Perfect Paradise: Culture: Music

Contrary to popular belief outside the Bahamas, there is no reggae music in the island nation – you'd have to travel a good 500 miles southwest to find that, in Jamaica. In addition, there is no Calypso music in the Bahamas, that style being particular to Trinidad and Tobago. Instead, Bahamians have their own special music styles, particularly Junkanoo, Goombay, and rake-and-scrape.


Inspired by the parades of the same name, Junkanoo music is characterized by powerful rhythms beaten traditionally on goatskin drums, accompanied more recently with tom-tom drums or bongo drums. Junkanoo music also features rich brasses, especially the bugle, and shaking cow bells; "scrapers," like washboards, are also common. Early Junkanoo music featured musicians blowing into conch shells, though this sound has now been replaced through another unique musical contribution – bicycle horns. Although Junkanoo music has been popular for generations in the Bahamas, no major recordings were made until the blossoming of the formal music industry in the nation at the end of the 1990s.

Listen: Junkanoo Music Streaming Audio


Similar in many ways to Trinidadian Calypso music, Goombay is story-telling music that involves the use of a goat-skin drum held between the legs and beat with the hands, something known to Bahamians as a Goombay drum. Goombay songs are very simple in their composition, but the tales the lyrics tell, especially about Bahamian culture and history, are very powerful, even when they can seem quite light-hearted. Goombay is also reminiscent of some of the greatest American jazz music in that its improvisation and intricate, non-standard composition makes it virtually impossible to compose; no song is ever played exactly the same way twice. Although it has lost its popularity amongst the younger generations of Bahamians, most islanders consider Goombay to be the truest, most authentic Bahamian music.

Listen: NPR: Intro to Goombay


Also styled as "rake 'n' scrape," this genre of Bahamian music is adequately described by its name alone. Rake-and-scrape musicians "rake" and "scrape" music out of implements as common and unassuming as sticks, washboards, saws, utensils, and wood blocks with grooves etched into them. This style of music comes directly out of West African culture, with some of the most common types of rakers and scrapers being modeled directly after Nigerian instruments. The combination of noises produced by the bending, hitting, and scraping of the various instruments contains countless harmonic textures that make rake-and-scrape a unique musical genre that cannot be authentically reproduced using any other methods. In the 1920s and 1930s, Bahamians began to share this music with their immediate island neighbors to the south in the Turks and Caicos, resulting in the two nations now sharing rake-and-scrape as a cultural tradition.

Listen: Bahamas: Islands of Song