Big Drum in Carriacou.

Big Drum in Carriacou

Many well researched articles and books have been written about the origins and culture of ‘Big Drum’ in Carriacou. For detailed information I suggest ‘Big Drum Ritual in Carriacou’ by Lorna McDaniel and ‘African Themes in the Paintings of Canute Caliste’ by Donald R. Hill. I have no intention of trying to emulate such expert writings. I would simply like to show the few photographs I took of Big Drum at Prospect ‘Maroon’ on the night of Friday May 17th 1968. I wish now that I’d taken a lot more. I would really like to know the names of the drummers and, if possible, the names of the dancers in the photographs. My assumption is that the drummers could be from the following names: Haynes Williamson, ‘Sugar’ Adams or the Lambert brothers. These were the main drummers on the island at that time (according to Christine David in her booklet, Folklore of Carriacou).

Big Drum at Harvey Vale

My first introduction to Big Drum came soon after I arrived in the island on Sat. Sept. 23rd 1967. Part of my diary entry for that day reads much as follows:
“After writing letters home we (George, Cathy and I) waited for Mackie to take us to Harvey Vale for ‘Big Drum’.

We heard the drums about half a mile from our destination. We stopped and began to walk. The noise of the drums became louder and louder as we followed the lantern through the corn. Finally we reached an opening. In the middle there was a fire and around the fire sat a circle of people singing to the drumbeat in a language I didn’t recognise or understand. The beat came from three drums at the far end of the circle; so loud and so rhythmic that everyone was becoming extremely animated and excited. In the centre were the dancers. They performed what appeared to be highly ritualistic steps and moves. Men danced with towels in their hands. Ladies had skirts held high; in fact everyone seemed high. The drums quickened. The dancing became faster. The climax came – then silence.

We looked around. The crowd began to chat and talk. The ‘jack’ was then passed around; some of it being poured on to the dancing arena. As I watched, George approached me and informed me that food was being prepared by the host. Cold pork and bread and butter, washed down with more ‘jack’.
Once we had eaten, the drums started again and the dancing re-commenced. Some of the dancers seemed to dance to a point where they became completely overwhelmed.
Inside the main house I was surprised to hear records being played. I looked indoors to see a number of teenagers dancing to music coming from the record player. They appeared to totally disregard the ‘Big Drum’ going on outside.”
This ‘conflict’ of cultural interests only really struck me as I read my diary years later. Here was a juxtaposition of cultures expressed, on the one hand, by the old traditions and, on the other, by modern influences from abroad. Was this evidence of a move towards a more cosmopolitan musical and cultural era? In 1968 ‘Big Drum’ was still alive and still being actively used as a meaningful celebration for ‘Maroons’ and ‘Tombstones’. During a later visit to Carriacou in 2003 I was invited to see to ‘Big Drum’. This time the performance was rather different. Drummers performed, and dancers were choreographed, not in the villages and homes, but on a stage in a Carriacou musical festival. However, it still remained a wonderful spectacle and had not lost its vibrancy and energy. It was, in fact, brilliant to see that such a great effort had been made to keep a unique cultural heritage alive and kicking, regardless of it being performed in a completely different context and despite so many modern day pressures.

N.B. If anyone would like to add their experience(s) of Big Drum please just send.

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28 Responses to Big Drum in Carriacou.

  1. Bill Cameron says:

    Thanks for the comment. Cheers, Bill

  2. Joel Franklyn says:

    Hi,

    One of the main drummers in carriacou is my great grandfather and at this current moment in time I am trying to track down some audio or videos of them performing infront of the queen when the she granted grenada independence in 1974(am not too sure if this is when they performed) I,m wondering if anybody can help.

    Thanks

    Joel Franklyn

  3. Sheraine Williams says:

    Mr Winston Fleary is my Grand-Uncle. I am so proud of, and am in awe of his works in keeping this tradition alive. He exudes charisma, passion and eloquence as a performer, dancer, drummer and even more importantly his role in the family.

    Big Drum needs to be kept alive in the UK…hopefully we will all work together towards this in the very near future.

    I remember being at a big drum gathering in Harvey Vale, Carriacou – August 2000. Someone had died and the drums were beating, voices singing and dancers dancing. A shooting star shot accross the night sky. I was and still am overwhelmed by it, and the memory will live on in my mind.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      You are so right Sheraine. Next time Big Drum comes to England be sure to let me know please. A performance of Big Drum Nation is due to be held in the Jalopy theatre Brooklyn on Friday June 10th 2011. I wish I could be there.

  4. Monica Sn0w says:

    I am a fleary in Baltimore, I just went to new york to see my grandfather Angel Fleary of Brooklyn. I heard about this from him, I am interested in learning the dance, I currently dance with Nai Zou and Co, from Ivory Coast but this is my family heritage dance, I would love to learn it and teach it in Baltimore.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      That sounds a brilliant idea. As you probably know the person to contact is Winston Fleary in Brooklyn NY where, I believe, Big Drum Nation dance is based. I’ve just acquired two CDs based on Alan Lomax’s recordings of music in Carriacou; one called Funerary Music of Carriacou, ‘Saraca’ and the other ‘Caribbean Voyage, Carriacou Calaloo’. If you look on utube there is a Big Drum Nation group in Huddersfield here in England as well as NY. I hope you find a place to learn these dances and get to teach them in Baltimore. Don’t forget there’s ‘Quadrille’ as well. All the best.

