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Funky Nassau

Roots, Routes, and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music

Timothy Rommen (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 332 pages
ISBN: 9780520265691
May 2011
$34.95, £24.95
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This book examines the role music has played in the formation of the political and national identity of the Bahamas. Timothy Rommen analyzes Bahamian musical life as it has been influenced and shaped by the islands’ location between the United States and the rest of the Caribbean; tourism; and Bahamian colonial and postcolonial history. Focusing on popular music in the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, in particular rake-n-scrape and Junkanoo, Rommen finds a Bahamian music that has remained culturally rooted in the local even as it has undergone major transformations. Highlighting the ways entertainers have represented themselves to Bahamians and to tourists, Funky Nassau illustrates the shifting terrain that musicians navigated during the rapid growth of tourism and in the aftermath of independence.
List of Illustrations
Map of the Bahamas

1. Nassau’s Gone Funky: Sounding Some Themes in Bahamian Music
2. "Muddy da Water": Provincializing the Center, or Recentering the Periphery through Rake-n-Scrape
3. "Calypso Island": Exporting the Local, Particularizing the Region, and Developing the Sounds of Goombay
4. "Gone ta Bay": Institutionalizing Junkanoo, Festivalizing the Nation
5. "A New Day Dawning": Cosmopolitanism, Roots, and Identity in the Postcolony
6. "Back to the Island": Travels in Paradox—Creating the Future-Past

Timothy Rommen is Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Mek Some Noise: Gospel Music and the Ethics of Style in Trinidad (UC Press), which in 2008 was awarded the Alan Merriam Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology.
“[A] highly insightful book. . . . Rommen here offers the most extensive publication to date on Bahamian music. It is a major contribution to Caribbean music scholarship.”—Stephen Stuempfle Journal Of Anthropological Research
"Funky Nassau gives an insider perspective on the complex routes and representations in Bahamian music before and after independence. Through many quotations from interviews and other sources the voice of Bahamian musicians and cultural activists is present . . . Rommen reveals Bahamian roots in local popular music that cannot be discovered by an outsider."—Krister Malm Popular Music
“Although framed in theory, the book is readable and avoids off-putting neologisms. . . . Recommended.”—T. E. Miller Choice
“Rommen . . . offers the most extensive publication to date on Bahamian music. It is a major contribution to Caribbean music scholarship.”—Stephen Stuempfle Journal Of Anthropological Research
“Timothy Rommen has done it again. After the success of his earlier award-winning study of gospel music in Trinidad and the ethics of style, Rommen turns his attention to the complex and conflicted history of music in the Bahamas. Drawing upon extensive ethnographic and historical research, Rommen explores the interrelationships between rake-n-scrape, goombay, and Junkanoo performance, and shows how such ‘local’ musics are implicated in Bahamian understandings of national identity. In Funky Nassau, Timothy Rommen confirms his status as one of the best scholars of Caribbean music today.”

—Michael Largey, author of Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism

"This sensitive, bittersweet account of music-making in the Bahamas shows how a small, fragmented country that has been buffeted by powerful currents emanating from both the United States and the Caribbean has managed to produce a vibrant popular music of its own. Rommen carefully maps the political and cultural economies that are integral to this story, but he keeps the musicians themselves, their aesthetics and strategies, at the center where they belong. The result is a vivid and finely nuanced portrait of a unique musical culture that deserves to be better known."

—Kenneth Bilby, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago

Nassau's Gone Funky

Sounding Some Themes in Bahamian Music

Just last week, a few Caribbean nationals joked that The Bahamas is the 51st state of the United States of America. As you can imagine, I was not amused and jumped to the defensive in true Bahamian fashion. Although I would never admit it to my regional brethren, I must reluctantly confess that there was a bit of truth to their satirical claims. For someone who loves The Bahamas and our culture (or what remains of it) like myself, there is nothing that hurts more than the truth.

-Andrew Edwards, Nassau Guardian Weekender, May 19, 2006

It's rake-n-scrape. It's rhyming, the way we Bahamians do it. It's rushing, both in the streets, and around our churches. It's the double-rack, the heel-and-toe, the anthem, the story-song that we use to keep one another entertained. It's that real Bahamian guitar riff, it's the way the stomach jumps when a real bass rhythm is played. It's the rescuing of trash, the conversion of ordinary, undervalued objects like cardboard and paper into works of art. It's the way we laugh when the cowbells start, the way we dance when we hear the beat. What "the world" wants is stuff that's raw, that isn't over-processed. What "the world" wants is something that makes "the world" remember its own humanity. And what "the world" wants we have.... We must listen to our music, not just to the people who are popular now, but to our fathers and grandfathers and their fathers, to draw upon all the richness that is ours. And then we must take what we learn from both, and create-and package to sell-our own.

-Nicolette Bethel, Bahamian director of culture, in the Nassau Guardian, May 20, 2004

From the Arawaks right down to the Bahamians of the present, Bahamian culture and literature has been produced under a situation of dependency, in the sense that the needs and hopes of the Bahamian people to chart and direct our own economic and political destinies, to create societies which responded to our way of being and developed according to our own ideas ... have constantly been sidetracked by the imposition on Bahamians of the ideas, plans, and needs of forces that have come from outside the area.

-Anthony Dahl, Literature of the Bahamas, 1724-1992, 2

The epigraphs opening this chapter combine to paint a picture of several pressures facing the Bahamas-pressures that continue to shape dilemmas and challenges for which solutions have not been readily forthcoming. The first of these epigraphs succinctly illustrates the interposition of the Bahamas between the United States and the rest of the Caribbean, a space in-between that serves to highlight and intensify questions of cultural identity, raising the specter of the nation-and of nationalism in particular-in the process. Nicolette Bethel, director of culture for the Bahamas, transposes these questions of cultural identity neatly onto the "national" product that the Bahamas presents and sells to the world. According to Bethel, however, that export product stands in need of a bit of an overhaul, one that can be realized by understanding that the power of cultural identity and cultural production rests in the past to be recovered for use in the present. The comments of Anthony Dahl, for their part, suggest that the nation's colonial and postcolonial histories have powerfully affected and continue to affect the conditions of possibility for pursuing the project that Nicolette Bethel proposes.

Throughout this book, I suggest that Bahamian musical life has been deeply influenced and shaped by three separate but deeply interrelated themes embedded in these epigraphs: the physical interposition of the Bahamas between the United States and the rest of the Caribbean, tourism, and the nation's colonial and postcolonial histories. These geographic, economic, and political influences, moreover, are unthinkable without considering the ways that travel is implicated in each of them-that is, the centrifugal and centripetal routes that are taken through them. For travel operates at several registers in the Bahamian context, including human itineraries, musical migrations and media flows, and journeys related to time and nostalgia.

The physical travels I explore in the chapters that follow include the journeys of Bahamians within and outside the nation; the influx of Caribbean migrants from places such as Haiti, Trinidad, and Jamaica; and the itineraries of tourists who flock to places like Paradise Island and Freeport, enjoying (or consuming) the sun, sea, and sand of the Caribbean (Sheller 2003). The musical migrations and media flows I trace here, moreover, highlight the internal center-periphery migrations attendant to Bahamian music (Nassau/Freeport-Family Islands) while also illustrating the long-standing and intimate relationships instantiated between Bahamian musics and the musics of the islands' Caribbean neighbors (Trinidad, Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti in particular). In addition, Florida-based radio stations, and more recently cable television, have instantiated other networks of musical and cultural relationships-other journeys that continue to powerfully affect musical production and reception in the Bahamas.

Leading up to and in the wake of independence in 1973, Bahamians increasingly found themselves considering what it sounds, looks, and feels like to be Bahamian, resulting in a concerted attempt by those concerned with cultural politics to explore the riches of the Bahamian past for answers to these questions. The narratives that emerge from these constructions of Bahamianness, from the process of what Svetlana Boym (2002) has called "prospective nostalgia," have resulted in a dynamic by virtue of which the "Real Bahamas" is (re)located in the past to be recovered in the present. These journeys of memory, time, and nostalgia, then, constitute the third register of travel with which I think about Bahamian musics throughout the book.

