Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay
ur world is smaller and our information faster, though it’s easy to forget just how small and how fast: take Numero Group’s assertion that had they arrived on hurricane-ravaged Grand Bahama’s Freeport ten years earlier or ten years later they could have walked away quite richer or totally empty handed, and wonder how in the hell ten years became so important in archiving music that’s already four decades old. And that this time warp exists on the island closest to the United States, not some much further nation.
So Grand Bahama Goombay arrives not fully formed, but rather the bastard of some strange cultural filtering-downs and a shifting political climate. Goombay centerpiece Jay Mitchell opened for Aretha and Otis for a blockbuster US tour, marking the island’s only shoulder-brush with real fame. Still, nearly all of Goombay kneels at the alter of American rhythm and soul; there are several covers, including “Mustang Sally,” “Tighter and Tighter,” even “Theme from Shaft” doused in elements that are hard not to stereotype as “Caribbean” or “island-y.”
Mitchell stands proudly as Freeport’s star, a severe and intense singer who might’ve been bigger if not for a bout of homesickness, and whose career moved towards neon, insane art-funk at its end, evidenced by the aggressive front-door rapping of “Funky Fever” and the wildly cool cover art of his final recording, Impartiality. A brutal, syrupy take of “Mustang Sally” closes the set, and it’s the rare 13-minute funk jam that doesn’t explicitly channel James Brown’s scat.
Impressive as Mitchell was, he was not alone. Frank Penn haphazardly provided studio and live space to Grand Bahama bands shooting for anything greater than a poolside gig, and he leads his band through the somewhat forgettable “Gimme Some Skin.” The Bahamas declared independence in the early 70s, opening the door to a rash of bands vying to write a national anthem. Cyril Ferguson’s mouse-y funk “Gonna Build a Nation” was one such effort, though his nervous meta-narrative “Words to my Song” is ultimately more touching.
Goombay is never more endearing, however, than on two after-school-special cuts from the Gospel Chandeliers. “Don’t Touch That Thing” plays loudly and brattily as the girls shout up abstinence around a jump-rope circle: “If you touch that thing / Your Mama gonna know / How’s she gonna know? / Your belly gonna show.” “Honesty is the Best Policy” is less unique but no less insistent, chirping mightily between two of Goombay’s heavier funk cuts.
Still, there was a dearth of truly great material for Goombay, and it shows, as its own booklet partially abandons a limp “Theme from Shaft” and a second, instrumental version of Frank Penn’s forgettable “Gimme Some Skin” muddies up the flow. The records that were to take their place are undoubtedly lost to water and wind and heat, and as a result, Goombay suffers slightly as both a comprehensive cultural milemarker and a unfuckwithable summer soundtrack. Actually, it’s kind of perfect for the type of summer afternoon Freeport probably sees a lot of: humid as fuck, gorgeous, a bit too uncomfortable to fully breathe in.