Contributors. Jerome Camal, Steven Feld, Francio Guadeloupe, Jocelyne Guilbault, Jordi Halfman, Susan Harewood, Percy C. Hintzen, Timothy Rommen
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About the Author
Timothy Rommen is Davidson Kennedy Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Music and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Funky Nassau: Roots, Routes, and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music.
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IT SOUNDS BETTER IN THE BAHAMAS
Musicians, Management, and Markets in Nassau's All-Inclusive Hotels
This chapter explores the day-to-day interactions of musicians with their tourist audiences in the context of all-inclusive hotels in the Bahamas, paying particular attention to notions of craft, to genre expectations, to agency, and to encounter. In so doing, I explore the ambivalences, joys, and frustrations musicians experience in negotiating their positions within all-inclusive hotels (both as employees and as performers). I also illustrate how these day-to-day performances and encounters are inextricably entangled in and vital to the (often competing) concerns of all-inclusive hotels, local institutions, and the government itself. A series of questions are raised in the process: What is considered local and what is global in cosmopolitan Nassau? What does it mean to be Bahamian in the context of an all-inclusive hotel? And, perhaps most pressingly, what counts as Bahamian music in touristic encounters characterized by shared cosmopolitanisms?
In one sense, these inquiries trace along well-worn paths, for attempts to define, understand, and qualify the local or the national in this manner are inevitably bound up in questions of identity. Identitarian projects of this sort accompanied the Caribbean through the mid- and late twentieth-century independence movements and have continued to shape the region's postcolonial life as nations (and communities within them) work to reframe local histories through appeals to roots and heritage. Music scholars working in the Caribbean have been particularly attuned to these identitarian discourses. This is the case not least because these discourses have offered productive insights into the ways that musical practices have been mobilized to think about the challenges and possibilities of nationalism (Austerlitz 1997; Berrian 2000; Dudley 2007; Guilbault 1993; Largey 2006; Miller 2008; Moore 1997; Rommen 2011), representation and recognition (Bilby 2008; Greene 2017; Rommen 2007a, 2007b), race and class (Cooper 2004; Guadeloupe 2009; Manuel 2000; Pacini Hernandez 1995; Ramnarine 2001), and gender (Cooper 1995; Guilbault 2007; Hutchinson 2016; Pacini Hernandez 1995), to name only some of the most common paths of inquiry.
The questions raised by this chapter's case studies, however, are not only about identity. They also concern the issue of branding — the need to define and capitalize on a signature sound in all-inclusive hotels. The history of tourism in the Caribbean, especially in those destinations aiming to develop a mass tourism appeal, is marked with efforts to connect or even to equate (sonic) national identity with branding efforts. But, as this chapter illustrates, recent developments have shifted the scale and focus of such efforts: in the context of the all-inclusive hotels in the Bahamas, at least, branding no longer necessarily concerns developing or supporting a national sound to attract visitors to the island, but requires, instead, a sound-as-commodity that sells the globalized, corporate space of the all-inclusive hotel as an island within the island. And this shift away from representing the nation (historically a major component of Bahamian musicians' performances) and toward branding the corporation (increasingly the primary focus of musicians) means that the all-inclusive hotel has become a particularly important musical site in the contemporary Bahamas.
Just what a signature or branded sound might entail for an all-inclusive hotel, however, remains an open question. On the one hand, the global connections fostered in the all-inclusive hotel create the possibility for shared cosmopolitanisms, and musicians, as I illustrate below, are keen to engage in and celebrate such sonic solidarities. On the other hand, these global connections and their musical consequences create frictions (to use Anna Tsing's term) — frictions engendered by moving beyond local specificities and thereby deemphasizing established sonic identities historically attached to a national sound while simultaneously working to present visitors with some version of the Bahamas. Tsing writes: "How does one do an ethnography of global connections? My answer has been to focus on zones of awkward engagement, where words [and sound] mean something different across a divide even as people agree to speak. These zones of cultural friction are transient, they arise out of encounters and interactions. They reappear in new places with changing events" (Tsing 2005, xi). I analyze the all-inclusive hotel as such a zone of cultural friction and understand the musical encounters that animate this space as a continuation of the long history of attempts to negotiate both global connections and local specificities within a tourist destination. I also understand the all-inclusive hotel as a site in which such musical negotiations are displaced from the sphere of the nation to the purview of the corporation.
