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It has been just a bit over thirty years since The Bahamas gained its Independence from Great Britain, and some Five Hundred and Twelve years since Christopher Columbus set foot on our beautiful beaches. Today’s Bahamian musicians’ story is rarely told. Although we have made great strides in tourism, sports, banking & finance, there are still many unanswered questions about our musical heritage. The author of this presentation thought it necessary to add to the limited resources readily available, especially to the youth of this developing island nation.
The author also seeks to provoke the social conscience of the media who's responsibility would be well served if they indeed focused on informing, entertaining, and educating the nation as stated by our very own national broadcasting network. Let it be duly noted that with the rapid growth of the many forms of media the world over, it has become increasingly challenging to maintain any sense of cultural uniqueness.
As a point of fact, in the Bahamas, for many years, we enjoyed the pleasures of only one government owned station (Radio Bahamas ZNS-1), which took on the responsibility of bridging our scattered Islands since 1936. Throughout our archipelago, this fact no doubt played an integral part in the manner in which music was perceived and the subtle differences that existed in each of the Islands of The Bahamas. We now enjoy the pleasure of nine radio stations in the capitol city Nassau alone, and another three in family Islands Freeport and Abaco. Because of the influx of radio and cable television, the appreciation for the local entertainer is at risk of being even more suppressed.
These concerns are worthy of mention simply because of the strength of the many influences which includes rap, reggae, soca, and popular American and other music forms has taken it’s toll on The Bahamas. Let it also be noted that successive governments must bear some of the responsibility in so far as, providing the necessary legislation to encourage mega hotel chains to support the local entertainers with more of a sense of duty. The current trend suggests that tourists may one day come to The Bahamas and be challenged in finding live local entertainment. The late E. Clement Bethel in his Master’s Thesis “MUSIC IN THE BAHAMAS, IT’S ROOTS, DEVELOPMENT AND PERSONALITY” did great favor in his presentation of Bahamian folk and culture.
This particular project is but a small attempt to continue the process of bringing to the fore the many contributions of but a few of our entertainers. Amazingly, there were some great finds during this exploration. Many of the personalities that were interviewed for this project brought a great sense of awareness and appreciation for the somewhat obscure musical history of our country. The many influences that these Bahamian greats used in their developing a Bahamian sound were quite enlightening. Bearing in mind that the marriage of African slaves and European masters into a forced society was largely responsible for the fusion of our own cultural base, we need to then appreciate that the early Bahamian faced insurmountable challenges during the early developmental stages.
Whether it was singing old slave songs on the plantation, or entertaining themselves during the contract days all over the United States, or serving their God in the many religions that were introduced to these islands, we as a people made music, we made it well, and as you venture through this presentation you will see that we also made it differently.
Old sea chanteys made up a part of the repertoire in the Bahamas. Allan Lomax recorded David Pryor in 1935. Below is a transcription and sound excerpt of "When The Whale Get Strike". The influence of our colonial masters took root very early on in the Bahamas.
Carnetta Seymour grew up on Cat Island, one of our islands recognized for their strong musical roots. As a child she recalls singing these next two songs while doing the "Ring Dance". The author finds it quite amazing that the meter in the first piece is in 3/4. Most of the folk music was in common time, especially those songs used for dancing. In addition, the songs tell a story about the tragic murder of a female child. Each person is given a chance to enter the circle during a ring dance.
This "Ring Dance" was a lot of fun according to Mrs. Seymour. The young girls enjoyed the story line of catching the handsome concertina player from Hibourn's Cay.
The Caribs in about 500 B.C. were quite a marauding bunch, often going on raids burning villages, torturing and murdering the males they encountered, and enslaving the women. As a result, the Caribs were responsible for forcing the migration of the Arawak Indians to the West Indies from their homes located on the banks of the Orinoco River. Over the following 500 years, Arawaks could be found not only in The Bahamas, but also in Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba. Those living in The Bahamas were known as the lukku cairi or Lucayans and were of a very peaceful nature. (Murray, 1999, p.10)
Just southeast of Florida there lies an archipelago of islands that span some six hundred miles. It is claimed that there are seven hundred of them - well, that’s counting every rock that sticks out of the ocean. These jewels, which were discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, witnessed the demise of the true natives, the Arawaks. The natives of these islands were diminished from an estimated 300,000 in 1492 to about 500 in 1550 due to brutal practices, enslavement, and diseases introduced to their homeland. (Murray, 1999, p.16)
The Islands of The Bahamas, having been depleted of the original inhabitants, remained uninhabited until 1647 when in a bold move by Englishman William Sayle, petition was made to the Government of the day on behalf of his company of Eleutherian Adventurers to acquire the island of Eleuthera, then called Ciguateo. With promise of religious freedom, land, and sharing of wealth and decision making, Sayle got 26 of his proposed 100 investors to commit to this bold relocation plan. They landed on the island and helped produce one of the first self-rule governments in the region.
