One can argue that independence, in 1973, had many goals to accomplish. Within that political exercise, negotiating sovereignty away from Britain to our own majority ruled Parliament, was also meant to define, on an intrinsic level — What exactly represents Bahamian identity?

Some fifty years on from 1973, concretising that intellectual essence of Bahamian culture, has proved surprisingly difficult; but there is good reason for this.

The history of these Bahama Islands extends hundreds of years into the past, bringing with it, an assorted, too often ignored mix of cultural influences.

Consider for a moment that our islands were named by the Arawaks, changed by the Spanish, then anglicised by the English. Our language is English. Our music is African derived. Our government was determined by the Loyalists from America. Our traditions are European and Roman. Some historians contend that Junkanoo is a French corruption of “les gens inconnus” meaning stranger which sets this tradition in Haiti. Our duff and souse is British. Our mangoes and pigeon peas came from South Asia. The racial majority is black. You see our problem.

Our unique cultural archipelago, exists today, on the historically significant cultures of the Arawak, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the English, the European, the Western Coastal Regions of Africa, the southern Caribbean, and the southern American.

Quite naturally, through several centuries of diverse cultural influences, Bahamian history has been advanced through an impactful mixture of all the races on Earth. They have contributed to the emergence and export of Bahamian culture.

Understandably, defining our identity through something as simple as music should be easy, but it hasn’t proved so thus far.

Who and What should come to define the cultural expression called Bahamian music?

Goombay, as a music form, in The Bahamas, came during the transatlantic slave trade with African slaves from the Congo. Some contend that Goombay came as Junkanoo did; filtering up as an export from older slave colonies like Jamaica.

However, there may be good reasons to contend that the Bahama Islands had their own unique cultural impact directly from Congolese slaves themselves.

“At the time of Emancipation the English captured a number of Spanish ships transporting slaves taken in the Congo, the primary site of slave-trade activity after 1800, and brought their human cargo to special village settlements on New Providence and some of the other islands, including Long Island. The newly freed Congo slaves who went to the Exumas and Long Island intermarried with former slaves who were tilling the soil of the abandoned plantations. With the increased number of occupants on already depleted land, many were forced to migrate and Long Island and the Exumas experienced a decline in population after 1861.

Read more:

goombay, n. pronunciation/ɡʊmˈbeɪ/from the Oxford English Dictionary

Origin: A borrowing from a Bantu language.

1. A hand-beaten drum of goatskin or sheepskin, with a round or square top. Also more fully goombay drum. Goombay drums originated in the Caribbean and were introduced to West Africa by Jamaican marooons in the early 1800s. The square-topped form of the drum is particularly associated with Jamaica and Sierra Leone, and the round-topped form with the Bahamas.

1790    J. B. Moreton Manners & Customs West India Islands155   An herring barrel or tub, with sheep-skins substituted for the heads, in imitation of a drum, called a gumbay.

a1818    M. G. Lewis Jrnl. W. India Proprietor (1834) 322   The greatest part remained quietly in the negro houses beating the gumby-drum.

1873    Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) 20 Oct.   Accompanying the tom-tom upon a goat-skin stretched over a cask known among them as the gumbay.

1918    G. W. Cable Flower of Chapdelaines xxix. 192   When the goombay—a flour-barrel drum—sounded, the town knew the bamboula had begun.

1973 Tribune (Nassau, Bahamas) 21 Sept. 3/1 They are intoxicated by the beat of the Goombay drums.

2000    Black Masks 31 Mar. 9   Featuring goombay drums, cowbells, whistles, conchshells, bicycle horns, costumed dancers and musicians, Junkanoo is one of the most intense and spiritual world carnivals.

2. A dance performed to goombay drums or goombay music.

1790    J. B. Moreton Manners & Customs West India Islands158   To dance their gumbay, and in chorus sing.

1906    A. B. C. Sibthorpe Hist. Sierra Leone (1970) 28   The all-ravishing dance of Freetown maidens is called a Koonken or Koonking by the settlers, by the Maroons a Talla; the mother of Goombay.

?1969    R. Butler Crow Calypso (transcribed from song)    Saturday night we’re gonna dance and sway Shake my belly and do the goombay.

2017   @camthecomfort 28 Apr. in (accessed 27 Oct. 2020)    Lol you wan goto an island and mad when ya gotta do island shit. Best bark couple coconut and dance the goombay.

3.a. A genre of up-tempo Bahamian music with a calypso beat and elements of rhythm and blues and mento, traditionally featuring goombay drums. Also: a drum rhythm.

