The Bahamas File

Deby Nash tells how to live it up in the Bahamas

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Caribbean Music Mix

When the Caribbean Muzik Festival quietly slipped into The Bahamas in May 1994, the first audience was more curious than committed. Who would have thought more than 30 “name” Caribbean musical acts would come to perform in Nassau at a three-day jam fest?

Caribbean artists were obviously intrigued by the potential for a new audience at a fresh venue. There was no room for prima donnas, either — not with reggae, soca, junkanoo, zouk, and dancehall all under the same billing. The territory was “foreign” to everyone, in more ways than one. It paid off. Almost every review, in print or radio form, and even word of mouth, was overwhelmingly positive. As Peter Webley, Jamaican publisher of Miami’s Caribbean Today, remarked: “They say music breaks down walls. The Caribbean Muzik Fest has bulldozed them!”

Over the years, that’s been done with the likes of Third World, Grammy Award winners Blood, Sweat and Tears, Barbados’s John King, Jamaica’s Barrington Levy, and dozens of artists who have a tremendous presence in the Caribbean musical community. Where else can you see a performer from Panama, a Haitian pop group and a Bahamian junkanoo recording group on the same day?

The first night of the festival is the now-famous Street Party. The usually sedate and elegant Bay Street, in downtown Nassau, shuts down as sunset approaches. Up goes a large stage, sound systems, lights, video screens. Food and gifts stalls line either side of the street. The aroma of barbecue and fried fish blends with the fragrance of night jasmine. And the fun begins!

The Caribbean Muzik Festival Living Legend Award is bestowed annually upon a deserving Caribbean performing artist, in recognition of lifetime accomplishments in the field of music and entertainment worldwide. To date, the winners have been: Freddie Munnings, Sr., legendary Bahamian musician; the Mighty Sparrow (Francisco Slinger), Trinidad’s Calypso King of the World; Jamaica’s Cecil “Sonny” Bradshaw, “The Master of American Jazz”; the Bahamas’s Exuma, the “Obeah Man”; and Montserrat’s Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell. The 1998 winner will be announced at this year’s street party. And just after midnight . . . fireworks!

The next two evenings, the party continues at the grounds of historic Fort Charlotte, easily accessible by bus. There’s a warm, family atmosphere, as parents take children during the early hours. The music begins just after sunset, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself winding your way home at sunrise . . . choice, not circumstance!

The Director General of Tourism, Vincent Vanderpool Wallace, says: “The Caribbean Muzik Festival has become a fixture among Bahamians and visitors who look forward to this most prestigious annual display of Caribbean culture. You will discover that the beauty of the Caribbean is surpassed only by the excitement, culture, and hospitality of its people.” New York-based music critic Lauren Drummond, sees it from a different perspective. “It is a nice change,” she says, “in that, for three days, one can attend a show with so much musical variety — from salsa to reggae- —— where people enjoy each other’s company.” And Howard “Flagga” Duperly, a radio deejay based in Miami , is still impressed, having seen the Muzik Fest evolve over the past few years. “The Festival is still an excellent weekend getaway. The tourism folks, in my opinion, deserve a lot of credit. Year after year, they seem to go the extra mile to make everybody comfortable. No other country in the Caribbean rolls out the red carpet like the Bahamian tourism folks . . . !”

The Caribbean Muzik Festival is expected to be presented in Nassau from June 4-6. Confirm before travelling.

That thing called Junkanoo

Bahamians may enjoy American fashion and appreciate soca and reggae music, but don’t ever try to get between a Bahamian and his Junkanoo. It is the one word that all Bahamians claim as their own. Even a weekend visitor to The Bahamas cannot help but be touched by that thing called Junkanoo.

It’s a “given” during the Christmas season, when the two major masquerade competitions take place — on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day — but the sights and sounds of Junkanoo are everywhere, year round, once you recognise the signs.