By 1773 the population of The Bahamas had grown to 4,000, and the years that followed led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the United States in 1776. Many Americans maintained their loyalty with England, but those living in Florida were given time to leave after the revolutionary war in 1783. Most of these traitors, as they were regarded, were given land in the Bahamas. With them, they brought slaves in great numbers, and dramatically increased the population of the islands of The Bahamas.
Slavery and Emancipation
Slavery did not officially end until emancipation in 1838. This, however, did not stop the racial bias that existed towards Negro slaves even in The Bahamas. Although blacks had outnumbered whites 2 to 1, the inferior self-image had taken root. Ironically, depending on the shade of your blackness, there were social implications. This fact is one that has survived even today among blacks the world over.
In 1964, the road to independence was well on the way when the Bahamas obtained internal self-government through constitutional change. Independence was finally achieved in 1973 under the Progressive Liberal Party led by the late Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling. The milestone was celebrated with a grand ceremony on Fort Charlotte in the city of Nassau, where the Union Jack of Great Britain was lowered and the Bahamian flag hoisted took center stage. The national anthem composed by the late Timothy Gibson filled the air, celebrating the birth of a new Bahamas.
In 1965, there were very few recordings that featured Bahamian musicians. In fact, only about a dozen or so recordings existed (Carter 2003). Today we have quite a large volume of music recorded and produced by Bahamians but the struggle of getting them played on most Bahamian radio stations is ongoing. Getting us to love what we do is not only a challenge in the music field but in every aspect of Bahamian culture.
The use of native goods that can be produced locally, as opposed to imports from the United States, Canada, Europe, and other foreign destinations deprives us of a grand opportunity to make great strides forward as a people. We need not look very far to see the pride that exist in Countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, and many of our neighbors in the region with regards to their culture, and in particular their music.
The Pyfrom family, Art Music, Frank Penn out of Freeport, King Eric, and Tom Jacobs are among those contributors who recorded and preserved the music of The Bahamas. Additionally, the music contained in the "Lomax" recordings and "Religious Songs & Drums of The Bahamas" (Folkways 1953) did great favor to the preservation of our gospel and folk musical traditions. The one thing upon reflection that I hope we come away with is that what we record today, will affect the way in which we develop ourselves for tomorrow.
One of the great debates in certain circles is the question of "what is Bahamian music?". Although the answers are varied depending on who answers, I support those that can differentiate between the indigenous folk rhythms such as goombay, rake 'n' scrape, junkanoo, from those styles that are born and have been developed in other cultures such as reggae, jazz, rock, etc.
Like most countries, we do have a wide variety of styles in our musical repertoire. The sound of goombay for instance has been developed to a more contemporary sound by artist like Dry Bread, KB, and The Falcons. We are still in our developmental stages, musically and culturally speaking. Searching for that sound which will set us apart from the rest of the world. In that search though, we must allow a good measure of artistic freedom.
Just think, if Tony McKay didn't do rock, reggae, gospel, blues, and all of the other styles that made up his repertoire, we probably would not have been the beneficiaries of his finest work.
Others Like Eddie Minnis, regrets listening to those detractors who said he couldn't sing. Had he not done so, he could have done even more as composer, singer, and the telling of the stories in the fashion that he did. "Bahamians are great actors, imitators, mimes, we can take anything and make it our own" (Carter 2003). If this gift is allowed to flourish, then and only then we can see the true development of our music and culture.
Yes, it has been thirty or so years of independence, but the music of the Bahamas is less diverse than in former years. Out of the many styles that existed, the fusion used in songs like 'Funky Nassau' (Beginning Of The End 1972), and 'Who Let The Dogs Out' (Baha Men 2002) which in the first instance were somewhat rejected by many, turned out to be our most celebrated musical achievements to date. Our most popular group of the seventies "T-Connection" although they fused some Bahamian rhythms into their music, really had to conform and re-invent their style to suit popular demands.
