It is unclear as to the origin of the term Rake 'n' Scrape. Some claim that it was popular radio personality and veteran media executive Charles Carter that gave this style of playing its name upon his visit to Cat Island. Mr. Carter, however, contends that the name existed long before his visit to Cat Island in the early seventies. One thing that we know for sure is that his radio broadcast of the music throughout the Bahamas brought much needed attention to the music known as rake 'n' scrape.
Musicians beating on the goombay drum and scraping a carpenters saw and playing melodious tunes on the concertina were not only recorded as having roots in Cat Island, but in other Family Islands [islands other than the city of Nassau] as well. According to Franklyn 'Count Bernadino' Ellis, a top Bahamian entertainer, he witnessed this style of music being performed on the island of Abaco as a child (Ellis 2004) where they called it simply "African music". Rake 'n' scrape music is reported to have its roots in Cat Island, but evidence shows that that music was being developed in various islands simultaneously.
Today, Rake 'n' Scrape music is almost identical to 'rip saw' music of the Turks and Caicos Islands (a territory off the southernmost island of The Bahamas), which chose to remain under British rule when the Bahamas sought independence in 1973. During the 20's, 30's, and 40's, there was an intermingling of the two cultures, i.e. the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos cultures, which shared their traditions of music, story telling, ring games, and other cultural art forms. Among the shared cultural traits is the music of rake 'n' scrape. It is a futile exercise to debate as to the true origin of this music, but it is safe to say that many of the islands of the Caribbean because of movement of contract workers in the early days, shared and enriched each other’s cultures.
The music is more popular in the Family Islands. This may be due in part to the lack of more expensive instruments but is also attributed to a desire to preserve traditions begun in yesteryear.
Traditionally, rake 'n' scrape music is used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the Heel and Toe Polka dances. Slaves all over the Western Hemisphere were able to create instruments with whatever was available to them. With these instruments they would mimic sounds that they were accustomed in their homeland. The saw, for instance creates sounds that can be compared to like instruments such as the Nigerian wood block guiro and the cabasa without the nuances in pitch. Not only does it produce the scraping sound that can be done on many other percussion instruments in Latin American, African, Indian, and Caribbean cultures, to name a few, the wobbly sound created by the bending, hitting, and scraping of the saw introduces unexplainable harmonic textures.
The use of scraping sticks was quite common in West African music. This adaptation found its way in American Negro folk music with the use of the washboard.
Keeping the music alive in the Bahamas are musicians like Chippie & The Boys, Ed Moxey, and countless Rake 'n' Scrape bands throughout the Family Islands of the Bahamas.
In 1994, the Bahamas was hosted in the Festival of American Folklife in Washington D.C.
This celebration of the diverse cultures of the world brought a large contingent of Bahamian musicians, storytellers, and other culturalists to the National Mall in Washington. That trip led to a subsequent recording done in Nassau in 1995. Kayla Edwards and Fred Ferguson were both instrumental in making this project a success.
The excerpt below is one of the artists featured in this recording. Thomas Cartwright & The Boys plays "Jimmy Bend A Tree While It's Young."
Note that the saw, a very important element in rake 'n' scrape music keeps the rhythm together as it wobbles up and down in pitch.
Click play to hear "Jimmy Bend A Tree While It's Young" with the use of a carpenters saw, goombay drum, & concertina.
(Smithsonian Folklife, 1995)
woodblock guiro - similar to raking
the saw in rake 'n' scrape music.