Mr. Edmund Moxey, the son of renowned pianist George 'God Bless' Moxey ATCL and Naomi Lockhart, a public school music teacher, was born in 1933 on Ragged Island. There he attended the all-age school in Duncan Town. Ed recalls having a wonderful childhood typical of Family Island settlements back in those days. The settlement was set up like a small city with all of the streets bearing names, which was not common in most family islands around that time. Also, "you didn't have a fully equipped house until you buy an organ" (Moxey, 2004).
The people of the settlement held three major concerts each year, one at Easter, one at New Year's, and the third on Emancipation Day in August. These concerts were going on for quite some time even before Moxey's time. Around this time, the settlement had a population of approximately 400-500 people only. The men traded goods such as fruits, vegetables, rice, flour, cattle, grits, and peanuts etc. with Haiti and Cuba. These goods were then brought down to Nassau the capital city to sell. Singing was a favorite pastime among islanders. They would often order sheet music for cantatas from the United States for the concerts and other events they held during the course of the year.
Dancing in the settlement was a time of great celebration, and Moxey made his debut at age fourteen playing for these dances. Amazingly, the instruments used for the dance sessions were solo cornet, piano, drum, and the saw. It was a fun time hearing the various rhythms, and observing the vigorous dancing inspired by these few instruments, recalls Moxey. The rhythms played by the musicians were indeed influenced by listening to Cuban music on the radio. The music that they played in the settlement was called Goombay, as Moxey recalls. Although we know now that this music originates from Africa, the introduction of European instruments gave it a new dimension.
At the age of 15, Moxey joined the telecommunications department as a student wireless operator, leading him to spend some time in Nassau. In 1952, at the age of 18, he was sent to work on Crooked Island. There he claims to have met some of the most musical young people ever. Boys were scarce because they had to leave the island to seek employment opportunities in the capital city of Nassau. However there were about 25 young girls with extraordinary musical talents. In addition, they all read music, says Moxey. Books like Crown and Glory, Harmony Heaven were popular American hymnals used by these young ladies. A gentleman carried out the nurturing of these musical talents by the name of Theo Cunningham according to Moxey. Cunningham was referred to as the godfather of music in Cabbage Hill, Crooked Island.
Moxey plays for dancers doing the heel & toe polka
and the Quadrille (photo by Pete Reiniger)
Later on in 1953, Moxey was transferred to Coopers Town, Abaco, a highly religious settlement, as he recalls. The settlement of Coopers Town followed a strict religious code. There were no bars, liquor stores, or dance halls. As a matter of fact very few people smoked in those days. These particular island folk had a thriving Crawfish industry, which supplied the West Palm Beach area in Florida.
Although they had no instruments, they perfected a technique of hand-clapping that was truly fascinating. In a demonstration to the author, he indicated that the elderly folk would play a pattern that sounded on the up beat of each quarter note, while the younger folk would play variations of sixteenth note syncopated rhythms. The closest example of that type of hand-clapping I uncovered was in a very obscure 1953 Folkways Records recording entitled "Religious Songs & Drums In The Bahamas", featuring the Church of God congregation. The sound clip below demonstrates the complex rhythms that were possible with just the hands used as an instrument.
The hand clapping rhythms used in this example are quite intricate, demonstrating the mastery of the clappers, who were not formally trained as musicians, in keeping steady time on the up-beat in a sixteenth note pattern.
Click play to hear example -
Listening to this example, one can only surmise that these Bahamians, average churchgoers, though not formally trained, were naturally talented musicians in their own right with a good sense of timing. Even as a somewhat experienced musician, it proves quite challenging to play consecutive up-beats in the fashion demonstrated above.Moxey's interest in the inner workings of wireless telecommunications led him to further his knowledge in that field in 1956 in Chicago. After returning home in 1958, he began using the skills passed on by his mother, playing the organ at the Church of God in Nassau.
Apart from playing in the church, Moxey played at Club DeAfrica that was located on Wulff Road near Claridge Road in Nassau. At the time, bands led by Freddie Munnings Sr. and W.A.G. Bain were among the most popular bands in Nassau. The hotels at the time used smaller combos to entertain their guests. The only other club that was graced by Moxey was The Juju Tree in Fox Hill. There along with Nattie Small on drums and Bud Huyler on saxophone, they played dance music. Other musicians that would perform and record with Ed Moxey over the years would include Rudy Pinder (conga), Chris Dean (saw), Cyril Dean (goat skin drum), Cyril Webb (goat skin drum), and John King (drums).