These registers of travel, furthermore, are all complicated exponentially by the geopolitical structure of the Bahamas itself, not least because the geography of the archipelago marks the center-periphery relationships always attendant to the nation-state in the starkest of terms. Citizens who live on New Providence or Grand Bahama are located in the center. Those who do not are separated from the center not only in terms of the diminished resources and infrastructure available to them but also by virtue of their being physically isolated from the everyday political life of the nation. Regardless of the power relationships forged between various locations within the nation, though, the Bahamas as a whole remains peripheral within the larger context of the Caribbean. The centrifugal and centripetal flows that inform the musical travels I explore thus operate both with respect to the internal shape of the nation itself and in relation to the place of the nation within the region.

Following the work of James Clifford (1997), I conceptualize place as an active point of engagement in order to think of location as an "itinerary" rather than as a bounded site-as a series of "encounters" and translations. Clifford's theorization of location is productively aligned with the more recent work of Mimi Sheller and John Urry (2004), who use the dynamic framework of play to explore places themselves as sites that are "in play"-a concept that has particular advantages for thinking more creatively about places ordinarily understood as tourist destinations. I am also influenced throughout this book by the work of Claudio Minca and Tim Oakes, who posit that performance of place cannot be reduced to physical infrastructure or to discourses about that place:

Places are intertwined with people through various systems that generate and reproduce performances in and of that place (and by comparison with other places).... Moreover, in such performances there is no simple and unmediated relationship of subject to object, presence and absence. There is a hauntingness of place, through voices, memories, gestures, and narratives that can inhabit a place for locals and for visitors, although this distinction too becomes increasingly difficult to sustain. These ghostly presences of place are in between subject and object, presence and absence. This "atmosphere" of place is irreducible either to physical or material infrastructures or to discourses of representation. (Minca and Oakes 2006, vii-viii)

These various approaches to place combine to allow for more nuanced readings of, say, Bay Street, or Nassau, or the Family Islands in relation to the routes that lead to and from those particular places. They allow for an archaeology of many different kinds of presences, and they invite readings of place that privilege analysis of all the registers that make a place particular: the people (both resident and visiting), the homes (of both residents and visitors), the sounds (both local and nonlocal), the histories (local, regional, personal, national), the various networks (travel agencies, governmental institutions, media flows, personal and business relationships, etc.) that are combined, recombined, and put "in play" in that fluid process. Music, moreover, provides a particularly appropriate and useful means of interrogating-reading-the "ghostly presences of place" described by Minca and Oakes. The following journey through landscapes of the pre-nation and across spaces within the postcolony, then, provides a context within which to situate the musical explorations I examine in this book.

Bahamian Routes I: Of Landfalls and Archipelagos

The Bahamas is a place in between-the first and best example of an itinerary in the New World. The images commonly associated with the Bahamas illustrate this quite well: the Bahamas is a collection of places that have served as a gateway for Columbus; a refuge for pirates; a hot spot for wrecking (salvage work); a way station for blockade runners; a staging area for rumrunners; and, more recently, a resort playground for tourists. Significantly, even these crude characterizations of Bahamian participation in regional history indicate how firmly the Bahamas came to be interpolated between the Caribbean and the United States, between the New World and the Old.

Part of this betweenness is directly related to the geography and geology of the archipelago itself. Comprising some seven hundred islands and cays and spread across about fifty-five hundred square miles at the juncture of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the Bahamas has historically struggled with the fragmented nature of its own physical layout while simultaneously serving as a gateway to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Very few mineral resources and a general lack of freshwater and arable land (there is only one river in the Bahamas, and the soil, where it can be found in the mostly rocky limestone islands, is very thin) made the Bahamas far less attractive to colonial powers than were, say, Hispaniola or Cuba. The Bahamas, then as now, was not an ideal location for what Antonio Benítez-Rojo (1996) has called "Columbus's machine"-the plantation.

The Bahamas nevertheless supported an estimated twenty thousand Lucayans (the islands' native people) by the time those living on the island they called Guanahani first encountered Christopher Columbus (October 12, 1492). Columbus quickly claimed all that he could see for the Spanish crown, christening the island San Salvador, and having failed to find sufficient quantities of gold, compelling seven Lucayans to board his ship and guide it deeper into the archipelago. The callous disposition toward the Lucayans at evidence in his log entry for October 14, 1492, is perhaps a harbinger of things to come for the Bahamas: "These people are very unskilled in arms, as Your Highness will see from the seven that I caused to be taken to carry them off to learn our language and return; unless Your Highness should order them all to be taken to Castile or held captive in the same island, for with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished" (quoted in Morison 1963, 68). The violence of this encounter, both in symbolic and physical terms, often overshadows the strategic deflection accomplished by the Lucayans that October. The Bahamas was not what Columbus was looking for, and the Lucayans underscored that by pointing him in the direction of the gold (or perhaps more pragmatically, away from the Bahamas).

This initial encounter was, however, only the first of many, and the initial deflection to other locations in the Caribbean seems only to have focused the colonial gaze on other possibilities. Accordingly, subsequent encounters were much more devastating, for the Bahamas came to be mined for the only resource useful to the colonial effort: the Lucayans themselves. Systematically relocated to the mines of Hispaniola and, a bit later, to the pearl beds off Cubagua, the Lucayans were soon living and dying in slavery far from home. As Michael Craton and Gail Saunders point out, "Ponce de León as early as 1513 came to the conclusion that the islands were completely empty of people" (Craton and Saunders 1992, 55). This genocidal exploitation of Lucayans, accomplished in a staggeringly short space of twenty-some years, illustrates the role of the Bahamas within Columbus's machine. The people, not the place, could be exploited.

The ensuing century witnessed the Bahamian archipelago standing essentially empty at the front door of the Caribbean. Because the Bahamas was virtually ignored by Spain and experienced only unsuccessful claims to settlement by the French (primarily a failed twin settlement in Abaco, founded in 1565), it was the English who first managed to establish permanent settlement in the Bahamas starting in 1648, when the Eleutheran Adventurers (a group of religious independents led by William Sayle) made landfall from Bermuda and laid claim to the territory. Some 150 years after Columbus's first landfall, however, little had changed. The archipelago, which had thus far proved next to useless to the colonial project, in fact provided very little from which the Eleutheran Adventurers would be able to craft a significant livelihood or move into the mainstream of exchange. The new inhabitants were, from the beginning, placed at a distinct disadvantage simply by virtue of their chosen location, as Craton and Saunders point out: "The Bahamas presents a particularly awkward and atypical picture: playing no part in the general [colonial] process before the mid-seventeenth century, first peopled by a thin trickle of settlers from Bermuda ... gradually reinforced by heterogeneous recruits from all points of the compass, and seeking a livelihood without plantations that when not actually parasitic (during the age of piracy), was peripheral to Antilles and mainland alike. From the beginning of English settlement, therefore, the Bahamian people were a people apart" (Craton and Saunders 1992, 63).

These observations illustrate the dual nature of the Bahamas' interpolation within the region. The archipelago itself stands between the Caribbean and colonial Europe. This in-betweenness thus extends to the people who began to settle there starting in 1648, providing them with a home in-between the mainland and the Caribbean. By 1666, the makings of a settlement on New Providence had taken shape, with perhaps as many as a thousand people living in small settlements on Eleuthera, its surrounding cays, and New Providence. But it would be another sixty years before the Bahamas started to stabilize as a colony (1720s), and that long again before the makings of the modern Bahamas were in place both demographically and politically (1780s).

Beginning in 1670, the Bahamas came under the rule of a proprietary government, and the absentee proprietors did little but hope that a series of governors-John Wentworth, Charles Chillingworth, Robert Clark, Robert Lilburne, Thomas Bridges, and Nicholas Trott, among others-would be able to turn profits from privateering and manage to weather the intermittent but inevitable conflicts with the Spanish and French that those ventures engendered. Though the city of Nassau was born during Trott's governorship, indicating a significant increase in the size of the population, the Bahamas was not destined to offer a rich return on any investments other than those associated with intermittent wrecking to recover goods from shipwrecks throughout the archipelago. It was, moreover, predictable that the inhabitants of Eleuthera, Harbour Island, and New Providence were not particularly inclined to offer their full cooperation to a governor claiming authority granted by absentee proprietors. Governing the Bahamas was thus an exercise in frustration, not least because of unrealistic economic mandates but also because of the archipelago's relative isolation and prevailing sociopolitical environment.