  5. Magdalene A KA Gracelyn Lendore says:

    My big sister Margaret A K A Estimie Andrews of Harvey Vale now deceased was lead big drumdancer group with Christine David, Lorna Mc Daniel her best friend lived with my sister collected info. to write her book. I feel compelled to mention my sister as she did so much towards the big drum culture. My grandmother Racheal AKA Matie was also a big dancer with sugar Adams, Lambert brothers group. that bigdrum mentioned above in 2000 was at my sister’s in Harvey Vale Tombstone for my deceased brother.(hope this help you). thanks.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Thank you so much for that fascinating comment, Gracelyn. If you have any other stories, memories or photos you would like to share I would love to hear them and I’m sure people who read this website would love to read them too. I think it is so important that people like your sister and grandmother, who have played such an important part in Carriacou life, should be remembered. So thank you, once again.

  6. Lucy Lambert says:

    My grandmother, Lorina Alexis, from Harveyvale, Carriacou was a great big drum teacher. God bless you, Nenen 🙂 xoxo

  7. Princess Charles says:

    You are right about the “conflict of culture” during the mid 1960 onwards. I would not have been seen dead learning to dance the big drums. I thought then the old people were embarrassing, foolish and didn’t understand the music of Percy Sledges, Otis Reddings and Sam Cookes of the day. Little did I know that what we had and still have is culture that would outlive any short term musical phenomena. I still don’t know how to dance to Big drums but of course now I am proud of it!

  8. Hancel Peters says:

    Is there any recording of the big drum and songs by sugar Adams available? if so how can i listen to them?

  9. Sandra Day-Wilson says:

    Hi, I was so excited to read about the Big Drum meeting in the 1960s.

    My grandfather was Williamson Lambert but unfortunately he passed before I was born, therefore I was not able to witness or enjoy his drumming.

    At age 11 I was honored to have attended a dance class with my cousin Estimie during my summer holiday in Carriacou, this has been my only opportunity to dance Big Drum.

    If there are any photos or recordings of the drummers and dancers during my grandfathers era I would be very grateful to have copies.

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Hi Sandra,
      May I suggest the following links which may help you in your search.
      http://www.rounder.com Go to Artists and click on the Alan Lomax collection then view ‘all’. You will see all his CDs. Sugar Adams features on Carriacou Calaloo and Saraca. He may also be on Tombstone Feast. CDs can be purchased from the site or from Amazon.
      Take a look at Alan Lomax archives and also The Association for Cultural Equity. They give a lot of information about Alan Lomax’s World recordings.
      Also:
      If you google ‘Alan Lomax’…. then
      click Alan Lomax Audio Archives – Research Centre…. then
      click Sound Recordings…then
      click Sound Collection Guide….then
      click Caribbean 1962

      You will find there lots of recordings . Just look for Carriacou.

    • Zakia says:

      Hey Sandra, Williamson is my great-grandfather too. Hello cousin!

      • Sandra says:

        Hey Zakia,

        I think you visited my mother whilst you were in Carriacou?
        She lives next door to your grandmother’s house.

        Good Luck with your Radio 4 project cousin…

        Reply

  10. Zakia says:

    Hello!

    I’m travelling to Carriacou in a few weeks to record a BBC Radio 4 documentary on Big Drum! The documentary will shine a light on this unique tradition passed down since slavery days. I’m very excited about it.

    Does anyone here have any information about the Lambert Brothers and them playing for the Queen in the 50s (I think)? Williamson Lambert was my great grandfather and I really would like to find out more about him.

    I will keep you posted about the broadcast date but if people have recommendations about people to speak to, any photographs, anecdotes, or recordings of family members talking about Big Drum that would be amazing.

    Thanks,
    Zakia

    • Bill Cameron says:

      Hi Zakia,
      You have a very interesting project in store. I have over a hundred contacts thru this site so if you care to write a bit about your plans and the information you want I can send out an email to everyone and see what you get back. Does that sound like a good idea to you? Just let me know if you think so. Would you like me to add you to add you to my mailing list? Cheers, Bill

    • Sandra says:

      Hey Zakia,

      I think you visited my mother whilst you were in Carriacou?
      She lives next door to your grandmother’s house.

      Good Luck with your Radio 4 project cousin…

    • Dennis McLeod says:

      Hi Zakia,
      I am Listening to your BBC Radio 4 documentary as I am writing to you.
      I am a product of the 60’s born in Huddersfield with my 5 siblings. Both my Dad and Mum were born in Carriacou and emigrated to England in the late 50’s. You interviewed my Mum (Leonie McLeod) for this documentary!!
      As children, we are very much Westernised, but we all were taught to sing, dance or beat the drum for Big Drum Dancing, for which, we are very proud.
      Thank you for bringing the culture to the masses and endeavouring to keep the old traditions alive.
      Dennis McLeod

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