Leaving Home to Find It: Bahamian Anthems

I was browsing the shelves in my undergrad institution’s music library when I came across two volumes of Bahamian music. I couldn’t understand how they could be titled the “Real Bahamas” and I’d never heard of any of the singers or songs listed on the back. Of course I checked them out, eager to hear their contents.

Well. My first listen-through was challenging. I didn’t like what I heard, which was disappointing, because I really wanted to! This was the “real” Bahamas after all. Most of the songs were a cappella, and the ones that weren’t had only guitar accompaniment. The music was folksy and the singers were old. Even their voices sounded wrinkled. They growled, mumbled, shouted and dropped in and out of the songs seemingly at will, with the end result being far from the polished albums I’m used to. But there was something about the songs, the stories they told and the dialogue between the singers that encouraged me to replay the albums. That and the fact that I wanted to at least be able to appreciate the content.

Slowly, through this deliberate process, I came to love the music and the people behind it. The “wrinkled” voices sound honest and passionate, moving in their own right, no matter they aren’t intense or smooth like Aguilera, Houston, McKnight or Sinatra. I learned that the guitarist was Joseph Spence, considered a genius in musician circles for his rhythmic innovations and playing that sounded as though there were two guitarists instead of one. I learned too that one of the strange qualities of the music, likely one of the things that made it difficult for me to enjoy it in the beginning, was that the lead person sings the melody inside of the song, with the others harmonising above and below him/her. It can be a little disorienting, although now that I’m used to it all my discomfort in the beginning is just a memory.

“I Bid You Goodnight” was one of two anthems (the name for this genre) I could find on YouTube. There’s a fair amount of Spence’s music on there, and though he’s amazing, it’s not quite the same. Definitely give “Goodnight” a listen, as well as “Don’t Take Everybody to Be Your Friend”, which is one of my favourite songs from these volumes. You can hear snippets of the rest on iTunes. Check out “Sailboat Malarkey” – bizarre but I love it – “Up in the Heaven Shouting” – punchy! – and “Won’t That Be a Happy Time” – which my library tells me is just ahead of “Don’t Take” for the most plays. Let me know what you think, and whether you have any experience with this genre. 🙂