The proprietors thus largely ignored the Bahamas in favor of their other interests, especially in the Carolinas, thereby making matters infinitely worse for their governors in the Bahamas and leading the British crown to begin reasserting its control over the islands, in part by installing a vice-admiralty court (with judge, registrar, and marshal) in Nassau (1697). Even this measure, though, did little to instill stability or law and order. In fact, the Bahamas were at that very moment embroiled in an era of piracy, much of which has been mythologized, but the realities of which nevertheless kept the young colony from establishing a real political presence in the region or sufficient social stability to attract any significant influx of settlers between the 1690s and the 1720s.

Suffice it to say here that pirates were often aided by the proprietary governors and, later, by crown-appointed governors, and that pirates, for a time at least, effectively controlled the Bahamas. This state of affairs had serious consequences for the fledgling city of Nassau, leading John Graves, the colonial secretary in the Bahamas, to remark in 1706 that the inhabitants of New Providence "lived scatteringly in little huts, ready upon any assault to secure themselves in the woods." Graves wrote that he had left on the island a mere twenty-seven families, no more than four to five hundred persons in all, dispersed within a two-hundred-mile radius of the capital (quoted in Craton 1986, 88). John Oldmixon, another witness to conditions in Nassau during this time, goes so far as to dismiss the Bahamas out of hand: "This Island [New Providence] is chief of those called the Bahama Islands, and notwithstanding that Character is so inconsiderable in itself, that it had been well if it had never been discovered; for all the Advantage the Inhabitants can pretend it is to England or the other Colonies is, that it lies convenient for Wrecks.... And it being some Hundreds of Miles out of any Ship's regular Course, to or from any of our Colonies and England, it is certain we had never lost any Thing by it had it never been heard of" (Oldmixon 1949, 11).

According to Craton and Saunders, however, the era of piracy was a moment of signal ambiguity for the inhabitants of the Bahamas. "A pragmatic middle ground was sought between profiting from the pirates and being taken over by them, though such a position proved increasingly difficult [to maintain]" (1992, 106). For the purposes of the present study, this early moment in Bahamian life is significant because, though the circumstances have changed in the course of subsequent encounters, the substance of the principal dilemma facing Bahamians seems to have continued to involve just these kinds of ambivalences and compromises, even up to the present-and this with respect to both regional politics and local economics. Dahl's words regarding outside influences on Bahamian culture thus ring true.

The first quarter of the eighteenth century, then, was characterized by attempts to live with the pirates, preemptive attacks and reprisals from nations repeatedly victimized by pirates based in the Bahamas (especially Spain), ineffective governors, and poverty, relieved on occasion through salvage work and maintaining manageable (if not always comfortable) relationships with the pirates themselves. And yet, toward the end of this era and under the direction of the royal governors Woodes Rogers and George Phenney, several significant markers of change took place: the proprietors surrendered the civil and military government of the Bahamas to the British crown (1717); the pirates were gradually expelled; the first censuses of the Bahamas were conducted (1722, 1731, and 1734); the first substantial number of slaves were imported to the colony (295 people in 1721, by Woodes Rogers himself), followed rapidly by the issuance of the first slave laws for the Bahamas (1723); the establishment of the first Anglican church in Nassau (1723); and the replacement of the old representative system of colonial government rule by governor-in-council (1729) (Craton 1986). The census results of 1731, compiled under Governor Rogers, are worth reproducing here, because they provide a marker against which the dramatic demographic changes toward the end of the century can be interrogated and understood (see Table 1).

According to the 1731 census data, fully 75 percent of the population lived on New Providence, and 32 percent of the population was black (that proportion stood at 40 percent for New Providence). These demographics indicate that the dominant role of New Providence in Bahamian life was, by this time, clearly established in terms of both population and political importance. They also point to the very slow population growth for the Bahamas between 1670 and 1731, attesting to the difficult circumstances of those years.. But these population figures, even in isolation, also provide evidence of just how "apart" the Bahamas were within the New World. By way of comparison, in 1700 there were an estimated 134,000 African slaves in Barbados, and slaves outnumbered whites by four to one (Curtin 1969). Or to take another example, by the middle third of the eighteenth century Havana was home to at least thirty thousand people and was the third-largest city in the hemisphere (trailing only Mexico City and Lima). That the first substantial shipment of slaves was not imported to the Bahamas until 1721, moreover, speaks to the diminutive size of the population, the lack of a viable plantation economy, and the relative dearth of interest in the archipelago on the part of colonial powers. This state of affairs was to change toward the end of the century, but the middle years of the eighteenth century did-by comparison to the early decades of that century, at least-carry with them some measure of political and social stability.

Bahamian Routes II: Of People and Politics

By the time of the American Revolutionary War, the Bahamas had changed considerably. The census taken in 1773 found Bahamians living on New Providence, Eleuthera, Harbor Island, Spanish Wells, Exuma, and Cat Island. It also indicated that slaves and free blacks had assumed a slight majority in the colony. By this time, a series of slave laws had been enacted (including those passed in 1729, 1734, and 1767), but although blacks now outnumbered whites on New Providence, the assembly did not rush to more tightly control the free black population. In fact, according to Whittington Johnson, "instead of regimenting the lives of blacks, the assembly concluded that free blacks and persons of color had the same obligation to defend the colony as did whites. Hence, all whites, free blacks, and free persons of color between the ages of sixteen and sixty were required to serve in the militia" (Whittington B. Johnson 2000, xviii). It is owing to this obligation that one of the earliest references to music in the Bahamas was recorded, for when the American Navy briefly occupied Nassau in 1776, black militia sentinels sounded the warning call-with drums (Pascoe 1901). Johnson is interested in this warning call and wonders about it: "The signal to assemble in Fort Nassau and repel the invaders was the drumbeat. Was this the usual manner of sounding the alarm, or was the drumbeat used to summon blacks, perhaps even slaves?" (Whittington B. Johnson 2000, xix). Though answers to these questions are not readily forthcoming, it is nevertheless significant that drums were used for this purpose, not least because the narrative provides one of the earliest accounts of musical instruments in the Bahamas.

It was the influx of loyalist planters, their families, and their slaves, as well as free black loyalists in the wake of the Revolutionary War (between 1783 and 1788) that provided the most dramatic changes within the Bahamas in the late eighteenth century. That migration tripled the population, shifted the proportion of blacks from just over 50 percent to fully 75 percent, led to the effective settlement of several additional islands (including Abaco, Andros, Long Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay, Crooked Island, and Acklins Island), and installed the plantation system more pervasively throughout the Bahamas (see Table 2).

This influx of loyalist migrants set the stage for the making of the modern Bahamas. All told, some sixteen hundred whites and fifty-seven hundred slaves and free blacks made landfall in the Bahamas and presented no small threat to the established Bahamian elite (Craton and Saunders 1992). One of the strategies adopted to mitigate this threat was to actively encourage the loyalists to settle the "Out Islands," but even this marginalizing strategy could not prevent the newcomers from rapidly consolidating their power in the local political scene. Michael Craton, for example, points out that already, "by the end of 1784, provision had been made for the admission of Members from five new Out Island constituencies" (1986, 150). That said, it is interesting to consider the term Out Islands here, a formulation used to distinguish New Providence (and later Grand Bahama) from every other inhabited island in the archipelago, thereby marking periphery from center in common parlance as well as economically and politically.

Although several additional islands were settled during this period, New Providence retained its position at the political and economic center of the colony, though the ruling elites were nonetheless forced to allow for new voices in government. Somewhat paradoxically, the very process of the loyalist migration to and settlement of other islands in the archipelago served to more thoroughly define the geography of the colony's periphery. And though a great deal of attention is paid to the political and economic effects of the loyalist influx (read white), according to Craton and Saunders, "it was probably the slave and free black majority of newcomers who most indelibly shaped the social history of the Bahamas" (1992, 178).

Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the very moment at which a bit of commentary about music enters the written record in connection with the Bahamas. One of the earliest accounts of musical life in the Bahamas comes from Johann David Schoepf, a German who had assisted the British in the Revolutionary War and who wrote a travelogue titled Travels in the Confederacy (1788). During his travels, he journeyed to Nassau, noting, "In the town itself, at this time [1784], no quarters were to be had because all the houses were filled with refugies [sic] escaped from North America" (Schoepf [1788] 1911, 264). His comments on musical entertainment were actually made while en route to the Bahamas, not in Nassau, but they describe a very interesting set of practices that were to become part and parcel of Bahamian musical life during the nineteenth century, and they are thus worth quoting at length.