In the shopping areas the window displays will show tiny rainbow-coloured figurines made of fringed crepe paper, probably holding a set of cowbell shakers or miniature goat skin drums. In arts and crafts stores, Junkanoo is manifested in the themes of acrylic or oil paintings, the poses of wire figurines, or in the carnival atmosphere of Bahamian greeting cards.

Any event of significance is incomplete in this nation, unless it has a Junkanoo rush (it’s a slow march, actually, accompanied by the Junkanoo rhythm and percussion instruments). And no self-respecting hotel is complete without at least once a week featuring a dozen or so Junkanooers, who “tease” patrons with a five or ten minute “rush” through their restaurant or main lobby.

The sounds and rhythms of that special beat have recently made a foray into the contemporary music market. Music videos of Bahamian Junkanoo have been seen worldwide, thanks to The Bahamas’s best group BahaMen, whose costumes reflect both the masquerade of the festival and the vivid colours of the tropics. Even a Nassau high school has produced a CD, which features some of the most popular songs used during Junkanoo presentations.

Some say the word itself derives from the name of a freed slave, John Canoe. Others say the wearing of masks suggests the French term gens inconnu (men in disguise), while others insist the “junk” in Junkanoo comes from the cans and discarded materials that were first used to create the instruments and costumes of the first Junkanoo celebrations in the 18th century.

While The Bahamas does not have the sugar or rum plantation history of other Caribbean islands, it did have slavery. For Bahamian slaves, the annual freedom to publicly practise and honour their African roots through their own dance and rhythms produced — as it does today — sheer euphoria. The Christmas link stems from the tradition of slave owners permitting slaves a day to celebrate their own “pagan” cultures, the day after their old major religious holiday, as a gesture of Christian charity.

Today, the parade has evolved into an elaborate masquerade and dance competition, as well as a passionate means of self-expression. Participation cuts across class, gender, ethnicity, even age. Prizes at the annual masquerade competitions include several thousands of dollars, for categories including music, theme, and best costume. Considering the thousands of Bahamians who begin cutting and pasting the crepe paper for the December events as early as summer, even the first prize winners can hardly be compensated for the thousands of hours that actually go into the process.

The costumes are made from wire, cardboard, crepe paper, white paint, white glue, and contact cement. A single dancer’s costume weighs about 50 pounds, while lead costumes — which are the largest pieces worn in the competition — weigh anywhere from 250 to 500 pounds, depending on the size and the engineering. At the major Junkanoo competitions, a single person carries that kind of weight down Bay Street — dancing, no less — for several hours, from just after midnight, till dawn.

Eddie Dames, at the Bahamas’s Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, has direct responsibility for Junkanoo. “Once you are in a Junkanoo group,” he says, “you live, eat breathe, think, about what contribution you can make to the betterment of your group.

“Part of that process is in the creation of your costume. Once you are selected and given a costume of a particular nature or category within the whole spectrum of the theme, that to you is an honour in itself.

“To have that particular piece dedicated to you, for your creation, then takes the artist into a new realm of creativity. Personal pride, excellence — all of that comes out in how that is revealed.

“So when you see a Junkanoo person guarding his costume, or the things that make up his costume, that is the sacredness of it. It’s like his life blood is going in there.”

And what the spectator sees, he should actually feel being generated by the participant. It reaches the spectators and the fans, so that they, too, can hardly resist the heated goatskin drum’s call to move, and to start dancing.

Though the history and traditions of Junkanoo are many, the best way to appreciate its essence in The Bahamas is to ask a Bahamian about it. Chances are they’ll tell you, “It’s not just a name, man: Junkanoo is a feeling . . .!”

DON’T LEAVE UNTIL YOU’VE . . .

• had a bowl of conch salad prepared before your eyes at Arawak Cay

• taken at least one jitney ride

• tasted a Kalik — the Bahamian beer

• seen Androsia — the Bahamian-batiked national fabric

• seen a live performance at the Dundas Theatre of the Performing Arts

• joined the mini-Junkanoo parade at Cafe Johnny Canoe, on Cable Beach

• visited the octagon-shaped library in the heart of downtown Nassau (it used to be a jail!)