"We must continue to find ways to fuse our music with those rhythms that are right here in our backyard. Trinidad, Haiti, and the rest of the Caribbean and West Indies have the same feeling in their music. After all, we are descendants from he same motherland" (Pindling 2004). We have been trying to get our music accepted by those who have little in common with our culture such as those in America and Europe. Our music is right here in the Caribbean and West Indies. We can even reach out to that great continent of Africa if we truly want a true definition of ourselves.
I hear the similarities in rhythms from Cuba, as do I in music from Curacao and many other countries in this region. These African rhythms came with us, and although these people were scattered all over this hemisphere, we kept a part of this music for ourselves. We made modifications based on whatever instruments were available to us.
Nonetheless, the basic foundation threads through all of our music. It is therefore important for those of us in the region to re-familiarize ourselves with each other’s music in order to gain the true understanding of the question, what is Bahamian music?
When I initially embarked on this project, I had very little knowledge of the technical aspects of what would be required. Being a bit familiar with various music software over the years, I wondered, how difficult can this be? I did find out in due course that the balancing of information and technology is quite a task.
This whole process of deciding which platform to use came as a result of a course at the VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Ill. This course entitled 'Instructional Design' was instructed by Mr. Mark Jacoby and sparked my interest in the use of the computer as a platform for an exposition on Bahamian musicians and entertainers. Following that summer session, I began the arduous process of learning as much as I could about the various programs and software needed to support this project. I did give much consideration to the use of the print medium but, taking into consideration the flexibility of updating information, decided that some sort of computer generated project was preferable.
The first step was to acquire and learn the software. I settled for the education version of Macromedia, a company that offered a bundle of five different software (Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, Freehand. and Cold Fusion). I must admit, for the better part of one year I had to study and test the many applications possible with these programs. It was not until late 2003 that I truly began to grasp the concept of how these software work. Attempts were made to find a tutor for the computer application side of the project, but to no avail. Equipped with a laptop and a digital camera & camcorder, the tedious task of conducting interviews, listening to and recording existing Bahamian records, and digging through old news papers began.
Helene Peloquin was in the process of cataloguing some information such as miscellaneous news clips and photographs for the Bahamas Musicians & Entertainers Union Library. We shared some information, which went a long way in expanding both of our libraries.
Other software that were used in preparing this project:
MGI Photosuite III
Cool Edit Pro
The Entire Microsoft Office Suite
Hardware used - Compaq Presario 3000
Olympus C-2100 Digital Camera
Canon ZR40 DV Camcorder
HP Scanjet 4470c
Mac PoweerBook G4
While spending countless hours daily learning the computer applications, It became quite a challenge having to conduct interviews with artists in Nassau on the Island of New Providence, and in other Islands of The Bahamas. Most of these interviews were held at the artists’ homes or offices and were captured on audio and videotape. In addition to the software challenges, I had to learn about digital photography, and videography. I recall that when Mr. Jacoby saw the first site in my project, he strongly declared, “These files are too large!” prompting me to go back and edit many photo files. Careful attention was now being placed on file sizes as well as number of files on each artist.
The Nassau Guardian, Nassau Public Library, National Archives, and The Bahamas Musicians and Entertainers Union (all in Nassau, Bahamas) provided much assistance in the gathering of relevant information. In order to deal with copyright issues, a release form was created stating the purpose of this project. This form was presented to those artists that were available for interviews. Consent of the artists would therefore be required for any other use of the information.
Equally as important to exposing our musical history is the need to operate in a lawful and considerate manner. As stated earlier, I really didn't expect to find the amount of information that I had uncovered. The most educational part of this project was the interviews, which gave me great insight into the history of the music industry here in the Bahamas. Artists not only invited me into their homes, but also into their lives, and for that I have truly been transformed to having an even greater appreciation for this profession. The realization that we can live forever through our work struck a chord with me. Not only did these artists speak of themselves, but they also gave me a clearer understanding of the history of our young nation.
Most of my interviews were kept to approximately 2 hours, which really wasn't nearly enough to capture the particular interviewee’s whole musical career let alone the history of our industry. I do appreciate the fact that these artists accommodated my phone calls for clarification or additional information needed. I ended up with files numbering in the hundreds, each file, whether it was music, photo, news clip, interview, or video, demanded special and individual attention as to how it would best be included within this project.