Edmund Moxey (r) outside The House Of Assembly
In 1967, Moxey decided to enter politics and made significant changes as a representative for the Coconut Grove constituency. His interest in developing the talents of the young people in his constituency prompted him to form the Coconut Grove Chorale & Folklore Troupe. Later, in 1969, in a milestone development, his troupe presented folk music and dance to an audience of primarily “grassroots” individuals, a term which did not have at the time the negative connotations that some have come to attribute.
Among those in attendance was Lee Elliot Berk of the Berklee College of Music in Boston who happened to be vacationing in the Bahamas at that time. The presentation highlighted songs and dance of the Bahamas in the early years. One of the songs performed was "Burma Road Boys Declare War On The Conchy Joe". This song, which had racial overtones, speaks of the blacks rioting against white Bahamians referred to as "conchy joes", following a huge labor dispute in 1958. The melody used in this song is still being used in many traditional secular and gospel songs in The Bahamas.
Click play to hear Moxey sing "Burma Road Boys Declare War On The Conchy Joe" -
As a result of the connection with Lee Elliot Berk, a few young Bahamian musicians got the opportunity to attend that institution. In 1969, Moxey was trying to come up with ways to further develop appreciation for the music elements of culture in Nassau. A meeting with the Nassau Jaycees, a service organization, started the ball rolling towards the birth of a cultural community center. It is there that the question of funding came up, and the suggestion of a festival of some sorts was proposed. The "Jumbey Festival" was the name chosen because jumbey sounded like goombay and was the name given to a certain type of vegetation, which was extremely common in The Bahamas.
Ironically, jumbey leaves, also referred to as bough (pronounced bow as in curtsey) was commonly used as feed for goats, whose skin was used for drums that produced the core sounds of goombay. The festival took place on Coconut Grove Avenue for the first two years, but the putting up and tearing down of the temporary structures was too demanding according to Moxey. Two years later, the Government was then petitioned to donate land that was eventually developed and built upon. It wasn't 1971 that this project was well on the way.
Performances in music, dance and displays of artwork and local craft created excitement on the grounds of Jumbey village. Many of the artists were sought out by Moxey and featured on a regular basis at a Jumbey Village.
Pat Rahming (folk guitarist) performs at Jumbey Village
Stone structures housed gift shops, kitchen, arts and crafts stores, and a bush medicine garden on well-manicured land. Serving as a sub-chairman for the cultural committee for the independence celebrations, Moxey approached schools for their input. According to Moxey, attempts were in the making to bring foreign artists for these celebrations to which he strongly objected. This production, he insisted, should be an all-Bahamian production, and so it was. A cultural pageant was staged depicting life in The Bahamas from the Arawaks straight on to independence in 1973. Among the key organizers were the late Clement Bethel, director of Culture, and Carlton Francis, then Minister of Finance and Education.
Stone Structures at Jumbey Village
The music of the Bahamas up to 1970 or thereabouts, according to Moxey, was called Goombay, and he says that it was not until he and Charles Carter went to Cat Island that the term Rake 'n' Scrape was coined by Charles who observed local musicians scraping the saw. It must be stated here that Charles Carter discounts the latter claim, however. At one point, a group of eighteen performers came from Cat Island and were featured at Jumbey Village. According to Moxey, this wonderful dream that was realized died when the Government of the day stopped supporting his efforts in 1973. Although the reason given was that of budgetary constraints, to this day, Moxey believes otherwise, contending that the popularity gained through this venture seems to have offended some. Finally, in 1987 explosives were put to the by then derelict site to make way for the National Insurance Board office complex. This event was an extremely sad one for Moxey and even in relating the event in 2004; his deep emotion was quite evident.
Another significant contribution made by Moxey was the documenting, along with Timothy Gibson, of 50 Bahamian songs. These vocal arrangements were done in 4-part harmony and were submitted to the Government be used for the Goombay Summer Festival.
The demise of Jumbey Village would not put an end to Moxey’s contributions, however, and in a most memorable occasion, he appeared at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in 1997.There Bahamians proudly had the golden opportunity to display their many talents, music, arts and craft, poetry and story telling, dancing, cuisine and just about any aspect of Bahamian culture imaginable.
Click play to hear "Jo Syre is the MP & Burma Road" -
Edmund Moxey & Friends playing Rake 'n' Scrape
These days, Moxey performs from time to time playing the concertina with his rake 'n' scrape band. Ever since completing a three-month course at Berklee College of Music, he has been encouraged to conduct workshops similar to those he conducted in Acklins and Crooked Island from 1968 to 1974. Always willing to share his experiences, he visits schools, and makes guest appearances at cultural events such as the Junkanoo In June Festival, Bahamas Heritage Festival and other special events.
Moxey rushin' (parading) with Chippie and his junkanoo group