Another sort of amusement was furnished us by several among the negroes on board, native Africans. One of them would often be entertaining his comrades with the music and songs of their country. The instrument which he used for the purposes he called Gambee; a notched bar of wood, one end of which he placed against an empty cask, or some other hollow, reverberant body, and the other against his breast. In his right hand he held a small stick of wood, split lengthwise into several clappers (something after the fashion of a harlequin's mace); in his left hand also a small thin wooden stick, unsplit. Beating and rubbing both of these, vigorously and in time, over the notches of the first stick, he produced a hollow rattling noise, accompanied by a song in the Guinea tongue. At the first, his gestures and voice were altogether quiet, soft, and low; but gradually he raised his voice, and began to grin and make wry faces, ending in such a glowing enthusiasm that his mouth foamed and his eyes rolled wildly about.

Another musical instrument of the true negroe is the Banjah. Over a hollow calabash (Cucurb lagenaria L.) is stretched a sheep-skin, the instrument lengthened with a neck, strung with 4 strings, and made accordant. It gives out a rude sound; usually there is some one besides to give an accompaniment with the drum, or an iron pan, or empty cask, whatever may be at hand. In America and on the islands they make use of this instrument greatly for the dance. Their melodies are almost always the same, with little variation. The dancers, the musicians, and often even the spectators, sing alternately. Their national dances consist of wonderful leaps and a riotous bending and twisting of the body. (Schoepf [1788] 1911, 260-62)

The instruments Schoepf describes here are probably the gimbe (often a two-piece hardwood scraper, though here the performer used two different tools in order to rake out his rhythms on the scraper) and the banjo. The singing and dancing he witnessed, moreover, bear strong resemblance to the ring dances that came to be called jumping dances in the Bahamas. The moment of loyalist migration was also a formative musical migration that bears serious inquiry. I will explore these ideas in greater detail in chapter 2.

The loyalist migration into the Bahamas came to an end in 1788, by which time the Bahamas was actively attempting to develop its fledgling plantation economy (a project ultimately destined for failure). Like Trinidad, the Bahamas entered into the plantation economy very late-generating a substantial quantity of export products (cotton) only starting in the 1780s (1790s for Trinidad)-and came to depend on that economic model within a colonial context already moving toward abolition. This led to inevitable tension between the ruling elites in the Bahamas and the British crown, which was, by this time, increasingly committed to abolition. The political events in neighboring St. Domingue and the alarm that the Revolution caused among Bahamian elites led to local reactions that did not mirror prevailing sentiments in the Colonial Office-reactions that led, for example, to the passing of the first Consolidated Slave Act for the Bahamas in 1797 at the very moment that the Colonial Office was seriously beginning to debate abolishing the slave trade.

In 1807, the British crown did decide to ban the slave trade, a measure that did not affect the Bahamas too dramatically, not least because the plantation system was already failing as a large-scale enterprise, thereby obviating the need for augmenting the labor force through ready access to slave labor. Some of the other policies introduced by the British, however, were cause for serious protest in the Bahamas. The most contentious of these was the decision to garrison black troops from the West India Regiments in Nassau starting in 1801. The idea of armed blacks was, to say the least, an unsettling one to Nassau's elites, especially given the revolutionary events taking place in neighboring St. Domingue at the time.

The amelioration period (1824-34) was ushered in uneasily; evidence of that unease can be found in the new slave act of 1824, which, for the first time, included "specific prohibitions against riotous and unlawful assemblies of slaves. Owners or those in charge of slaves were to be penalized if they allowed more than twelve 'strange' slaves 'to assemble together, or beat their drums or blow their horns or shells'" (Craton and Saunders 1992, 229). This is, then, the first legal response to serious concern among elite Bahamians over the potential consequences of allowing blacks to assemble too freely or, even-and perhaps especially-to engage in musical performances together.

And it is an interesting coincidence that one of the earliest descriptions of the kinds of celebrations that occurred during the customary three-day Christmas holiday antecedent to later Junkanoo celebrations was penned during the Christmas of 1823. The author, a Dr. Townsend, who was visiting from New York, observed in his diary: "Being Christmas, our ears were assailed with the noise of the black white boys playing on the green before our house. We should not have noticed ten times as much sound in Newyork but in this still town it seemed quite grating. We were also regaled last night at Christmas eve until 3 or 4 in the morning with some bad music on hoarse cracked drums fifes by groupes of negroes parading the streets" (Townsend [1823-24] 1968, 20).

Townsend's diary also includes a passage that describes the dances of the white Bahamian elite. In an entry dated January 1, 1824, Townsend reports: "After coffee, tea, cake, etc, danced a succession of tedious and laborious country dances till 4 next morning, allowing a short time for supper about 1 o'clock. The music was very good, two fifes (black) from the garrison, 2 or 3 fiddles, tambourine drum.... The Floors were very tastily chalked with devices appropriate to the occasion commencement of the year" ([1823-24] 1969, 22). It is worth noting the presence of the black fife players in this description, for events such as these were, almost certainly, one of the primary influences (both musically and choreographically) on the quadrille dancing that became a major component of black social dance in the Bahamas during the nineteenth century (Bilby and Neely 2009). I will return to these musical currents in later chapters.

By the time emancipation was announced on August 1, 1834 (a date that was followed by four more years of apprenticeship, meaning that the ex-slaves were, in reality, not totally free until August 1, 1838), the local elites had accomplished the feat of legally manumitting a significant portion of the slave population such that a class of free blacks stood as a buffer class between them and those slaves who were at that moment being freed. That legislative move, which was part of the penultimate slave act signed into law in the Bahamas in 1826, attempted to ensure that only a certain kind of slave was able to obtain freedom. According to Craton and Saunders, the law was structured so that "in practice ... only those slaves whom masters deemed worthy of freedom and who had sufficient means and incentive to enter the intermediate class of the black petty bourgeoisie were given their freedom" (1992, 231).

After emancipation, the white oligarchy maintained control through subtler means. These strategies included calculated efforts such as manipulating the standards for voting eligibility so that they favored white electors, bribing Out Island communities for votes in order to install white representatives in the assembly, and instituting mechanisms of virtually ensured poverty such as the truck system. It was in this highly discriminatory atmosphere that free blacks, liberated Africans, and recently freed ex-slaves first banded together to form officially sanctioned friendly societies. The Grant's Town Friendly Society, for instance, was inaugurated and incorporated in 1835, and many other friendly societies and lodges were to follow its model. Participation in friendly societies and lodges has, in fact, been one of the consolidating and distinctive aspects of Afro-Bahamian culture and social organization since that time (Craton and Saunders 1998).

The middle years of the nineteenth century found the Bahamas continuing to operate outside of the international mainstream and witnessed the local center-New Providence-further distancing itself from its own interior other, the Out Islands. Boom-and-bust economics continued, in this case revolving around blockade running, which during the American Civil War provided for a measure of economic boom. But the boom years were, upon the resolution of that conflict, quickly followed by a long period of recession. "So severe and prolonged was the depression," writes Michael Craton, "that most Bahamians came to wish that they had never enjoyed the brief interlude of garish prosperity during the war" (1986, 225). He continues: "Some men made fortunes from the blockade; but they were mostly foreigners, commercial agents, captains, pilots, who had flocked to Nassau for the duration and began to leave as soon as Wilmington fell. Very few Bahamians profited from the war and they were the worst sufferers from the inflation that followed the flood of Confederate money into Nassau.... Once emptied of cotton and war supplies, the new warehouses lay empty for fifty years" (Craton 1986, 225).

The one industry that seemed to promise long-term stability for at least the merchant class in the Bahamas was sponging. And yet even this market was destined to fail. Though the market for sponges expanded steadily from the 1860s through the early twentieth century, a fungus destroyed almost all of the Bahamian sponges in 1938, leaving this sector of the economy in ruins. The human toll of the sponging industry, moreover, was extraordinarily high. The merchants who served as the wholesalers at the Nassau Sponge Exchange generally pushed their contractors into perpetual debt through the truck system, and it was through these exploitative means and by carefully controlling access to capital that the Bay Street Merchants continued to consolidate their hold on the economy and on the politics of the colony throughout the nineteenth century (Craton 1986; Craton and Saunders 1992).

