Exuma (musician)

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Birth nameMcFarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey
Born(1942-02-18)February 18, 1942
Tea Bay, Cat Island, Bahamas
DiedJanuary 15, 1997(1997-01-15) (aged 54)
Nassau, Bahamas
GenresFreak Folk
Acoustic guitar, cowbells & whistles
Years active1962–97
Kama Sutra
Associated actsTony McKay and the Islanders, Nina Simone

McFarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey (18 February 1942 – 15 January 1997), known 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.[1]

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".[2]

Early life[edit]

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".

As a boy, McKay and his friends caught and sold fish to buy movie tickets. Watching the films exposed them to Sam Cooke and Fats Domino and other American blues singers, who they would imitate.

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.[3]

Due to McKay's greater interest in music, he did not complete his architectural studies.

Musical career[edit]

Manhattan and Greenwich Village[edit]

Nassau friends living in Brooklyn took McKay to Greenwich Village, introducing him to hootenannies in neighborhood cafes.[3]

McKay began his music career in 1961, forming a group named Tony McKay and the Islanders.[2] 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". [4] During this time, McKay also performed at Cafe Wha? and The Bitter End.[5]

Founding Exuma[edit]

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.[4] "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.[6] Wyld recommended McKay to Mercury Records and convinced the record label to sign him.

Obeah Man persona[edit]

Creating an image and a persona that fit his music, McKay drew upon his Jamaican memories of the "Obeah Man". Jamaican life was rooted in West African tradition. Among the slaves brought to Jamaica were healers, medicine men and priests who practiced Obeah. Many pursued their traditional practices when they arrived in Jamaica.[7]

McKay was a knowledgeable practitioner of bush medicine. He specialized in herbal remedies, especially the "mystical cerasee vine" (Momordica charantia). McKay claimed he always picked its leaved from a specific location in Nassau.[8] "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."[3]

"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'".[6]

New Orleans Jazz Festival[edit]

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.[3] 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".[9] McKay was popular at the Festival. Many years he was given the prestigious position of closing the Koindu (later re-named the Congo Square) Stage on the Festival's last day.[8]

New Orleans[edit]

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.[10] 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.[8]

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."[3]


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.[8] At the time he was "presently in the process of deciding which will make the final cut".[6]

Musical collaboration[edit]

Over the years 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.[4]

Musicians who have performed on his recordings include David Bromberg,[11] Kester Smith and Michael O'Neil (as Ouimungie Pappa Legba).

Recording artist[edit]

Early recordings as Tony McKay[edit]

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 ‎(7", Single, Promo) Brunswick 55407 (unknown release date)

Mercury Records releases[edit]

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.[12] 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".[3]

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".[13] McKay's second album Exuma II had two singles released, "Damn Fool" and "Zandoo".

Exuma also garnered recognition for his song "You Don't Know What's Going On", which was featured on the soundtrack of John G. Avildsen's 1970 film Joe.

The Barclay record label distributed Exuma's Mercury Records releases in France, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium.[14]

Kama Sutra Records releases[edit]

Exuma left Mercury in 1971 to sign with the 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".

Independent releases[edit]

After low sales and seeking greater artistic freedom, Exuma's recordings were not released on a major record label for the rest of his career. He 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, Exuma was enjoying his greatest recognition. In the Bahamas, he even scored two hit singles, "Shirlene" and "Rose Mary Smith." In 1986 under the ROIR label, Exuma released Rude Boy, which garnered slightly more attention and featured songs from some of his previous 1980s releases.

Fine artist[edit]

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 his first lp in 1970.

A large body of his work may still be found in art galleries in the US and the Bahamas.[8]

"Junkanoo Drums" musical[edit]

In August and September of 1977 McKay and Exuma performed is Bahamian musical concert "Junkanoo Drums" multiple times during that year's free Lincoln Center Out-Of-Doors concert series at the band shell in Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park.[15] The musical showcased a dozen of McKay's songs he used to weave a story as told by a "Grand Deacon".[3]

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".[16]

Exuma lead the entire company in a carnival procession around the audience in the park at the show's conclusion.

Community and charitable efforts[edit]

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.[17]

Later life and death[edit]

In the late 1980s, Exuma suffered a mild heart attack, and began dividing his time between fishing (his favorite pursuit), painting and songwriting.[8] His paintings have been exhibited several times and collected by many art lovers.