In exploring these ideas and questions, I focus on the music of Funky D and Alia Coley, two musicians who have spent the majority of their careers performing for audiences in all-inclusive hotels. I focus, in particular, on their employment by SuperClubs Breezes Resort and Spa, Bahamas, which has, since 1995, been one of the premier all-inclusive hotels in Nassau. Their experiences in this context lead me to suggest that all-inclusive hotels like Breezes — not the Ministry of Tourism or local institutions such as the Musicians and Entertainers Union — have now become the primary context within which the current shapes and future possibilities of what constitutes Bahamian music are being negotiated.
In order to set the context for considering these musical labors, touristic encounters, and shared cosmopolitanisms, however, it is necessary briefly to trace the history of the political economy of music within the tourism industry in the Bahamas.
Music and Tourism in the Bahamas
What is the earthly paradise for our visitors? Two weeks without rain and a mahogany tan, and, at sunset, local troubadours in straw hats and floral shirts beating "Yellow Bird" and "Banana Boat Song" to death.
— Derek Walcott (1992)
Tourism is a sort of chemotherapy. You have cancer and it's the only possible cure, but it might kill you before the cancer does.
— Juan Antonio Blanco quoted in McGeary and Booth (1993)
"It's better in the Bahamas!" This slogan has defined the marketing efforts of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism since 1976. But what might this "it" entail when explored in relation to music, dance, and cultural productions? It is no exaggeration to claim that musicians were instrumental in shaping the tourism product that spurred the rapid growth in the industry during the second half of the twentieth century — that the sounds of vacation supported, confirmed, and animated the spaces of tourist desire. Fire dancers, limbo dancers, musicians, and junkanoo groups were all enlisted to showcase the sounds of the Bahamas to the world, whether abroad at conventions or at home in hotels and nightclubs. Their performances, moreover, also offered sights (costumes, dancing) and explored themes that satisfied the expectations (desires) with which tourists arrived in the Bahamas. A brief exploration of the deep connections between music and entertainment and the growth of tourism is instructive here, especially since these ties have, for a variety of reasons, been rather dramatically reconfigured since the 1970s.
1949–1967: Stafford Sands, the Development Board, and the Ministry of Tourism
In 1949, when Stafford Sands was installed as president of the Bahamas Development Board, the Bahamas hosted a fledgling, seasonal industry playing out in segregated hotels — an industry that attracted a mere 32,018 visitors that year. During the subsequent decade, however, Sands directed the Development Board aggressively to pursue a strategy designed to brand the Bahamas as a mass tourism destination. Initial results were encouraging — indeed, by 1959, the Development Board recorded 264,758 visitor arrivals. The entire infrastructure of the Bahamas was shifted toward the needs of the tourism industry, and the increasingly heavy advertising and promotional expenditures by the Development Board were easily justified by the many new jobs and construction projects the growing industry was creating in its wake. In 1952, the institutional and legal landscape was also shifted toward supporting the growing industry. The Bahamas Hotel Association was founded in order to "jointly promote their properties and to help the Development Board market The Bahamas as a destination" (Cleare 2007, 114). The first Hotels Encouragement Act was passed in 1954 in order to assist in attracting new projects (provisions included customs duty refunds for construction materials and various tax breaks and incentives). The Bahamas Tour Operators and Sightseeing Association was founded in 1957 and became a major partner with the Development Board, helping to set fair rates and create a consistent product.
Most significantly, in response to a resolution to ban segregation in the Bahamas, proposed in the House of Assembly in 1956, the formerly segregated hotels opened their doors to all, prompting other businesses throughout the Bahamas to follow suit in the months that followed. In spite of these shifts, however, racial discrimination remained entrenched and widespread throughout the industry. The overall results of these efforts and changes were nevertheless impressive — by the end of the decade, tourism accounted for almost 25 percent of government revenue (up from about 19 percent in 1950).
