The consistent shaking and beating of the cowbells, tum tums and bass drums brings about the whole joy and passion for what Junkanoo is all about. The combination of all the instruments on the right timing helps to create what we call “Junkanoo” music. The music plays a vital role in the parade itself because it brings everything around it to life. The instruments played include brass (sousaphone, mellophone, saxophone, trumpet, and baritone horns) and what is called “backline” which consists of bass ,tum tum,cowbells,whistles, fog horns and scrappers. The drum is made up of barrels covered by goat skin that has to frequently be heated to maintain its sound. There has also been an introduction of cymbals and scrappers to enhance the sound of the music even more.
Fig. 1 (Grand Bahama group playing in New Years Day Parade)
The Life of the Parade: The Music
Junkanoo music is very basic but also very contagious. The basic instruments used to give off sounds during the Junkanoo parade consists of the goat skin drums, the cowbells, horns, whistles and brass. The goat skin drum got its name because the skin of the goat was stretched over a wooden barrel. It is decorated by geometric designs in bright colors. The drum is always heated over fire to ensure that it keeps the perfect tone. However, companies started shipping metal barrels in 1971 which some Bahamians switched to changing the tone of the drum slightly. The drum is carried under the arm and supported by a strap over the shoulder and struck with the musicians’ bare hands. Most of the times when you see musicians on the parade playing their designated instrument you would notice that their face is screwed up, as if they are hurting. However, they are just really serious about what they are doing and that is a way in which they display their passion for what they are doing. When you hear the sound of Junkanoo music you have no other choice but feel the rhythm and start moving to the beat.
The brass section is arguably the second most important part of a Junkanoo festivals music. Although the section is only a relatively recent addition becoming important in the late 1970’s it has quickly become a vital part to the Junkanoo experience. The melody from the instruments combine with the beat to create the music we know today and allows the musical section to expand beyond what just the drums allowed.
There are numerous other instruments although in terms of impotence they don’t match the previously stated two. There are whistles, cowbells, various types of horns ranging from bicycle horns to toy horns and several other kinds. Conch shells still make the occasional appearance.
We went through what is used to makes the sweet sounds of Junkanoo but we have yet to cover what these instruments is actually playing. The music cover in Junkanoo has diversified over the years, now Junkanoo has a lot of diverse sounds covering many different genres that I will go over now.
The genre that many Bahamians are familiar with when talking about Junkanoo is Rake’n’Scrape. This genre is usually played with a handsaw and either an old knife or screwdriver. People also made instruments specifically to produce that Rake’n’Scrape sound.
Genres from other Caribbean countries are also used in the celebration. Genres such as Reggae, Dancehall, Soca and Calypso are all Incorporated. Making Junkanoo a potluck of Caribbean culture.
Also genres from outside of the Caribbean are also used. I personally heard some Micheal Jackson hits, Rap music and even songs from a show called Naruto.
The music connects everyone because there is something for everyone.