The last years of his life saw him splitting his time between Miami, Florida and Nassau, in a house that his mother had left him. Having for the most part retired from the limelight by the ’90s, he divided his time between fishing (his favorite pursuit), painting and songwriting.[18] McKay died in his sleep in 1997.

Professor and fellow Bahamian Alfred M. Sears stated that 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."[4]

Personal life[edit]

McKay's estranged wife Marilyn 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 died in Bellevue Hospital.[19] Their eight year old son Gavin, who had been sleeping in another room, called the police after the murders.[20] 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"[21] 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.[22]

In 1974 McKay married Inita Watkins in Manhattan.[23]

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.

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1974 McKay was invited by the Queen Julianna of the Netherlands to perform for her along with the Edwin Hawkins Singers.[5]

In June 1988 McKay was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) by Queen Elizabeth II "for services to music and his contributions to Bahamian culture".[5]


Label: Mercury Records
Released: 1970

Track listing:

  1. "Exuma, The Obeah Man" (6:20)
  2. "Dambala" (5:40)
  3. "Mama Loi, Papa Loi" (4:36)
  4. "Junkanoo" (3:24)
  5. "Seance In The Sixth Fret" (7:15)
  6. "You Don't Know What's Going On" (3:31)
  7. "The Vision" (7:58)

Exuma II
Label: Mercury Records
Released: 1970

Track listing:

  1. "Damn Fool" (4:17)
  2. "Baal" (6:37)
  3. "Paul Simon Nontooth" (5:34)
  4. "Fire In The Hole" (7:02)
  5. "A Place Called Earth" (6:32)
  6. "We Got To Go" (2:59)
  7. "African Rhythm" (4:47)
  8. "Zandoo" (4:49)

Do Wah Nanny
Label: Kama Sutra Records
Released: 1971

Track listing:[24]

  1. "Do Wah Nanny" (4:20)
  2. "Silver City" (6:27)
  3. "Eyebrows And Beards" (2:54)
  4. "She Looks So Fine" (3:35)
  5. "Roweena" (4:45)
  6. "The Bowery" (3:23)
  7. "22nd Century" (8:18)
  8. "Do Wah Nanny II" (2:47)

Label: Kama Sutra Records
Released: 1972

Track listing:

  1. "Obeah, Obeah, Obeah" (3:49)
  2. "Snake" (2:45)
  3. "Don't Let Go" (2:32)
  4. "Attica Part 1" (6:58)
  5. "Thirteenth Sunday" (3:26)
  6. "Subway Bound For Hell" (3:39)
  7. "Happiness And Sunshine" (5:52)
  8. "Summertime In New York" (3:36)
  9. "Andros Is Atlantis Rising" (3:37)
  10. "Exuma's Reincarnation" (3:21)

Label: Kama Sutra Records
Released: 1972

Track listing:

  1. "Brown Girl" (2:40)
  2. "Monkberry Moon Delight" (3:28)
  3. "Metastophaliese" (2:12)
  4. "Obeah Man Come Back" (2:27)
  5. "Baby, Let Me In" (2:18)
  6. "Pay Me What You Owe Me" (2:21)
  7. "Empty Barrels" (2:12)
  8. "Walking Home" (2:50)
  9. "Rushing Through The Crowd" (2:30)
  10. "Ballad For Sammy" (2:57)
  11. "Exuma's Reincarnation" (2:50)

Label: Kama Sutra Records
Released: 1973

Track listing:

  1. "If It Feels Good, Do It" (2:29)
  2. "Paint It Black" (2:47)
  3. "Love Is Strange" (2:49)
  4. "The Jumping Dance" (2:00)
  5. "Iko Iko" (1:55)
  6. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (4:00)
  7. "Night Time People" (2:51)
  8. "Hayride" (2:14)
  9. "Oh! Lovey" (2:12)
  10. "Sodom And Gomorrah" (2:22)
  11. "Kenyatta Alisha" (2:14)
  12. "Viva El Matador" (2:25)

Penny Sausage
Label: Inagua Records
Released: 1980

Track listing:

  1. "Exuma The Obeah Man Returns" (4:09)
  2. "Penny Sausage" (5:05)
  3. "Africa" (4:28)
  4. "Rasta" (2:54)
  5. "Black Hawk" (7:16)
  6. "Southern Comfort" (4:20)
  7. "Soul Conga Line" (4:20)
  8. "Joanna" (3:00)
  9. "Pretty Woman" (3:33)
  10. "Beware" (2:57)
  11. "Armageddon" (7:32)

