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.
Click play to hear "When The Whale Get Strike" -
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.