The Real Bahamas in Music and Song - Nonesuch
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The Real Bahamas

These are the classic recordings made by Peter K. Seigel and Jody Stecher in the Bahamas, the songs that brought folks like Joseph Spence to the attention of the world, and made the Caribbean a real "place" for so many North Americans in the 60s and 70s. You can read all about their recording trips and the music they found in Brian Cullman's article on RootsWorld

The Real Bahamas in Music and Song
(originally released in 1966)

We'll Understand It Better By and By 3:54
Sheep Know When Thy Shephard Calling 2:08
I Told You People Judgement Coming 0:53
Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend 2:18
Sailboat Malarkey 2:18
Up in the Heaven Shouting 1:33
Won't That Be a Happy Time 2:24
Out on the Rolling Sea 3:12
I Am So Glad 1:40
Come for Your Dinner 1:28
God Locked the Lion's Jaw 4:01
Great Dream from Heaven 3:39
My Lord Help Me to Pray 1:42
Numberless As the Sands on the Seashore 4:15
I Ain't Got Long 1:21
I Bid You Goodnight 2:48

The Real Bahamas
(Originally released in 1978)

Mary and Joseph 3:54
Peter, You Need the Lord 1:56
Jesus Promised Me a Home over There 3:03
Troublesome Water 1:42
Kneeling Down Inside the Gate 2:34
Jesus Your Name So Sweet 1:37
Take Me over the Tide 2:37
When the Leaves Turn Red 3:21
That Glad Reunion Day 2:37
The Great Coronation 2:13
The Captain Go Ashore 1:57
Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold God's Body Down 6:00

Hear more music from The Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean

You might also like Rastlin' Jacob: The Music of the Spiritual Baptists of Trinidad: The 1939 Trinidad Field Recordings of Melville & Frances Herskovits

Notes from Volume 1
Most of the major Bahama Islands lie no further than 200 miles off the Florida coast. The United States has had generally a greater influence on the history and development of this British colony than did the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands to its south and east. This is also true for most of the music of the Bahamas; certainly it is true in the case of the music presented in this album—the religious vocal music of “rhyming spirituals” and anthems.

The songs and the style heard here are the result of alternate periods of contact with and isolation from the United States mainland. The Bahama colony was established at about the same time as the Carolina colony: around 1670. Africans from many tribes—Ibos, Ijos, Yorubas, Mandingoes, Ashantis—were imported as slaves to both places, as well as to other British settlements in the New World. Whereas tribal identity quickly vanished in the mainland colonies, one’s awareness of a particular African heritage remained intact to a great extent in many of the European-colonized islands. This was so in the Bahamas, where the surrounding waters provided temporary insulation against outside influences; there is still an awareness of tribal distinction in some parts of the Bahamas. During the Revolution in the mainland colonies, a group of Loyalists left the Carolinas with their many slaves and settled on Abaco Cays in the Bahamas, where a number of freed slaves also had come to live. A vital new music had been developing in the Carolinas, as well as throughout the whole of the Southern plantation area. This music was now brought to the Bahamas, where a similar development may have been taking place. Here, the very old songs were preserved (and are in fact still sung), and a distinctly Bahamian style of singing developed simultaneously with the further development of the American Negro spiritual.

Emancipation came to the Bahamas in 1838; escaped slaves from the southern American states sought refuge in the free islands, particularly Andros, largest of the Bahamas. Until the end of the Civil War, there was a steady inflow of African-Americans to Andros and, with them, their songs. Isolation and poverty insured the preservation of these songs, so that Bahamian music today reflects many of the developments in mainland music that occurred over a very long period. We can hear in the older music of the Bahamas something that may be close to the very early plantation slave music.

