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September 10, 2009

Bahamas Music Legends

Bo Hog (on accordion) and friends give a short sample
of their "rake-n-scrape" skills. Note the handsaw player on the right.

by John Oseid

I listen to tons of island music, but apart from that pesky Baha Men hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?," I couldn't name a single Bahamian song or artist. Until now. Senior editor Kate Maxwell's recent frolic in the Bahamas inspired me to do a little digging and I found out the Bahamas has plenty of marvelous musical talents and some real legends.

As part of the September Condé Nast Traveler package, "The Bahamas for Everyone," Kate was serenaded by accordionist Bo Hog and his group in this video shot on a Cat Island beach. The unique "rake-n-scrape" folksy music they play is driven by a handsaw and goombay drum, and is said to come from Cat Island, which sponsors a festival in June.

They call Ronnie Butler the godfather of Bahamian music. He's been singing calypso and other "riddims" since the forties, and his rich baritone voice has made a brand new fan out of me. Here's the history of the country's seminal political event that inspired his signature song, "Burma Road." Butler's songs can be found all over YouTube, including his wonderful version of Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'."

Born early last century, Joseph Spence was an Andros sponge fisherman and stonemason whose steel-string acoustic guitar fingering techniques have wowed modern-day guitar masters like Ry Cooder and the Grateful Dead, who recorded his "I Bid You Goodnight." Spence was known to use his gravelly voice as an instrument, while his music reflected his strong Bahamian church upbringing, and everything from calypso to folk and blues he picked up as a farm worker in the States. His 1958 The Complete Folkways Recordings is considered a classic, and his music appears in Nonesuch's famous Explorer Series.

More music:
* On her visit to Harbour Island, Kate Maxwell joined an Independence Day street party that featured the kind of drumming used by Junkanoo bands. has the history behind the Bahamas' Carnival-like parades and plenty of pics of stunning costumes.
* The Nassau Guardian pays tribute to Joseph Spence.
* Boom Box: Music of the world


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