Hey there. My name’s Jamie, and each week I’m going to introduce you to an album or artist you’ve (probably) never heard before. To start things off we’ll take a look at the debut, self titled album from the Bahamian musician Exuma.
Exuma began his career like many other greats of his era, playing in small clubs around Greenwich Village, but the sound he developed was entirely his own. Exuma’s music is a fantastic concoction of freak-folk, calypso, and all around instrumental furor, paired with his half singing, half groaning voice ringing out mythical and sorcerous lyrics inspired by the spiritual tradition of Obeah. In 1970 he put together a group of musicians and recorded his first album, Exuma.
While only seven tracks long, the album is so dynamic and powerful that it never feels lacking. In the opening song “Exuma, The Obeah Man”, the singer introduces himself in impressive fashion: “Exuma was my name when I lived in the stars/Exuma was a planet that once lit Mars/I’ve got the voice of many in my throat/The teeth of a frog and the tail of a goat”. The lyrics shine throughout the album and are brought alive by Exuma’s rough voice, at times verging on hysteria and at others rising softly above the music.
The second track “Dambala” is a stunningly beautiful tune, built around a simple chord progression that starts gently and slowly rises into a hectic, chanting call for the coming of Dambala, the God of the Sky and creator of all life in the Vodou tradition. The best song from the B-side has to be “You Don’t Know What’s Going On”. This gem contains perhaps my favorite verse from the album: “You can’t change the night into day/And you can’t take the milk/From the milky way./You can’t take the sun from the sky/And you can’t put the light/In Ray Charles eyes”. Once again the melody is simple but with a slightly more jovial rhythm than will be found on the rest of the album.
Exuma would continue to record and tour into the 80s, following up his debut with the excellent Exuma II in the 1970. If you have any interest in the freak folk genre or in world music, then Exuma is an absolute must. His music toes the line of being out of control like almost no one else, and the result is spectacular.