Bahamian Routes III: Of Tourists and Independence

In spite of the entrenched boom-and-bust economic cycle that continued to affect Bahamians during the nineteenth century, the last third of that century brought about the first taste of the possibilities related to tourism. Steam was beginning to replace sail, and thanks in large part to this new advance in marine technology, regular services began to open up, especially between the mainland United States and Nassau. The Cunard Line, for instance, "promised a voyage of as little as three days from New York, compared with at least a week by sailing ship" when it added Nassau as a stopover on its New York-to-Havana route in 1859 (Craton and Saunders 1998, 75). The potential of attracting an increasing number of visitors thanks to these developments in transportation prompted the decision to build the Royal Victoria Hotel. Construction on the ninety-room hotel commenced in the summer of 1860, and the building was complete by the end of the 1860-61 winter season.

And yet, growing transnational connections and hotel construction notwithstanding, the Bahamas was still entrenched at the margins of the region. Once the bust following the Civil War settled in, for instance, the Royal Victoria Hotel sat next to vacant, up for sale and without any potential buyers (Craton 1986, 225). In 1888, L.D. Powles, who wrote a memoir about his time as a circuit magistrate in the Bahamas, penned the following:

The day before I corrected the last proof of this work a prominent West Indian Merchant said to me, "Why do you waste your time writing about the Bahama Islands? We in the West Indies know no more about the Bahamas than we do about an Irish village." No doubt he said no more than the truth, for though included in the list of her Majesty's West Indian possessions, the Bahamas have so little in common with the other islands that I believe a man might spend his life traveling about the rest of the West Indies without ever hearing their name, and I am sure he might pass his days in the Bahamas and have no more idea of the mode of life or condition of the people in the rest of the West Indies than if he had never been beyond the limits of an English county. What can be more noteworthy than the fact that Mr. Froude, in his recently published work, never even mentions the Bahama Islands? ... [This] goes far to prove how little they come within the range of thought or observation of the ordinary West Indian tourist. (Powles 1888, v-vi)

The Mr. Froude of whom Powles writes is none other than James Anthony Froude, author of the notoriously racist The English in the West Indies; or, The Bow of Ulysses (1888). Apart from reinforcing the peripheral position of the Bahamas within the Caribbean, this passage is also interesting in that it offers a sense of the growing tourism industry-the "ordinary West Indian tourist" was at this time beginning to emerge as an identifiable character, and according to Powles, the Bahamas was not, as of yet, able to attract much attention from that tourist.

Other kinds of tourists were beginning to notice the Bahamas, however, for the majority of the winter residents and the lion's share of interest in visiting the Bahamas came not from the colonial metropole, but rather from the United States. In fact, the Bahamas was, even as early as Peter Henry Bruce's visit (1741-45), touted as a health resort, and by the time Powles was in residence there, the idea of Nassau as a destination for health tourism had caught on. Doctors had been actively sending patients to the Bahamas for some time; individual travelers, especially from the northeastern United States, sought out the warmth on their own; and the Royal Victoria had been designed with a view toward housing just these kinds of visitors. Take, for instance, the journey of the New England-based lawyer Charles Ives in 1879-80, who, "influenced mainly by sanitary considerations, fled from frost to the islands of unending summer" (Ives 1880, 14), stayed in the Royal Victoria Hotel while in the Bahamas, and subsequently published a travelogue about his experiences. The book is filled with idealized, paternalistic, and overly rhapsodic passages about the climate, people, and economy of the Bahamas, but it does indicate that the fledgling tourist economy was active, perhaps even more active than Powles realized.

The increasingly close ties to the United States, created both thanks to tourist visits and through transportation contracts and networks, served to further solidify the interpolation of the Bahamas between the rest of the Caribbean and the United States. In fact, in 1898, only a few short years after Powles wrote his memoir, a wealthy Florida-based businessman, Henry M. Flagler, arranged to create regular steamship connections between Nassau and Miami, purchased the Royal Victoria Hotel, and built the Hotel Colonial (which opened in 1900) to accommodate the anticipated tourist volume of the early twentieth century. According to Craton and Saunders, though, "Nassau's summer and winter visitors were still counted in tens and hundreds in 1900, and a sense of the resort's isolation outweighed its antique charm" (1998, 82). It would, in fact, take several more decades to realize Flagler's dream of a bourgeoning tourist economy in the Bahamas (1930s), and the wait for the Out Islands would be roughly twice as long (1960s).

In addition to the gradually increasing tourist activity and the growing infrastructural projects that grew alongside these economic shifts, the fin de siècle also provides a set of written records illustrating interest in the folktales and music of the Bahamas. Charles Ives offered some notes on the sacred songs of Afro-Bahamians in his memoir, including a few texts to hymns and anthems that were sung for them by young Bahamians. More useful are the recollections of L.D. Powles, who affords several valuable glimpses into the musical lives of Bahamians and, significantly, of Out Island musical practices, describing the songs and dances that he observed during his journeys around the Bahamas as a magistrate. So, for instance, he describes Junkanoo here, some fifty years after the first local references to it. Significantly, his account also offers some early confirmation of the active nightclub scene in Nassau.

About Christmas time they seem to march about day and night, with lanterns and bands of music, and they fire off crackers everywhere. This is a terrible nuisance, but the custom has the sanction of antiquity, though no doubt it would have been put down long ago if the white young gentlemen had not exhibited a taste for the same amusement. They are very fond of dancing, and I am afraid no amount of preaching or singing hymns will ever be able to put down the dancehouses, which are terrible thorns in the side of both magistrate and inspector of police. (Powles 1888, 147)

The first scholarly account of musical practices and the oratory arts was undertaken by Charles Edwards, who wrote Bahama Songs and Stories: A Contribution to Folk-Lore for the American Folk-Lore Society in 1885. Although he focuses most carefully on sacred musical practices and the storytelling tradition, which was at that time still quite active, there are also included here glimpses of social dance music:

The evening is the playtime of the negroes. The children gather in some clump of bushes or on the seashore and sing their songs, the young men form a group for a dance in some hut, and the old people gossip. The dance is full of uncultured grace; and to the barbaric music of a clarionet, accompanied by tambourines and triangles, some expert dancer "steps off" his specialty in a challenging way, while various individuals in the crowd keep time by beating their feet upon the rough floor and slapping their hands against their legs. All applaud as the dancer finishes; but before he fairly reaches a place in the circle a rival catches step to the music, and all eyes are again turned toward the centre of attraction. Thus goes the dance into the night. (Charles Edwards [1895] 1942, 17)

Passages such as these do not go very far toward painting a detailed picture of what was going on musically in the Bahamas, but they do provide an interesting commentary, and not least because some of the practices that were inaugurated at the turn of the previous century had, by this time, clearly taken hold. These descriptions also chronicle the gradual creolization of these practices, illustrating the incorporation of European instruments (in this case a clarinet) into the social dances of Afro-Bahamians and the tentative adoption of Afro-Bahamian dance and festival practices by younger white Bahamians (Junkanoo). I will return to these ideas in chapters 2 and 4.

Several other infrastructural and technological changes important to the continued growth of tourism occurred in the years of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A telegraph cable was laid between Cable Beach, New Providence, and Jupiter, Florida, in 1892, opening direct and rapid communication with the mainland United States and England (Storr 2000). Cars were first imported to the Bahamas in 1905, the telephone was inaugurated in 1907, sewer services began to be implemented around this time, and electricity was brought to Nassau in 1909. These technologies, it must be reiterated, affected only New Providence. The Out Islands remained without access to any of these advantages, and the true scale of the disenfranchisement inflicted on Out Islanders is cast into particularly sharp relief when the population statistics for the turn of the twentieth century are considered. For in 1901, more than 75 percent of Bahamians still lived in the Out Islands; the benefits of steam, electricity, and communications technology thus effectively benefited only one out of every four Bahamians. These center-periphery inequities notwithstanding, in 1914 the Development Board was authorized and charged to "promote tourism, negotiate with carriers, and coordinate matters related to tourism" (Cleare 2007, 68). Trickle-down benefits would eventually also reach the Out Islands, but the board's primary focus was developing New Providence's tourist infrastructure.