Musicians and entertainers, for their part, became an indispensable component of the marketing strategy promulgated by Sands during those years. The 1950s found Bahamian entertainers performing their roles as "picturesque natives" at the segregated hotels (until 1956) and in the dozens of Bahamian-owned, integrated clubs in the section of Nassau called Over-the-Hill. They performed for tourists and locals alike, ever aware of the expectations of their clientele, and they were marketed in predictably exoticized fashion. The jacket copy included on souvenir albums also regularly reinforced these ideas. And yet, even as musicians and entertainers were cast into racialized, renaturalized, and stereotyped roles, the rapid growth of the industry created a lot of work. Peanuts Taylor, one of the great entertainers of the time, recalls: "I worked three jobs: I worked at Buena Vista from 7 to 10, I worked at the Imperial Hotel Garden with George [Symonette] from 10 o'clock until 2 o'clock, and then I went and worked with Paul Meeres Jr. over at the Paul Meeres until 5 o'clock in the morning. So work was not a problem for musicians and entertainers in this country back in those days."
Musicians, moreover, worked in conjunction with floor shows featuring fire dancers such as Naomi Taylor in exotic costume, limbo dancers like Pepe exhibiting their flexibility, and junkanoo groups that invited audience participation and dance. The synergy between the marketing strategy of the Development Board and the set of branded entertainment options available to tourist during the 1950s was, in many respects, ideal. Musicians and entertainers, in a very real sense, confirmed and validated as true all of the advertising materials tourists had been exposed to prior to arriving in Nassau — confirming in the physical processes and experiences of actual tourism the tourist imagination so carefully cultivated in and through various media (Crouch, Jackson, and Thompson 2005, 2).
The 1960s saw even more rapid growth in the tourism sector than had the 1950s. The figures are dramatic. In 1960, 341,977 visitors arrived and, by 1967, that number increased to 822,317. Equally dramatic is the fact that some 7,000 hotel beds were added between 1960 and 1969. Part of this rapid growth was due to the expansion from a seasonal to a year-round industry — an expansion first explored in the late 1950s and then firmly established during the 1960s. Another boon for the industry was the fact that the Bahamas saw a new influx of tourists in the years following the Cuban Revolution. These years were marked by continued hotel construction, the development of Paradise Island as a resort area, and the introduction of casinos. Significant changes, both politically and socially, marked the decade as well. In 1964, the Bahamas achieved internal self-government, occasioning the birth of the Ministry of Tourism under the Promotion of Tourism Act (passed in 1963, enacted in 1964). And in 1967 the Bahamas elected, for the first time, a black majority government, sweeping the old-guard minority government (mostly white and called the Bay Street Boys) out of power.
The 1960s found musicians thriving in Nassau. Dozens of nightclubs and hotel clubs made Nassau a premier entertainment destination, and veterans of these years recall them with excitement (and with no small amount of nostalgia). And yet, as I have written elsewhere, although hotel clubs were doing well, the late 1960s also spelled the beginning of the end for most of the Over-the-Hill nightclubs. Even as musicians were finding their way to the hotels and continuing to meet tourist demand, the Over-the-Hill nightclubs were coming under ever greater financial pressure, losing both their entertainers and their clientele. Importantly, this situation also created a significant interruption to the path toward professionalization that most musicians and entertainers had relied upon. Whereas Over-the-Hill had provided a range of venues suitable for working up from amateur to fully professionalized skills, such a training ground was effectively eliminated as the Over-the-Hill scene suffered and, by the early 1970s, died. The absence of training, or even of a clear pathway to becoming a professional, discouraged many younger Bahamians from pursuing careers in music during these years. This became a major issue (a crisis, even) in the late 1980s and early 1990s and, as the case studies of Funky D and Alia will illustrate, the situation has not been adequately addressed in the intervening years. The growth in the tourism industry of the 1950s and 1960s was driven to a significant extent by the deep and mutually beneficial connection between tourism officials, hoteliers, and Bahamian musicians and entertainers. This close working relationship, however, was to be severely tested in the 1970s.
