McFarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey, better known as Tony McKay or Exuma, is said to have been inspired by the legendary Alphonso "Blind Blake" Higgs. Exuma’s songs reflect the pleasures of the simple life in the islands, and through them, he teaches us how to appreciate things Bahamian such as, fishing on the rock, ring play, junkanoo, and so many other things that we sometimes take for granted or even see as things to be forgotten.
An incredible rhythm master, Exuma embodied the Bahamian sound whenever he took to the stage. The foot stomping, stiff guitar rhythm, and that voice that both bellowed and screeched from his soul could never be mistaken for any other. His mother Ms Daisy Mackey sailed across the ocean with him at the age of two from their home in Cat Island. Canaan Lane, off Shirley Street near Hawkins Hill would be his new home. Exuma enjoyed going fishing on the rock and ring play during the bright sunny days.
"Brown girl in the ring", "Cat Island Rake 'n' Scrape Band", "Obeah", "Fishing On The Rock", Rushin' Through The Crowd", and "Bam Bam" are only a few titles that capture how we live and what we do as a people. Never have I met an individual with such love and appreciation for his fellow man. At times when we allow the pressures of daily living to get us down, Exuma always reminded us to love each other. His favorite words were, "Plenty Love", and he did live these words each and every day. Although he studied to be an architect, and spent some time with the Bahamas Audit Department, his call was to entertain and spread his love through song.
Not only was Exuma a performing artist, he was also a visual artist. In fact, many of his works are on display in various art galleries in the South Florida area. Some of his works are even displayed on his album covers. Adopting names such as "Exuma" and "The Obeah Man" added much mystery to his image. His onstage persona appeared to be a carefully developed one, and for many, it was difficult to reconcile Exuma the Obeah man onstage with Tony McKay the humble man.
At times, Exuma’s stage props included what Bahamians refer to as a fowl snake, and his style of dress was always eye-catching, large-brimmed straw hat adorned with feathers, sometime barebacked, always colorful, with ribbons fluttering and unusual neck trinkets jangling in rhythm with his the rolling back of his eyes and the tapping of his boots. Dating back as far as the early sixties, Exuma represented the Bahamas in grand style at many events.
His travels took him to places like Russia, Scandinavia, Brazil, Venezuela, and countless other countries. Whether it was Greenwich Village, where he made his debut at "Cafe Wha" around 1961, or in New Orleans where he appeared at the New Orleans Jazz Festival for twelve consecutive years becoming quite popular and establishing an almost cult-like following.
Exuma thrilled audiences as he propped up on a stool like a folk singer with his acoustic guitar, and filled the audience with love and the Bahamian rhythms of junkanoo, goombay, and rake 'n' scrape fused with country, reggae, blues, and any style that he could weave into his craft. Exuma was signed with Mercury Records for a time, and then Buddah Records. These contracts produced about eight albums over the years. Also, his music would be recorded by younger top Bahamian artists, with Exuma the Obeah Man a popular choice.
Although Exuma said that he got great vibes from living in the New Orleans area, he was always inspired to write about home. Whether it was in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, or Cat Island, Exuma's spirit was captivating and unique. A great human being! Having had the honor of working with him, I know firsthand that his music came from deep within; it was soul music, it was music from the heart.
Upon his death in January 1997 of a heart attack at his home on Canaan Lane, Exuma's memory was honored by thousands of friends and family. Junkanooers from all around rushed (paraded) from the church to the burial ground where he was laid to rest. His music will always be a yardstick for measuring and defining Bahamian music.
Exuma speaks his mind through this poem entitled "YOU" -
Your mouth shouts salvation
But your heart spouts damnation
You scream out correction
But your eyes show deception
You are so puffed up and filled
With false pride
Always hiding what you feel deep down inside
You always find a good excuse
For your verbal and physical abuse
Your God is a God of paper
You ain’t nothin’ but a religious faker
You preach false things about Jehovah God
While you're praising Satan your only Lord
You take away pride from a people so proud
And replace it with a burial shroud
Your life is built on sin and war
But soon big head you'll be no more