The Bahamian economy was to experience one more boom-and-bust cycle before settling into steady growth based on tourism. The boom came thanks to the Prohibition era in the United States (1920-33), and the short-term wealth it generated aided the efforts of the Development Board to lay the groundwork for a sustainable tourist economy. Bootleggers and rumrunners based their operations out of Nassau and realized immense profits from the illegal trade. The increased activity in Nassau contributed to an influx of people and generated additional construction and technological advances. For instance, the Montagu Hotel (later renamed the Fort Montagu Beach Hotel) was built in 1926, partially in response to the great demand for lodging during the Prohibition era. In addition, Nassau Harbor was deepened, the Prince George Wharf was built, and Pan American World Airways inaugurated scheduled flights between Miami and Nassau, all in 1929. This was also the moment at which major nightclubs began springing up in Nassau. Two of the earliest include Dirty Dicks (ca. 1930) on Bay Street and, a bit later, the Chez Paul Meeres (1939) at Fleming Street, Over-the-Hill.

The concomitant rise of the first wave of Afro-Bahamian professional musicians found bands performing at places like the Nassau Yacht Club and the Royal Victoria Hotel during the Prohibition era. Groups with names like the Cambridge Orchestra and the Chocolate Dandies vied with imported musicians from the United States for chances to perform, but they performed for white audiences at these venues because the Bay Street hotels remained segregated. The American-owned Hotel Colonial, for instance, was so strongly committed to this racist policy that it "attempted to exclude blacks from all but the most menial work, employing Cubans or other Latin Americans in the absence of suitable and willing local whites" (Craton and Saunders 1998, 245). I will return to explore these issues and trends in much greater detail in chapter 3.

The bust following the repeal of Prohibition was sustained and intense, a severe economic depression (matched worldwide, in this case) lasting from 1933 until the beginning of World War II, after which tourism finally came to occupy the central place in the Bahamian economy toward which it had been moving since the late nineteenth century. The years between 1949 and the present constitute the primary historical period under consideration in the chapters that follow. Chapters 2 and 4 explore this period as a whole in order to offer a larger context for considering rake-n-scrape and Junkanoo, respectively. Chapters 3 and 5 explore the years leading up to independence in 1973-considered the golden years of entertainment in the Bahamas-and those that followed, respectively. Chapter 6 considers the 1990s as well as the most recent developments in Bahamian musical life. For this reason, I offer only the briefest of comments here, designed to outline the overarching context for thinking about the Bahamas from midcentury to the new millennium. This context necessarily includes the progressive and highly successful development of the year-round tourism industry after 1949, the architects of which were the predominantly white merchant-political oligarchy known as the Bay Street Boys. A summary of the staggeringly rapid growth of tourism through the middle decades of the twentieth century offers perhaps the quickest measure of the Bay Street Boys' success (see Table 3).

It should come as no surprise that these developments in the tourism sector demanded a much larger labor force, especially in Nassau and, a bit later, in Freeport. As a result, a concomitant and equally rapid internal migration from the Out Islands to New Providence and Grand Bahama shifted the majority of the population of the Bahamas, which had to that point been concentrated in the Out Islands, decidedly toward Nassau and Freeport. Between 1931 and 1953, for example, the population of Nassau more than doubled, while that of the Out Islands fell slightly. So, while the periphery/center ratio was effectively inverted over the course of the first seventy years of the twentieth century, the trend accelerated dramatically after World War II (especially in the late 1940s). The end result was that by 1970 three out of every four Bahamians were living in Nassau and Freeport (see Table 4).

These demographic shifts were accompanied by steady West Indian migration to the Bahamas, as well as by the often illegal migration into the Bahamas from Haiti of individuals seeking new political and economic horizons, especially from the 1950s on (see Tinker 1998 and Marshall 1979). These decades of rapid demographic changes also witnessed the burgeoning Bahamian labor movement, which included the Burma Road Riots of 1942 and the formation of the Bahamas Musicians and Entertainers Union in 1949 (see Alexander 2004 and Horne 2007). Increasing dissatisfaction over the realities of minority rule, moreover, led to the eventual formation of the first Afro-Bahamian political party, called the Progressive Liberal Party, and to a successful transition to majority rule in 1967, and to national independence in 1973.

Throughout the two-decade period between 1945 and 1965, the nightclubs, restaurants, and taxi drivers of Nassau were doing booming business. By the end of the 1960s, however, many of the Over-the-Hill nightclubs were beginning to struggle and fail, and by the middle of the 1970s it was clear that the foundation for sustaining live entertainment was on the decline throughout the Bahamas. My own fieldwork, beginning in 1992 and continuing to 2007, provided ample evidence for the difficult circumstances under which contemporary musicians labor to secure any kind of performance opportunities at all. Today there are only two clubs that feature live bands in anything resembling regular appearances (Da Tambrin Tree, since 2010 closed for relocation, and the Backyard Club), though a few do feature individual artists singing to tracks when they are not employing deejays to spin entertainment. Hotels employ only a very few local musicians to perform in public areas, and the best concerts are high-priced affairs at the hotels for which major international artists such as Barbara Streisand are contracted. The chapters that follow, then, engage with these trends in the musical life of the Bahamas while interrogating them against the broader context of the geographic, economic, and political themes I have addressed throughout this brief introduction to the archipelago. At this point, however, I turn my attention to the musical practices that animate the remainder of this book.

Bahamian Roots: Rake-n-Scrape, Goombay, and Junkanoo

The following section briefly introduces the three principal musical styles that sound out across the remainder of this book-rake-n-scrape, goombay, and Junkanoo. The genres are not as easily separated from one another as these labels suggest, however, intersecting with one another and overlapping in multiple ways. Ed Moxey, born on Ragged Island in 1933, for instance, has a particularly strong sense of the common source of Bahamian music. He is convinced that "rake-n-scrape is not really rake-n-scrape, it is really goombay music, an African sound ... the music for Junkanoo is not 'Junkanoo music' but 'goombay music at the Junkanoo festival.' It's all just a variation of goombay music.... The cowbells and whistles are complementing the basic beat" (quoted in Lomer 2002, 125-27).

Moxey's perspective on Bahamian music is not that dissimilar from the opinion of Basil Hedrick and Jeanette Stephens, who make an even more overarching, comparative statement in their study of Bahamian folk music, In the Days of Yesterday and in the Days of Today. Gathering together not only the three styles under discussion here but also the sacred musical traditions they encountered during their research in the Bahamas, they write: "The same rhythmic patterns occur in secular as in religious music (and in recent vs. traditional music); however, lyrics and performance styles vary considerably" (Hedrick and Stephens 1976, 6).

Although I am interested in the first portion of this statement (and in Moxey's assertions), and while I will be careful to explore the overlaps and intersections that emerge in the course of the analyses that follow, I am primarily interested in Hedrick and Stephens's final point. The lyrics and performance styles do, indeed, "vary considerably," not least because rake-n-scrape, goombay, and Junkanoo have come to occupy quite different spaces within the Bahamas-spaces that find musical style used in very different ways and accruing radically different meanings, for Bahamians and visitors alike. It is toward these performative spaces, toward that "hauntingness of place, through voices, memories, gestures, and narratives that can inhabit a [musical] place for locals and for visitors" described by Minca and Oakes (2006, viii) that I turn in the chapters that follow. The stylistic sketches below are thus offered primarily in order to provide some measure of heuristic differentiation-to provide a point of departure, as it were.


The musical style today called rake-n-scrape is a traditional music that originally accompanied social dancing like quadrilles and jumping dances. Rake-n-scrape, however, has not always been known by that name. In fact, until well into the 1960s, it was commonly called goombay music (Moxey 2007). In 1969, Charles Carter, prominent radio host and cultural advocate in the Bahamas, was regularly hosting a radio show called Young Bahamians on ZNS-1. This program was designed to showcase the talents of Bahamians, and according to Ed Moxey, Charles Carter recorded a band playing goombay music and subsequently interviewed band members about their style of music, coining the term rake-n-scrape in the course of their on-air conversation. Carter, though, does not take credit for coining this term, leaving the origins of the label shrouded in myth (Carter 2007).

What can be said for certain here is that the term rake-n-scrape emerged right around the time the Bahamas was pushing for national independence (1969), right around the time the Out Islands became the Family Islands in the national imagination (1971), and right around the time that a new term was needed for the traditional music of the Bahamas (much more on this in chapters 2 and 3). The term goombay, like its later update-rake-n-scrape-then, tended to designate the drumming as well as the whole range of music that generally accompanied social dancing from the nineteenth century to the 1960s.