1932    Athens (Ohio) Messenger 26 Apr. 4/2   It may be good-bye rhumba, hello goombay! Blame the tourists!

1936    E. Dupuch Smoky Joe Says 42   D’ pleecemun hit off wun l’il goombay on d’ drum.

1975    E. Dupuch in R. Allsopp Dict. Caribbean Eng. Usage(1996) 261/2   If you can sit still when a group of Bahamian musicians break into Goombay, it’s time to take your pulse.

2000 S. Broughton et al. World Music: Rough Guide II. ii.319/1 The rhythms associated with goombay and Junkanoo are pretty flexible.

3. b. Chiefly in form gumbe. Any of various West African styles of percussive, typically polyrhythmic music. Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau both have established gumbe traditions, although a similar style of music is found in many other regions of West Africa. In Sierra Leone, gumbe is associated with the Krio people and the instruments typically used are the goombay drum, saw, and a bottle and tin played against each other for percussion. In Guinea-Bissau, gumbe incorporates several Guinea-Bissauan musical traditions and typically makes use of a water drum (water drum n. (b) at water n. Compounds 7).

1975    B. E. Harrell-Bond Mod. Marriage Sierra Leone vii. 191   Music at these occasions is often played on a guitar accompanied by a triangle but sometimes by goombay drumming (goombay, however, is usually reserved for weddings).

1976    F. C. Steady in N. J. Hafkin & E. G. Bay Women in Afr.219   Caribbean and African influences are apparent in Creole architecture and music (gumbe).

2000    N.Y. Times (Nexis) 17 Oct.  e2/3   Some gumbemusicians borrow heavily from Congolese soukous or French Antillean zouk.

4. Any of various festivals celebrating Bahamian culture.The earliest such festivals were held in the Bahamas during the summer. Similar festivals were subsequently started in areas of Florida with significant Bahamian populations.

1971    Life 7 May (advt.)    The biggest surprise of all is how little it costs to come to Bahamas Goombay Summer!

2014 Miami Times 23 July 9 a (headline) Bahamian artists to showcase work at Goombay.

Charles Leonard Lofthouse, Bahamian lyricist and musician, born 1883 is credited as being one of the earliest artists to contribute to internationalising Goombay as a music art form

Goombay, as a music art form, in The Bahamas, gained international recognition in the early 1900s, around the 1930s to be exact.

According to an interview in 1950 with Charles Leonard Lofthouse, the grandson of Emmanuel Menendez, a once Spanish interpreter turned Bay Street merchant in the mid to late 1800s. Lofthouse said, that as a boy, he sat listening to the baleful tunes of two former Congolese slaves, working his grandfather’s land, in Nassau.

Lofthouse said the music form stayed with him as he grew up to become a musician and lyricist. This, he recounted in 1950 was the route “Goombay” took to international fame.

Nassau Magazine (1950) produced by Mary Moseley
Nassau Magazine (1950) produced by Mary Moseley
“Charles Leonard Lofthouse was born in Nassau, Bahamas 17 January 1883 to Thomas Hilton Cheesborough Lofthouse and Elizabeth Ann Menendez Lofthouse.
Charlie was a composer, vocalist, musician, and the manager of woolens stores in Nassau called the “Argyll Store” and the “Old England Shop.” He was known for the Goombay songs he wrote or promoted like “Bahama Mama,” “Bahama Lullaby,” “Moonlight Nights in Nassau,” “Goombay,” “Mama don’t want no peas an’ rice an’ coconut oil”, “Delia gone, one more roun,” and others. With his brother, he co-founded the Lofthouse Agency and the Lofthouse Record Company.”

Charles Leonard Lofthouse was born in 1883 in Nassau, Bahamas. Lofthouse married Elizabeth Ann Wilson Menendez. Elizabeth Ann was the daughter of Manuel Menendez (1823-1900) and Elizabeth Wilson Holmes (b.1909-d. ).

In 1852, Manuel Menendez was named as an official Spanish interpreter at the port during the absence of the official interpreter.

By 1863, Manuel Mendendez was a successful merchant on Market Street.

The Nassau Guardian 14th February 1863
Lofthouse, Charles Thornton and Gilbert, L. Wolfe, “Bahama Mama : That ”Goombay Tune”” (1932).
Alice D. Simms – lyricist from New York who wrote the words on Goombay album produced with Charles Lofthouse
Nassau Magazine (1950) produced by Mary Moseley
George Symonette’s Goombay album of the 1950s
Excerpt from
the book Funky Nassau, Roots, Routes and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music (2011) written by Timothy Rommen

Read more about the journey of Bahamian music and the Goombay Years in the book Funky Nassau, Roots, Routes and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music (2011) written by Timothy Rommen

Funky Nassau, Roots, Routes and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music (2011) written by Timothy Rommen
Funky Nassau, Roots, Routes and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music (2011) written by Timothy Rommen