I had to learn very quickly how to manage the volumes of information so they could be easily accessed. All of the photos had to be uniformly edited, the music had to be transferred from vinyl records to mp3 (computer audio) files, and information from news papers and the internet had to be sorted and edited in a workable fashion. The most important element of managing this entire project was remembering to back-up my information frequently.
Towards the end of this project, a switch was made from PC to Mac due to technical glitches on the PC platform.
There were times when information got lost due to power interruptions and computer glitches, but I kept pressing forward. Looking back, it was equally as challenging to learn the platform in which I chose to work and the management and editing of the information itself. Balancing which elements could be left out of this project against which ones to include was a constant dilemma. However, the light at the end of the tunnel kept me moving forward.
The information gathered during this process, is truly overwhelming. But I know that it would have been worth the effort once this process is up and running, and updated to eventually adding all of our musicians and entertainers.
This body of work could not have been made possible without the cooperation of Musicians & Entertainers of The Bahamas. To the individuals featured in his project, I give a special thanks for allowing me into your lives and by extension extending the same courtesy to the rest of the world. Helene Peloquin, thanks for being my sounding board and the technical assistance and much needed encouragement. The Bahamas Musicians & Entertainers Union, I appreciate your support. My wife Josephine and my entire family, you all have my love forever for your undeniable commitment.
To the many students that I've had the honor of working with over the years, you were the inspiration and driving force in my embarking on this project. Now we all can learn more about our very own. Finally, my God, who I've had to consult on many occasions for direction, patience, and understanding. Thanks for smoothening the many bumps in the road.
Thompson, Jeanne. "Blind Blake - A Man and his music", The Nassau Guardian, 5 January 1976
"A Giant Falls", Nassau Guardian, 27 November 1985
"Ronnie Butler", What's On Magazine, 2 January 1994
Rahming, What’s On Magazine, 2 January 1996
Rothchild, Paul. Liner notes, Joseph Spence, "Happy All The Time", The Electra Corperation, 1964
Holiday In Nassau, liner notes, 1956
Crawford, Richard. 2001. America's Musical Life: A History. New York/London. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p.3
Murray, Allan G. 1999. Bahamian History Highlights - Condensed And Illustrated. Nassau, Bahamas. Media Publishing. p.16
Claypole, Robottom John. Caribbean Story - Book 1, 2nd ed. England. Pearson Education Limited 2001. p.106
Mulloy, Bud. "Rhythms of Nassau, New York and London Mingle For Your Holiday Entertainment", Nassau Magazine Vol 9 #2, Winter 1956-57. p. 29
Stropes, Segel Justin. "JosephSpence/Fingerstyle Phenomenin",
Alexander Mailis, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 28 April 2004
Berkeley "Peanuts" Taylor, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 24 February 2004
Carnetta Seymour , interview by author, tape recording,11 May 2004
Dennis Donaldson, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 06 February 2004
Dry Bread (Cyril Ferguson), interview by author, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, 25 April 2004
"Duke" Errol Strachan, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 09 March 2004
Eddie Minnis, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 27 March 2004
Edmund Moxey, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 15 February 2004
Edwin Apple Elliott, interview by author, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, 26 April 2004
Frank Penn, interview by author, tape and video recording, FreeporT, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, 26 April 2004
Franklyn "Count Bernadino" Ellis, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 10 March 2004
Jay Mitchell, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 27 February 2004
John Chipman, interview by Yonell Justilien, tape recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 08 March 2004
"King" Eric Gibson, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 03 February 2004
Lou Adams Sr., interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 28 February 2004
Maureen DuV-alier, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 11 March 2004
Philip Burrows, interview by author, tape recording,11 May 2004
Ralph Munnings, interview by author, tape and video recording, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, 25 & 26 April 2004
Raphael Munnings, interview by author, tape and video recording, Nassau, Bahamas, 02 March 2004
Ronnie Butler, interview by author, tape and video recording, 06 March 2004
"Reformation", Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation.
"Bahamas 1935 - Chanteys and Ant.hems from Andros and Cat Island"
"Exuma" , July 4, 2004.
"RIPSAW MUSIC & OUR MUSICAL HERITAGE"
"BAHAMIAN FRAGMENTS - BITS AND PIECES FROM THE HISTORY OF THE BAHAMAS"
"Waltz," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
Elena Perez Sanjuro, 1986. La Historia de la Música Cubana. The Journal of Christopher Columbus. Accessed 10 January 2004.