Though the instrumentation of the ensemble has in recent decades come to be standardized around accordion, saw, and goat-skinned drum, the ensembles that were used on the occasion of these social dances throughout most of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century were generally highly flexible, consisting of whatever instruments happened to be at hand (see Figure 1). [figure 1]

Clement E. Bethel has described the hybrid nature of this music and of the ensembles themselves: "Wooden barrels ... were converted into drums; cowbells substituted for African bells; scraped saws, bottles, washboards, and animal jaw-bones replaced the scraped instruments of Africa; and gourds, calabashes and coconut shells filled with dried seeds were excellent surrogates for the shaken rattles of Africa. For playing the melody line, the slaves used anything they could lay their hands on. Sometimes it was a banjo, guitar or fiddle, sometimes a fife, accordion or concertina" (Bethel 1983, 85). It is not insignificant that this fluid ensemble, generally accompanying a wide range of social dances, including both European and African derived forms, appears and reappears in various guises and under different names throughout the Eastern Caribbean. The rhythm, altered a bit here and there and played on different instruments, such as shakers, washboards, squashes (a kind of guiro), and triangles, is called by other names depending on where you happen to be. So in the Turks and Caicos Islands, it is called rip-saw; in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the rhythm is central to scratch bands; in the British Virgin Islands, it is known as fungi; and in Dominica, it is called jing ping.

In the Bahamas, the central rhythm that carries across dance genres and drumming styles and that might even have been performed on the "gambee," or gimbé, observed by Johann David Schoepf in 1784, finds its modern Bahamian expression on the saw. According to Ed Moxey, "When we couldn't find the hardwood for the gimbe, we substituted the saw" (quoted in Lomer 2002, 126). Clement E. Bethel offers an excellent description of the techniques used by saw players: "It's an ordinary carpenter's saw, but in the hands of an expert player it becomes a musical instrument of great eloquence. With the handle firmly lodged in his left armpit and the blade gripped in his left hand, the player produces a steady, hypnotic rhythm by scraping the notched edge with a screwdriver held in his right hand. From time to time, the instrument moans eerily as the player flexes the blade to and fro in his left hand while continuing to scrape away with his right" (Bethel 1983, 82).

An alternate technique that players use in order to perform on the saw involves placing the blade end on the ground in front of them and securing it with a foot, but this is only practical when performing in a seated position (see Figure 1). The characteristic saw rhythm consists of a continuous sixteenth-note pattern with accents on the offbeats of one and two in 2/4 meter (see Example 1). This characteristic rhythm is then placed into a context including the goat-skinned drum and a melody instrument-today, usually the accordion. [example 1]

Rake-n-scrape music-and here the rhythms associated with rake-n-scrape are perhaps most important-has occupied a series of spaces within the Bahamian musical landscape. That said, the primary space assigned to rake-n-scrape in the Bahamas is configured along axes generally considered rural and traditional. In chapter 2, I explore the journeys that have witnessed rake-n-scrape's move into the urban spaces of Nassau and Freeport as popular music (from 1950 to the 1970s) and that have, later still, found this musical style reappropriated as roots music (beginning in the late 1990s). The sociocultural tensions that rake-n-scrape comes to mediate as it moves back and forth between ostensibly provincial and rural Family Island practice and those spaces in Nassau and Freeport constructed as their cosmopolitan and urban antithesis, and the questions of identity that arise and are negotiated as rake-n-scrape participates in reconfiguring the relationship of center to periphery-these are the journeys that inform the analyses offered in chapter 2.


Although goombay was originally the term used to designate the musical styles discussed in the preceding pages, the label took on a new meaning within the entertainment industry in Nassau beginning in the 1940s. By the 1950s, the term goombay had come to be used in order to distinguish the musical style of local popular musicians and nightclub entertainers from the sounds of calypso. This was not merely an arbitrary shift in meaning, however, and this becomes especially clear when considered against the backdrop of the rapidly increasing tourist presence in Nassau and the parallel rise in the popularity of calypso throughout the Caribbean, but especially in the United States. The musicians in Nassau now found themselves in need of a product, and that product needed to represent a pan-Caribbean feel without losing its Bahamian specificity. Goombay was the perfect solution to this dilemma, both in terms of terminology and with regard to the stylistic and rhythmic possibilities it afforded entertainers.

Goombay thus came to represent Bahamian popular music for tourists, not only in name, but also symbolically (through exoticization), and sonically (in and through musical style). That said, this representation was made possible in large part through a recognition that goombay was traditional Bahamian music and through the simultaneous distancing of that traditional practice from the modern spaces of Nassau's nightclubs. As such, the goat-skinned drum, often called the goombay drum by Nassauvians, came to stand in for authentic Bahamian culture in an environment where the claim itself was more important than the practices that were being invoked. Many bands, for example, didn't use the goat-skinned drum per se, choosing the more efficient (and more cosmopolitan) conga drums instead. The bands that played goombay music, moreover, made an increasingly clear distinction between the inspiration they drew from the drum (history/memory) and the music they now played (modern/metropolitan). Rake-n-scrape's characteristic rhythms thus made rather subtle appearances in the goombay music performed in Nassau's nightclubs, usually through transfer to other instruments. The saw rhythm, for instance, was often played on maracas, and the rhythms usually played on the goat-skinned drum were generally (but not always) translated in some fashion to the conga.

I will focus much more on this in chapter 3, but suffice it to say here that this strategic use of the term goombay and the highly selective use of its associated instruments and rhythms had the effect of relegating traditional practice to the more exoticized selections in any given evening's program, and even then it was not always a welcome part of the show. Musical selections that were designed to showcase native folkways, then, provided moments during which the goat-skinned drum could be incorporated as one of the featured accompanimental instruments. The fire dances and limbo dances that came to be a part of the local nightclub floor shows of the 1950s and {apos}60s, for instance, were often held to the beating of the "goombay" drum, though even in these performances the goat-skinned drum was often replaced with a conga drum.

Another significant factor during the goombay years is that there were two distinct nightclub scenes. The first of these was the exclusive Bay Street club scene. This scene included all of the major hotels of the day, most of which operated several rooms where live music could be heard and all of which welcomed only white clientele. Another group of nightclubs, known collectively as the Over-the-Hill scene, was the home of entertainment by and for Bahamians. This scene was a part of the so-called chitlin' circuit, and as a result Bahamians had the chance to see many of the major African American entertainers of the day come through nightclubs like the Cat and Fiddle Club during the 1950s and {apos}60s. Importantly, both tourists and local Afro-Bahamian clients were welcome at these clubs, and it is significant that the exoticized floor show routines so popular in the Bay Street clubs also played well in the Over-the-Hill clubs.

The negotiations through which local goombay artists found themselves able to craft their representations of themselves and the Bahamas to tourists in ways calculated simultaneously to garner warm reception by other Bahamians, the ironies embedded in the gradual destruction of the Over-the-Hill scene during the very moment that the Bahamas came under majority rule and attained national independence, and the move away from the umbrella of goombay and toward other modes of representation in the 1970s and {apos}80s are explored at length in chapter 3.


Bahamian Junkanoo is a celebration-including masquerade, dance, music, and art-rooted in West African spirituality and sharing some connection to similar traditions in Jamaica, Belize, North Carolina, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Bermuda. Unlike pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations in places such as Trinidad, New Orleans, and Brazil, Junkanoo is a yuletide festival, traditionally celebrated on or around Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year's Day. Today Junkanoo is the primary marker of Bahamian national identity. It is sponsored by the state and is touted as a space within which all Bahamians can come together in equality. As such, it is a civic-that is, a "secular"-festival (Rommen 1999). Junkanoo, though, also exists as a popular music that draws its legitimacy in part from the festival itself. Although these two types of Junkanoo are intimately connected to each other, they also facilitate separate and quite different discursive spaces within which the nation is imagined and narrated. In this sense, Junkanoo is much like goombay-split, that is, into two spheres of music making and musical meaning that nonetheless overlap with and are informed by each other across very different performance contexts.