The “rhyming spiritual” is the distinctive Bahamian type of religious song. “Rhyming” simply means intoning couplets against a melodic background of voices. (“Rhyme” here means “verse”—not necessarily coinciding final syllables.) The rhymer—the lead singer—sings a memorized or improvised rhythmic narrative part that continues to build in intensity while the other singers repeat a chorus behind him—that is, they sing the song. The rhyming style reached its greatest heights during the sponge fishing in the 1930s. A West African tradition of singing sermons has been carried on, and further developed, in the New World. We can hear it in church services conducted by preachers who bring their congregations to heights of religious fervor by the gradual transition during the sermon from speech to song—song of tremendous intensity and power. Rhyming seems to be the combination of the traditions of singing sermons and African drum and bell rhythms. The rhythmic patterns in rhyming are also found in West African music. While there is still some drumming in the Bahamas, it had been forbidden in the mainland colonies and had to go underground. The intricate handclapping that developed in the Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands may be a compensation for lost bells and drums. In the Bahamas, where there is little handclapping, the singing sermon became the means for utilizing this and other rhythms. Other features of African music, such as the call-and-response vocal pattern, also found their way into Bahamian song. - - JODY STECHER, 1966 Revised 1992, 2003

From the liner notes in Volume 2
We were strangers, conspicuously white-skinned, suspected of being Beatles (who had just been there filming Help!) or tax collectors. Peter Siegel was 21 years old; I had just turned 19. We had come to the Bahamas to record the spirituals and anthems of the region and, particularly, the distinctive Bahamian vocal style called “rhyming.”

On our first day in Nassau we began our search for the legendary singer and guitarist Joseph Spence. We asked everyone, and the response was uniform and predictable: “Sure mon, I know Spence”—until we arrived in his own neighborhood. Nobody knew of Spence, and a young woman standing in the doorway of a cottage sternly asked us why we were looking for him. When we said that we wanted to record Spence’s music she brightened and offered to take us to his house; gathering several small children from behind her long skirt, she escorted us next door. Spence’s wife Louise seemed to be expecting us and served us conch fritters. In the corner was a black guitar leaning on a small amplifier bearing a sign: “Joseph Spence—The Voice from Heaven.” Spence himself came home, and after a tour of the banana trees in the back yard we set up a time to record him with his sister Edith and her family. This session was recorded in the yard of the home of Raymond and Edith Pinder, some distance away.

The yard was full of children and lush subtropical trees and plants. We began recording at dusk and, as the night deepened, more and more neighbors showed up. Edith’s husband, Raymond Pinder, sang bass, and their daughter Geneva sang the high parts (treble). With her strong and compelling voice, Edith sang lead most of the time. Joseph Spence would sing a part all his own, along with his unique guitar playing. One song from that session, “I Bid You Goodnight,” became world-famous not long after Volume I of The Real Bahamas was released in 1966; the Incredible String Band and the Grateful Dead subsequently recorded the song, and it has also been used as the closing theme for several American radio stations.

The Reverend W.G. McPhee was very helpful in locating good singers and we recorded some of them at his home, including the Swain family and the legendary singer from Andros, Frederick McQueen, with his high-pitched, otherworldly voice and uncanny melodic sense. The Swain family—Shelton Swain, his son Ronald, and cousin Stanley—and George McKenzie were all from the island of Abaco. When still a boy, Shelton had learned his musical style in the sponge-fishing days from the great rhyming singer Peter Elliot; he recalled how Elliot took him on his knee after hearing him sing, saying, “Son, I could take you and run a nation.”

The Swains told us about a great singer, Bruce Green from Moores Island, and arranged a meeting with him. Mr. Green had with him two splendid younger singers, Clifton Green and Tweedie Gibson. The atmosphere of our hotel room, where this session was recorded, became elevated by the innate nobility and the pure, dignified presence of these three men.

We set out for Moores Island, hoping to find and record more rhyming singers but managed to get only as far as Marsh Harbor, on the island of Abaco. There we encountered Lyndall Albury, a singer of English ballads and folksongs. Marsh Harbor was founded by her ancestors, Loyalists to the English crown who had left the Carolina colony after their cause was defeated in the American Revolution. The layout of the village, style of the houses, the speech and bearing of the people were so much of another time and place that we felt ourselves bewitched and transported into a dream world far removed from 1965. - JODY STECHER, 1978

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