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Rake 'n' Scrape
There's something about Rake 'n' Scrape music that makes you want to dance. The contagious, unique cadence accompanied by the "chink-chink," "kalik-kalik," "scratch-scratch" sound created by the unique instruments, made mostly from recycled objects, brings on a particularly strong urge to get up and shake it.
Most closely linked in sound, rhythm, and composition to zydeco music out of New Orleans, Rake 'n' Scrape is folk music at its best. It's unclear just where Rake 'n' Scrape originated, but most believe it has roots in Africa, made the voyage to the Bahamas with slaves, and was adapted over the years. Today's Rake 'n' Scrape was cultivated on remote Cat Island. Lacking money for and access to modern things, the resourceful locals made use of whatever supplies were available. Years later, many of these musicians could have their pick of shiny, finely tuned instruments, but they stick with what they know makes beautiful music.
Have a Listen
International recording artist and Cat Island native Tony McKay, who went by the stage name Exuma, incorporated Rake 'n' Scrape into his music. He paid homage to the style with the song "Goin' to Cat Island."
George Symonette's "Don't Touch Me Tomato" gained infamy in a recent television commercial for Cable Bahamas. Symonette is associated with Goombay, a music style popular in Nassau in the 1950s. Goombay soon died out, giving way to closely related Rake 'n' Scrape.
Comprised of six Harbour Island natives, the Brilanders have toured with Jimmy Buffet. Their hit song "Backyard Party" is a sound-track standard at just about any Bahamian party.
The Lassie Doh Boys put their stamp on Rake 'n' Scrape in 2006 with "Rake 'n' Scrape Mama."
Bahamian schoolchildren still learn their multiplication tables to Ed Moxey's Rake 'n Scrape's version of the old Bahamian folk song "Timestable." Moxey started recording albums in the early 1970s, but this Nassau-based artist is still a regular on the Bahamian festival circuit.
An authentic Rake 'n' Scrape band uses recycled objects to make music. An ordinary saw held in a musician's lap, then bent and scraped, becomes an instrument. A piece of wood, some fishing line, and a tin washtub is a good stand-in for the brass section. Plastic juice bottles are filled with pigeon peas, painted in bright colors, and turned into maracas. Add a goatskin drum, and you have all you need for a Rake 'n' Scrape ensemble, although many bands now add a concertina, guitar, or saxophone.
Where to Hear Rake 'n' Scrape
Rake 'n' Scrape in its authentic form is a dying art. The handful of groups scattered throughout the Bahamas are comprised of older men, as younger Bahamians prefer more modern sounds. Today, Ophie and the Websites, The Brilanders, and Thomas Cartwright are among the few groups still performing old style Rake 'n' Scrape. Other modern Bahamian musicians, such as K.B., Phil Stubbs, and Ronnie Butler work the sound and rhythm into their own signature styles.
The popular Rake 'N' Scrape Festival each June on Cat Island hosts dozens of bands from all over the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The four-day festival also features native food and handmade local crafts.
In Nassau, July's Junkanoo Summer Festival showcases notable Rake 'n' Scrape bands alongside current headliners, who thrill the crowds with their own modern renditions of old favorites. If you happen to see a crowd of locals and tourists dancing on the side of the Cable Beach strip, that means you've found Curly's (242/327-4583). This tiny bar east of Sandals comes alive on weekend nights; when it's time for Rake 'n' Scrape, owner Curly picks up his saw or the goatskin drums and joins in.
On Harbour Island, Gusty's and Vic-Hum Club usually work at least one night of Rake 'n' Scrape into the weekly live music schedule. The Brilanders often play at Seagrapes.
Dance Like a Local
The Rake 'n' Scrape rhythm is so captivating that even the most rhythmically challenged will be hard-pressed to stand still. As the first beats are played, look around and see what the old folk do. It's not unusual to see a man stick his leg out (whether he's sitting or standing), lift his pants leg a bit, and let his footwork get fancy.
At festivals, schoolchildren usually dance the quadrille or heel-toe polka to Rake 'n' Scrape music. Most Bahamians will give you a strange look if you request a demonstration, but ask them to show you how to "mash de roach" or dance "the conch style" and they'll jump up and put on a show.
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