Ken Bilby (2008), working to trace the archaeology of Junkanoo in the circum-Caribbean, notes that it was likely a well-established practice in Jamaica as early as the late seventeenth century. The first written accounts of Junkanoo in the Caribbean date from the early eighteenth century (1707), but there is, by contrast, no record of Junkanoo in the Bahamas until well after the loyalists settled there. The first accounts of Afro-Bahamian yuletide celebrations in the Bahamas date from just before emancipation (1823 and 1831), but they do not unambiguously describe Junkanoo. Although these accounts describe celebrations held during the customary release from their duties granted to slaves in the early morning hours of Boxing Day (December 26), a time when they were permitted to congregate and enjoy the holiday with family and friends, it would take another decade before similar accounts highlighted celebrations that clearly map onto Junkanoo practice (the 1840s).

After emancipation in 1838, these yuletide celebrations are increasingly recognizable as Junkanoo, yet, like Carnival elsewhere in the Caribbean, they were highly stigmatized by the establishment. The African roots of the music, combined with the violence and disorder that occasionally accompanied the celebration, caused widespread concern among the middle and upper classes. As in the early steel band movement in Trinidad, rival groups would "rush" the streets during the celebration and compete with each other in an attempt to defeat the other groups through music, costumes, and, on occasion, violence. The government attempted to stop the celebration on several occasions and, when that failed, passed laws limiting it in various ways. Thus, while Junkanoo continued to be celebrated, political pressure, in conjunction with middle- and upper-class resistance to the practice, kept it from gaining broad acceptance during the nineteenth century. Gradually, however, the celebration became less controversial, and by the middle of the twentieth century, Junkanoo was a reasonably well-accepted Bahamian cultural marker.

Because Junkanoo is a nighttime festival and is not a pre-Lenten celebration but a Christmas one, it is distinct from Mardi Gras and Carnival in other parts of the circum-Caribbean. Ironically, one of the most dramatic influences on Junkanoo in the twentieth century after World War II was tourism. As a result of visitors' interest, in the early fifties enterprising merchants on Bay Street began to sponsor Junkanoo and organized the celebration into a formal parade with rules for competition and prize money, progressively transforming Junkanoo into a spatially fixed event.

While smaller celebrations do take place throughout the Bahamas (and always have), the primary location of Junkanoo is Bay Street in Nassau, so much so that Junkanoo has disappeared in some of the Family Islands. Cat Island, for instance, witnessed the disappearance of Junkanoo during the middle years of the twentieth century. By the time the Bahamas gained independence, the popularity of Junkanoo was such that it was recognized as a politically and nationally powerful symbol. While the festival is open to tourists, and many visit each year, the festival is for and about Bahamians and has become an embodied experience that locates the Bahamas in a very specific and bounded way, distinguishing it from other nations and offering a musical event through which Bahamians can participate in the nation.

Postindependence efforts by the state contributed a great deal to this perception of Junkanoo. They focused on creating a unifying and universalizing approach to Junkanoo, an agenda exemplified by the government's absorption of the privately administered Masquerade Committee into its Ministry of Tourism. In addition, the nation's first prime minister, Lynden O. Pindling, participated in the festival each year. Maureen "Bahama Mama" DuValier, one of the most famous Junkanoo women, has noted that this top-down participation in the festival contributed to a sense of community pride.

Tinkle Hanna (1999b) claims that "Junkanoo is, above all else, a rhythm." This rhythm is constructed by combining various layers of drums and percussion instruments. The drums are divided into three groups (first, second, and bass) and are complemented by cowbells, foghorns, and whistles. Each instrument contributes an independent line to the composite rhythm, and the performers are afforded a high degree of improvisatory freedom (see Example 2). The pattern played by the second bell players in this transcription is known as kalik and represents what until recently was the most common bell pattern. Since about 1976, the tempo of Junkanoo music has increased, prompting the bell players to raise the rhythmic intensity of their line as well (see Example 2, bells 1). The first and second drummers combine in any number of ways, although the first, or lead drummers usually play a more complex line than that of the second drummers. The bass drummers carry the pulse of the music, and the most common rhythm is transcribed in Example 2. [example 2]

During the 1970s and 1980s, this rhythmic field and the sonic markers attendant to the festival were increasingly translated into popular music by way of a drum kit and additional percussion instruments. Unlike the negotiations that saw traditional goombay reinvented as popular music-negotiations that distanced the instruments and practices while recontextualizing the rhythms-festival Junkanoo was translated more directly into the repertory and instrumental shape of Bahamian dance bands. It was not uncommon, for example, to incorporate small-scale Junkanoo rushes into concerts (Dr. Offfff was particularly known for this), and bands found it easy to incorporate the cowbells, whistles, and bass drums of festival Junkanoo into their compositions and recordings, thereby marking and marketing their music quite explicitly as Junkanoo. The Baha Men, for example, titled their first major label release Junkanoo!, appeared on the cover dressed in Junkanoo costumes, and deliberately saturated most of the album with the sounds of festival Junkanoo instruments.

Popular Junkanoo must also be understood as heir to the musical life of Nassau, as the music that replaced goombay music in nightclubs and hotels during the 1970s and {apos}80s. In order to adequately address the role of Junkanoo in the Bahamas, I explore the festival itself in chapter 4 and the popular music in chapters 5 and 6. The increasing connection of Junkanoo to the nation-building project, the nostalgia embedded in the rhetoric about festival Junkanoo and in the lyrics of popular Junkanoo, and the spaces that these practices thereby open for thinking about Bahamian histories and futures form the core of the inquiries I pursue in these chapters.

"Back to the Island": Music and the Poetics of Representation

The historical narratives traced in the first section of this chapter offer a sense of the Bahamas' inexorable move toward tourism as the most viable and, indeed, the best option for long-term economic growth. They illustrate the gradual and contested journey from Crown Colony to independent nation and the concomitant shift from minority to majority rule within the Bahamas. They also provide a clear sense of not only the interposition of the Bahamas between the United States and the rest of the Caribbean, but also the internal center/periphery negotiations attendant to Bahamian life.

The musical styles introduced in the second section of this chapter, for their part, already begin to complicate these histories, not least because the journeys they instantiate are always already moving both centrifugally and centripetally-looking inward while simultaneously reaching outward to specify meaning. In so doing, rake-n-scrape, goombay, and Junkanoo provide particularly powerful lenses through which to think about the Bahamas. The chapters that follow, thus, read these histories-these various forms of travel-against these musical articulations of Bahamianness, focusing attention on the ways these musical practices and the discourses they engendered (from 1949 on) offer insights into the contested and complex poetics of representation at play in the Bahamas. This poetics of representation finds expression both in the process of negotiating internal representations of the Bahamas (i.e., relationships between the Family Islands and Freeport/Nassau) and with respect to the regional representations with which Bahamian musicians have at times necessarily aligned themselves and which have at other times provided a foil against which musicians were able to construct specifically Bahamian images and sounds.

The chorus to the song "Funky Nassau," recorded in 1970 by the Beginning of the End, offers a fitting segue into the chapters that follow, for it illustrates the historical and musical complexities introduced in this chapter in the starkest of terms:

Nassau's gone funky,

Nassau's gone soul.

And we've got a doggone beat now,

We're gonna call our very own.

The lyrics illustrate the influence of North American musical style and language on the Bahamas. However, they simultaneously construct a sense of place and local identity, not least because the changes described are happening in Nassau, where Bahamians have a beat that they "call their very own." The beat to which the song refers, and which the Beginning of the End uses in this song, combines rake-n-scrape and Junkanoo rhythms within an arrangement that privileges funk-driven horns and guitars.

I will have much more to say about this song in chapter 5, but suffice it to say here that the recording opens a window onto the complex context within which Bahamian popular music was and continues to be produced. Media flowing from North America and the Caribbean, along with tourist visitors intimately familiar with archetypal regional representations (the sun, sea, and sand of the Caribbean) as well as North American popular musics, created an atmosphere within which local musicians were called upon to create partial alignments with these genres and regional images while simultaneously constructing in and through their musical choices a case for distinctively Bahamian practices.

That local distinctiveness, however, needed to be carefully constructed so as to present the Bahamas as a modern, cosmopolitan space. The Family Islands are thus often relegated to a background or secondary role, appearing as heritage, inspiration, and folklore, or as a premodern foil for contemporary Nassauvian musical life, when they are not actually silenced (as they are in the song). The Beginning of the End accomplished these multiple negotiations both musically and lyrically in "Funky Nassau," and the chapters that follow aim to better understand the representational dynamics that were at play before that song was created as well as the challenges that continue to inform musicians' choices. I begin by turning to the musical style that has come to be called rake-n-scrape.

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