Label: Cat Island Records
Released: 1982

Track listing:

  1. "Guy Fawkes" (4:05)
  2. "Fame Is The Name Of The Game" (4:12)
  3. "Roller Reggae" (4:03)
  4. "Rose Mary Smith" (4:39)
  5. "Cat Island Rake & Scrape Band" (4:02)
  6. "Get It (Good Feeling)" (3:59)
  7. "Super Star Who Do You Think You Are" (4:06)
  8. "Alowis Plant (Aloe Plant)" (3:03)
  9. "Maasai" (3:55)
  10. "Praise Jesus Tonight" (3:56)

Rude Boy
Label: ROIR Records
Released: 1986

Track listing:

  1. "Rude Boy" (4:10)
  2. "Clean On the Outside, Dirty On The Inside (4:31)
  3. "The Coming "Junkanoo" (4:00)
  4. "Shirlene (4:33)
  5. "Dready" (3:56)
  6. "Fishing On The Rock" (5:13)
  7. "Saint James Road Slim" (5:50)
  8. "Soca 'Bite Me On My Belly" (3:37)
  9. "Dream" (4:14)
  10. "Bam Bam" (2:43)
  11. "Armageddon" (7:32)

Street Music
Label: Nassau Records
Released: 1987

Track listing:

  1. "Rude Boy" (4:01)
  2. "Clean On the Outside, Dirty On The Inside" (4:26)
  3. "The Coming "Junkanoo" (3:56)
  4. "Shirlene" (4:26)
  5. "Dready" (3:50)
  6. "Fishing On The Rock" (5:08)
  7. "Saint James Road Slim" (5:48)
  8. "Soca "Bite Me On My Belly" (3:33)
  9. "Dream" (4:10)
  10. "Bam Bam" (2:38)
  • In the early 1980s, Exuma also released several very rare albums entitled Going to Cat Island and Street Life. Tracks from Street Life were later included in ROIR's release of Exuma's Rude Boy Album. Exuma's music appeared on various compilations throughout his career.


  1. ^ "The Bahamian Artwork Collection: Tony "The Obeah Man" McKay". D'Aguilar Art Foundation. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Exuma Man For All Seasons" (PDF). Record World. May 16, 1970. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Exuma - Mardi Gras to the Second Power". Wavelength. New Orleans, Louisiana. February 1981. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Alfred M. Sears (September 7, 1995). "The Nina Simone Web - Exuma". Archived from the original on 11 March 2008. Retrieved April 29, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c Sears, QC, Alfred (March 1, 2015). "Tony McKay The Obeah Man". BAAM Magazine. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c "INTO THE MYSTIC". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  7. ^ "Jamaican Traditions - Obeah in the 21st Century". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "The Life & Music Of Exuma". OffBeat Magazine. March 1, 1997. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  9. ^ 1983 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Program. 1983.
  10. ^ "Exuma, the Obeah Man". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  11. ^ Wilson, John S. (January 20, 1974). "David Bromberg Overwhelms Audiences". Fort Lauderdale News. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  12. ^ "Exuma". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  13. ^ "Big Merc Push For `Exuma'" (PDF). Record World. April 25, 1970. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  14. ^ "Barclay in Distrib Deal with Exuma". Billboard. February 6, 1971. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  15. ^ "Concerts". New York Magazine. September 5, 1977. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  16. ^ Palmer, Robert (August 31, 1977). "Music: Irresistible 'Junkanoo Drums'". The New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  17. ^ Leogrande, Ernestt (December 9, 1972). "Heartbeat Music". Daily News. New York, New York. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  18. ^ "The Life & Music Of Exuma". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  19. ^ Doyle, Patrick (May 16, 1972). "Cops Subdue a Murder Suspect". Daily News. New York, New York. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ Lee, Vincent (May 12, 1972). "He Gets 2 Life Terms". Daily News. New York, New York. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  22. ^ Fleysher, Ellen (January 26, 1974). "Singer's Wife, Son Slain in E. Village". Daily News. New York, New York. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  23. ^ "New York Marriage License Indexes, 1907-2018". Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  24. ^ "Exuma - Do Wah Nanny (Vinyl, LP, Album)". Discogs.com. Retrieved 19 August 2014.

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