song begins with drumming by Babatunde Olatunji and Simone asking “do you know what an "Obeah Woman" is?” She continues, altering McKay's lyrics: “I’m the Obeah woman, from beneath the sea / To get to Satan, you gotta pass through me”... “they call me Nina, and Pisces too / There ain’t nothin’ that I can’t do”. Simone also performed two additional McKay songs during the live recording, "Dambala" and "22nd Century".
Former Parliamentarian, Cabinet Minister, Chairman of the College Council of the College of The Bahamas and fellow Bahamian Alfred M. Sears said McKay as Exuma was "A Bahamian visionary, humanistic philosopher and people's poet. Exuma gives expression to the beauty and power of the cultural life of the Bahamas - the people's every day experiences, folklore, myths, stories, junkanoo, rake and scrape, pain, joy, struggle and survival. His life and art reflect the wonderful cultural heritage and personality of Bahamians, drawing on the roots of Africa and the branches of the Amerindians, Europeans and Americans."
Bahamian musicologist Roney Ambrister, BEM said of McKay "You could put him in line with (Joseph) Spence. He was a jubil fellow, very happy, he would grab his guitar, kick off, and the rest of the band would follow him". Ambrister said while "there was no such thing as 'Obeah music'", the spiritual charge lay instead in McKay's fantastic clothing, artwork, and mystical lyrics, as in "His time is short, his time is long, Exuma ain't right and Exuma ain't wrong."
Awards and honors
In 1974 McKay was invited by the Queen Julianna of the Netherlands to perform for her along with the Edwin Hawkins Singers.
Solomon, an oil on canvas portrait of McKay by Stanley Burnside is in the permanent collection of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. The museum describes the painting as "a bold commemorative piece of art that recognizes Mackey’s memory and status as a leader at what he did... The viewer shouldn’t ignore the crown that sits snugly over Mackey’s locks, this is Burnside’s assertion of Mackey’s wisdom and kingly status in Bahamian history."
Label: Mercury Records
- "Exuma, The Obeah Man" (6:20)
- "Dambala" (5:40)
- "Mama Loi, Papa Loi" (4:36)
- "Junkanoo" (3:24)
- "Seance In The Sixth Fret" (7:15)
- "You Don't Know What's Going On" (3:31)
- "The Vision" (7:58)
Label: Mercury Records
- "Damn Fool" (4:17)
- "Baal" (6:37)
- "Paul Simon Nontooth" (5:34)
- "Fire In The Hole" (7:02)
- "A Place Called Earth" (6:32)
- "We Got To Go" (2:59)
- "African Rhythm" (4:47)
- "Zandoo" (4:49)
Do Wah Nanny
Label: Kama Sutra Records
- "Do Wah Nanny" (4:20)
- "Silver City" (6:27)
- "Eyebrows And Beards" (2:54)
- "She Looks So Fine" (3:35)
- "Roweena" (4:45)
- "The Bowery" (3:23)
- "22nd Century" (8:18)
- "Do Wah Nanny II" (2:47)
Label: Kama Sutra Records
- "Obeah, Obeah, Obeah" (3:49)
- "Snake" (2:45)
- "Don't Let Go" (2:32)
- "Attica Part 1" (6:58)
- "Thirteenth Sunday" (3:26)
- "Subway Bound For Hell" (3:39)
- "Happiness And Sunshine" (5:52)
- "Summertime In New York" (3:36)
- "Andros Is Atlantis Rising" (3:37)
- "Exuma's Reincarnation" (3:21)
Label: Kama Sutra Records
- "Brown Girl" (2:40)
- "Monkberry Moon Delight" (3:28)
- "Metastophaliese" (2:12)
- "Obeah Man Come Back" (2:27)
- "Baby, Let Me In" (2:18)
- "Pay Me What You Owe Me" (2:21)
- "Empty Barrels" (2:12)
- "Walking Home" (2:50)
- "Rushing Through The Crowd" (2:30)
- "Ballad For Sammy" (2:57)
- "Exuma's Reincarnation" (2:50)
Label: Kama Sutra Records
- "If It Feels Good, Do It" (2:29)
- "Paint It Black" (2:47)
- "Love Is Strange" (2:49)
- "The Jumping Dance" (2:00)
- "Iko Iko" (1:55)
- "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (4:00)
- "Night Time People" (2:51)
- "Hayride" (2:14)
- "Oh! Lovey" (2:12)
- "Sodom And Gomorrah" (2:22)
- "Kenyatta Alisha" (2:14)
- "Viva El Matador" (2:25)
Hold On Joshua Part 1 / Hold On Joshua Part 2
Label: Inagua Records
- "Exuma The Obeah Man Returns" (4:09)
- "Penny Sausage" (5:05)
- "Africa" (4:28)
- "Rasta" (2:54)
- "Black Hawk" (7:16)
- "Southern Comfort" (4:20)
- "Soul Conga Line" (4:20)
- "Joanna" (3:00)
- "Pretty Woman" (3:33)
- "Beware" (2:57)
- "Armageddon" (7:32)
Label: Cat Island Records
- "Guy Fawkes" (4:05)
- "Fame Is The Name Of The Game" (4:12)
- "Roller Reggae" (4:03)
- "Rose Mary Smith" (4:39)
- "Cat Island Rake & Scrape Band" (4:02)
- "Get It (Good Feeling)" (3:59)
- "Super Star Who Do You Think You Are" (4:06)
- "Alowis Plant (Aloe Plant)" (3:03)
- "Maasai" (3:55)
- "Praise Jesus Tonight" (3:56)
Label: ROIR Records
- "Rude Boy" (4:10)
- "Clean On the Outside, Dirty On The Inside (4:31)
- "The Coming "Junkanoo" (4:00)
- "Shirlene (4:33)
- "Dready" (3:56)
- "Fishing On The Rock" (5:13)
- "Saint James Road Slim" (5:50)
- "Soca 'Bite Me On My Belly" (3:37)
- "Dream" (4:14)
- "Bam Bam" (2:43)
- "Armageddon" (7:32)
Label: Nassau Records
- "Rude Boy" (4:01)
- "Clean On the Outside, Dirty On The Inside" (4:26)
- "The Coming "Junkanoo" (3:56)
- "Shirlene" (4:26)
- "Dready" (3:50)
- "Fishing On The Rock" (5:08)
- "Saint James Road Slim" (5:48)
- "Soca "Bite Me On My Belly" (3:33)
- "Dream" (4:10)
- "Bam Bam" (2:38)
- In the early 1980s, Exuma also released several very rare albums entitled Going to Cat Island and Street Music. Tracks from Street Music were later included in ROIR's release of Exuma's Rude Boy Album. Exuma's music appeared on various compilations throughout his career.
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- "Doongalik Studios Art Gallery". Retrieved April 17, 2019.
- Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third series. 1971. p. 157.
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- "Police Hunt Clues in Rock Artist's Wife, Son". The Central New Jersey Home News. New Brunswick, New Jersey. May 12, 1972. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- Lee, Vincent (May 12, 1972). "He Gets 2 Life Terms". Daily News. New York, New York. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- Fleysher, Ellen (January 26, 1974). "Singer's Wife, Son Slain in E. Village". Daily News. New York, New York. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- "New York Marriage License Indexes, 1907-2018". Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- Smith, Larry (November 3, 2010). "Underground Railroad of Bahamian Music". The Tribune - USA Today Bahamas Edition. Nassau, Bahamas. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
- "The Life & Music Of Exuma". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
- "The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas". November 17, 2011. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
- "Exuma - Do Wah Nanny (Vinyl, LP, Album)". Discogs.com. Retrieved 19 August 2014.