Goombay is music and dance associated with the goombay drums. The goombay drum is a goatskin drum held between the legs and played with the hands. The music of goombay is similar to that of the calypso from Trinidad, where song lyricists tell stories of the everyday and extraordinary events in the local community, and the music is simple in its chord progression. These songs are rich in historical content. For instance, Blind Blake, one of our premier goombay singers, sang about King Edward leaving his throne for “love, love alone”.

The Bahamas at the time being a British colony would have been greatly influenced by what went on in England. It is said that King Edward did in fact visit The Bahamas and on one occasion requested Blind Blake to perform "love, love alone." Although this made Blake uncomfortable, it is said that King Edward was quite pleased with Blake's song.

Two other artists that stand out among the many Bahamian greats are George Symonette and Charlie Adamson. Their style of goombay composition has faded away and given way to a more popular and modern style that can be found in the music of artists like KB, Geno D, Dry Bread, Phil Stubbs, Ira Storr, Sweet Emily, and quite a few of our younger artists. On that same note, goombay drummers such as John 'Chippie' Chipman continue to keep the tradition of goombay drumming alive in The Bahamas.

Highly rhythmical, the patterns in goombay drumming are similar in complexity to jazz improvisation. The 'licks' as they are called in jazz literature, are of an oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation. With as many sounds as the spoken word, the task of notating these complex rhythms is quite arduous. With just one drum, the goombay drummer is able to play many different timbres and incorporate a wide range of dynamics, thus making it almost impossible to notate with the current European notation symbols.

Under the UBP [United Bahamian Party] government, a Development Board was founded in 1937, which paved the way for the expansion of the tourism industry. With this expansion, the industry instead of catering to visitors for only three months out of the year, welcomed tourists to our shores year round. Sir Stafford Sands, chairman, lawyer and financier, provided a platform for musicians to travel the world to invite these guests to the Bahamas. The sound of goombay music was the vehicle used as a major attraction.  It was then that goombay music gained popularity both in and outside of the Bahamas.

Most worthy of mention also are composers Alice Simms, Freddie Lewis (brother of Eloise Lewis), and Charles Lofthouse, who were all major contributors to goombay music. Many of the songs recorded by Blind Blake, George Symonette, and other musicians were in fact composed by one of these three.

In listening to the various styles of Bahamian music, the music of goombay lends itself to a wider variety of rhythmic nuances, tempos, and meter variations. The goombay artist of the past incorporated the goombay beat in ballads, waltzes, calypsos, and big band jazz, among other styles. Although the goombay style of playing music has lost its popularity in the Bahamas, this is believed by many – the author included—to be the true dance music of the Bahamas.

Click play to hear sample of goombay music

('Out of me' George Symonette )