1967–1979: Majority Rule, Bahamianization, and Independence
Clement Maynard was appointed to the Ministry of Tourism in 1969, and he served as minister until 1979, overseeing a decade of change and growth in the industry. Between 1967 and 1972, no fewer than ten new hotels were opened in the Nassau area (adding some 2,300 rooms to Nassau's capacity), and several existing properties were renovated and expanded. The million-visitor threshold was surpassed in 1968, and by 1969 tourism accounted for 70 percent of the Bahamas' gross national product and 60 percent of government revenue (Cleare 2007, 173). In 1970, the government passed the Hotels Act 1970, by virtue of which hotels were subject to mandatory inspections and licensing, and which also created a hotel guest tax. The Bahamas was, by any metric, now a mass tourism destination, and the government initiated a Bahamianization policy with the aim of installing as many Bahamians as possible in the tourism industry (both at home and in sales and marketing services abroad).
The Bahamas achieved independence in 1973, creating a moment of great optimism, but, even so, real economics were difficult. In 1974, the government acquired three large hotels (the Hyatt Emerald Beach, the Balmoral, and the Sonesta Beach Hotel) and established the Hotel Corporation of the Bahamas to manage the properties. But management proved difficult in the extreme. As Michael Craton notes,
The Corporation found that its deepening involvement in the ownership of hotels and the implementation of its Bahamianization policy in general ensured that it continued to be a net financial loser. It was caught in fact in a classic dilemma. Eager both to expand the tourist industry and to reap its profits for the benefit of Bahamians, it found that the only hotels easy to acquire were those least profitable, while at the same time it was forced to make expensive concessions in order to keep foreign owners happy and to attract further investment. (Craton 2002, 231)
This experience in the hotel sector, however, was only a small component of an already very complicated and difficult financial landscape. As the new nation began to establish itself (in the midst of a worldwide economic downturn), major initiatives were targeted at developing international banking, the casino industry, and aviation — all of which presented significant challenges to the new and relatively inexperienced government. Budgetary issues were paramount in the years immediately preceding and following independence, and the financial climate directly and dramatically affected how the government approached the question of arts and culture. A brief example illustrates this point well. A concerted effort to create and then invest in a permanent center for arts, crafts, and music — called Jumbey Village — was put forward as a means of supporting a venture for and by Bahamians from which tourists could also benefit (Rommen 2011). The idea, sponsored by member of Parliament and musician Edmund Moxey, had the further benefit of being located in Over-the-Hill, right in the heart of the community that was feeling the economic effects of the recently decimated nightclub scene. It would have brought local and tourist dollars back to this area of Nassau. And yet Jumbey Village represented a long-term investment that could not be easily converted into a vacation slogan or immediately monetized through tourist packages. It would have taken time to develop, care to do right, and commitment to maintain.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sounds of Vacation"
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments vii
Prologue / Steven Feld 1
Introduction. The Political Economy of Music and Sound: Case Studies in the Caribbean Tourism Industry / Jocelyne Guilbault and Timothy Rommen 9
1. It Sounds Better in the Bahamas: Musicians, Management, and the Markets in Nassau's All-Inclusive Hotels / Timothy Rommen 41
2. Touristic Rhythms: The Club Remix / Jerome Camal 77
3. Listening for Noise: Seeking Disturbing Sounds in Tourist Spaces / Susan Harewood 107
4. All-Inclusive Resorts in Sint Maarten and Our Common Decolonial State: On Butterflies That Are Caterpillars Still in Chrysalis / Francio Guadeloupe and Jordi Halfman 134
5. Sound Management: Listening to Sandals Halcyon in Saint Lucia / Jocelyne Guilbault 161
Epilogue. The Political Economy of Music and Sound / Percy C. Hintzen 193
What People are Saying About This
“Sounds of Vacation takes Caribbean music studies, and music and tourism studies more broadly, to the next level. Jocelyne Guilbault and Timothy Rommen’s learned and comprehensive introduction paves the way for fresh and compelling case studies by leading scholars from a variety of fields who show us how vacations work in a world increasingly disfigured by neoliberal capitalism.”
“Illuminating the ways that the sonic environment of inclusive resorts inform tourists' experiences of pleasure, postcolonial spaces, and colonial histories, Sounds of Vacation represents an exciting new approach to studying tourism, the politics of sound and listening, and the sonic and musical construction of space and fantasy.”