• visited Pirates of Nassau, in downtown Nassau

• heard national icon Ronnie Butler and Fire’s show, in the bar/lobby of the Radisson Hotel, Cable Beach

• taken a drive along Bay Street. It literally circles New Providence Island, from east to west.

VISITORS’ BAHAMAS

May/June Events

MAY

National Youth “Generation Excellent” Fair, Nassau. Youth organisations throughout New Providence showcase their many cultural and artistic achievements. Activities include drama skits, poetry, fashion show, maypole plaiting, quadrille dancing, marching bands, youth orchestra, food. Location: Arawak Cay. May 23 10.00 am – 6.00 pm, May 24 2.30 pm – 6.00 pm. For more information, contact Ms. Kaye Johnson, 242-3202-2615.

National Arts Festival, Nassau. A cultural concert, where winners in the categories of art and dance, previously judged over a three-month period, display their talents. Location of performances is Rain Forest Theatre, Nassau Marriott Resort and Crystal Palace casino. Time: 8.00 pm Admission: $10. For tickets and more details, telephone Mr. Cleophas Adderley, Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture, at 242-394-0455/6 or Ms. Pat Bazard at 242-356-2691/2.

JUNE

Sixth Annual Caribbean Muzik Festival, Nassau, June 4-6. Showcases the hottest Caribbean performing artists in soca, calypso, reggae, dancehall, zouk, and Junkanoo music. Held at the historic grounds of Fort Charlotte, in Nassau. For more information, contact Nalini Bethel at the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, 242-322-2006.

Twelfth Annual Eleuthera Pineapple Festival. A four-day celebration of the succulent Eleuthera pineapple. Features a Junkanoo parade, craft displays, dance, a pineapple recipe contest, tours of pineapple farms, and a pineathelon — 0.5 mile swim, 3-mile run, 4.5 mile bike ride. Location: Gregory Town. For further information, contact the Eleuthera Tourist Office, at 242-332-2142.

Blue Holes Adventures At Eastern Grand Bahama (Grand Bahama Island). The Rob Palmer Blue Holes Foundation takes cave divers to explore the Zodiac Caverns of Sweetings Cay, the big ocean holes of Big Creek, and unexplored caves in Thrift Harbour and the Mermaid’s Lair. For more information, contact The Blue Holes Foundation, at 242-373-4483, or e-mail: 10043.616@compuServ.com

Summer Gospel Music Splash (Nassau / Paradise Island). Join Christians from across the country in a gospel extravaganza filled with worship and praise, with everything from rap sessions to evening gospel concerts featuring Christian comedians. Also fun/leisure activities to inclue snorkelling, gospelrobics, BBQ, beach olympics, volleyball, island tours, shopping. For bookings and more information, telephone The Events Network, at 888-563-9662, or Kathy Ingraham, at 242-324-0286.

CALENDAR OF ONGOING EVENTS

Pompey Museum, Bay Street, Downtown Nassau. Within this museum is an archival and museum exhibition gallery featuring The Road To Freedom: artifacts, historical documents and drawings, which recount the history of slavery, abolition, and emancipation in The Bahamas.

On the second floor is a permanent display of works by internationally-acclaimed Bahamian artist Amos Ferguson. Opens 10.00-4.00 pm, Mon-Fri, 10.00 am-1.00 pm on alternate Saturdays. Closed Sundays and holidays. Donation: $1, $.50 children. Tel. (242) 326-2566/8

Pirates of Nassau. A world-class interactive historical exhibit, travelling back to the age of piracy and the lawless Nassau of 1716. Special exhibits of infamous pirates such as Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, with audio and other special effects. Duration: approx. 35 minutes. Open Mon-Sat 9.00 am-5.00 pm. Admission: adults $15; children under 13: $8, under 3, free. Tel (242) 356-3759, email: info@pirates-of-nassau.com, or www.pirates-of-nassau.com

