SONG OF THE DAY Exuma – The Obeah Man


 Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey was a Bahamian musician best known as Tony McKay and Exuma! As well as being a musician he was also a playwright and author, but songwriting was his thing, his music an entity of its own.

Not tied to one genre, his sound was almost unclassifiable, consisting of a strong mix of carnival, junkanoo, calypso, reggae, African and folk music.  His lyrics were deeply immersed in the West African and Bahamian tradition of Obeah, a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies, also practised by many on the islands of The Bahamas.

It was once documented in a 1970 interview when McKay was speaking as Exuma that he explained how the “‘electrical part’ of his being ‘came from beyond Mars, heading down to Earth on a lightning bolt'”.  He described his music as “all music that has ever been written and all music not yet written. It’s feeling, emotion, the sound of man, the sound of day creatures, night creatures and electrical forces“.  With an outlook such as this, its no wonder his music was so out of this world! Creating an image and a persona that fit his music, McKay drew upon his Bahamian memories of the “Obeah Man”. Bahamian life was rooted in West African tradition.

McKay was a knowledgeable practitioner of bush medicine. He specialised in herbal remedies, especially the “mystical cerasee vine” (Bitter leaves or Momordica charantia), which he collected in Nassau.  Speaking of how he became so involved in alternative therapies he once said, “I grew up as a roots person, someone knowing about the bush and the herbs and the spiritual realm. It was inbred into all of us. Just like for people growing up in the lowlands of the Delta Country or places in Africa.  I remembered the Obeah Man from my childhood – he’s the one with the colourful robes who would deal with the elements and the moon rise, the clouds and the vibrations of the earth. So I decided to call myself ‘Exuma, the Obeah Man'”.  

To McKay, Obeah was his religion and guiding force.

At the age of 17 he relocated to New York to study architecture, but by 1962 had ran out of money for his studies and so began to participate in the folk music scene. As his confidence grew he started a group called Tony McKay and the Islanders and in 1965 he also appeared in a show alongside Richie Havens called  A Little of This ‘n’ That in 1965,

What I love when I read about this artist is how much of a marketing nightmare his music was!  It was neither Ska or Reggae and despite heavy links with the folk scene, it wasn’t purely folk either. His albums couldn’t be placed in Rock and even though quite soulful by nature, it wasn’t pure soul!  His sound really was a unique beast, not to be tethered to any one genre.  But it was good enough to attract the attention of The Blues Magoos manager, Bob Wyld who, so intrigued by his music, convinced Mecury Records to sign him.    

Exuma’s greatest instrument was his voice and through his vocals poured age-old wisdom and depth.  His religion, practices and links to ancient traditions all manifested themselves in this rich body of ragged beauty. In an interview he once said, “I only know a few chords, but I can stretch them out!”.  His guitar playing was solid, but not flashy and most of his songs were anchored around his voice and an acoustic guitar.

Exuma, The Obeah Man was the opening/title track from McKay’s debut album which was released in 1970.  It’s a percussive carnival of delights whose roots are nestled in African tradition, whilst the music is a raw embodiment of ancient worlds..ancient worlds and other galaxies: “Exuma was my name when I lived in the stars/Exuma was a planet that once lit Mars…….”  

Exuma went on to make other albums (I’ve not explored these yet), but from what I’ve just read, he really should have quite whilst he was ahead – as the article explains: “Had Exuma released only these four albums and never recorded again, it would have permanently enshrined him as one of the great undiscovered artists of the 1970’s….”

Still, nothing can detract from his uniqueness and if you like today’s song it’s definitely worth checking out his debut LP!…The Obeah Man is an unpolished gem that shines from somewhere deep! Check it out above and enjoy the lyrics below.

I came down on a lightning bolt,
Nine months in my Mama’s belly
When I was born the midwife
Screamed and shout
I had fire and brimstone
Coming out of my mouth

I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man

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

I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man

When I’ve got my big hat on my head
You know that I can raise the dead
When I got my stick in my hand
You know that I am The Obeah Man
If you got a woman and she ain’t happy
Come see me for camalame
Take that camalame and you make her some tea
And she will love you all the time
And when she got you running
Like a train on a track
Take some flour and you make some pap
That will give you strength in your back
I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man
I’ve sailed with Charon, day and night
I’ve walked with Hougaman, Hector Hippolite
Obeah, Obeah, Obeah, Obeah’s in me
I drank the water from the firery sea
I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man
Tony McKay was my given name
Given on Cat island when my mother felt the pain.
Creatures of the Earth, Space, Sea, and Land,
I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man
I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man

About The Listening Post Blog

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This entry was posted in Acoustic, African, Folk, Funk, gospel, Psychedelic, Soul, World and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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