Changing of the Guard Ceremony. A fortnightly tradition of pomp and pageantry marking the changing of the Guard at Government House, the residence of the Governor General. The Royal Bahamas Police Force Band proudly performs. Time: 10.00 am Location: Government House Grounds, Baillou Hill Road, five minutes from downtown Nassau. For specific dates, call (242) 322-2020

Nassau Botanic Gardens. An 18-acre garden featuring over 600 species of flora and plant life. Location: Chippingham Road, off West Bay Street. Hours: Mon-Fri 9.00 am – 4.30 pm Sat and Sun 9.00 am- 4.00 pm Admission: $1 adults, $.50 children. Tel (242) 323-5975

Ardastra Gardens and Conservation Centre. A spectacular botanic garden and zoo that showcases an array of over 300 birds, reptiles and mammals. Cameras are a must — photograph the majestic march of the flamingos. Location: Chippingham Road off West Bay Street. Admission: adults: $12, children: $6. Open daily 9.00 am to 4.30 pm. Marching Flamingo shows at 11.10 am, 2.10 pm, and 4.10 pm. Tel. (242) 323-5806

Professionally Guided Walking Tours. Visit Nassau’s city’s historic sites and major points of interest on an interesting walking tour. Tour times: daily, 10.00 am- 4.00 pm. Tours depart from the Tourist Information Centre at Rawson Square, downtown Nassau, and are conducted by independent Bahamahost trained guides. Groups can be pre-arranged. Donation: $2. Telephone Ministry of Tourism’s Transportation and Tours Department, at (242) 302-2055, or the Tourism Information Booth, Rawson Square (242) 326-9772

Cabaret – CARIBE! New Providence’s casino cabaret spectacular. Location: Rain Forest Theatre, Nassau Marriott Resort and Crystal Palace Casino, Cable Beach. Show times vary from 8.00 to 8.30 pm. Admission: $39. Includes two cocktails. For reservations, call (242) 327-6200 ext. 6861

Native Shows. For exciting indigenous entertainment, in Nassau visit King & Knights Show, offering a mini-history of the Bahamas, Junkanoo, and Bahamian music, fire-dancing and limbo. Location: Nassau Beach Hotel, Cable Beach. Show times Tues-Sat 8.30 and 10.30 pm, Sun and Mon, 8.30 pm show only. Dinner also available from 7.00 pm. Admission for show only $20, includes one cocktail. Dinner is à la carte. Tel. (242) 327-5321

Blue Marlin. The only native show on Paradise Island, with sumptuous food and three different types of restaurants in the same building. The supper club show features the “Crab Man”, a contortionist and glass-eater, as well as the Cecil Dorsett Steel Pan ensemble. Shows nightly at 8.00 pm. Tel. (242) 363-2660.

People to People Tea Party (the last Friday in each month, January-August). For a delightful afternoon of tea, entertainment and good company, join guests at Government House Ballroom between 4.00 and 5.00 pm. For reservations, contact the social hostess at your hotel, or call the People to People Unit at the Ministry of Tourism, (242) 326-5371. Proper attire is required.

Where To Stay

• Nassau Beach Hotel. With 411 rooms, an on site beauty salon and masseur, nightclub, and ice cream parlour down the hall from a coffee shop. Tel. (242) 327-7711.

• Breezes Bahamas, the 400-room SuperClubs all-inclusive on Cable Beach; garden or ocean suite, unlimited food and drink, minutes from Nassau International Airport. Tel. (242) 327-5356.

• The 867-room Nassau Marriott Resort and Crystal Palace Casino has the best fitness centre on the island, Crystal Palace Spa. Marriotter Kids Klub provides supervised activities for kids aged 1 to 16; also golf, tennis, raquetball, casino. Tel. (242) 327-6200.

• Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island opened in 1994. With its new Royal Towers facility there are noe 2308 rooms, a 14-acre water theme park, 30,000 square foot casino, 20 eateries scattered throughtout the sprawling property. Tel. (242) 363-2000