Apart from junkanoo (the traditional festival music), the musical genre most representative of the Bahamas comes from one of the islands in this archipelago, Cat Island, and is known as rake-and-scrape. The name refers to the way one of its main instruments is played, a saw that is scraped with a stick across its teeth to create a sound like a rattle. It is believed that this genre comes from the oral musical tradition of the Turks and Caicos Islands, called ripsaw, which also used a saw as a percussion instrument. In both cases, the saw is accompanied by a drum, a guitar, a triangle and an accordion.

In the Caribbean and surrounding areas (from Colombia to New Orleans) there are several examples of similar percussion instruments that are also played by scraping or scratching an irregular surface to produce a similar sound. In Venezuela, for example, there is an instrument called the charrasca, which consists of a piece of metal that is cut with a series of parallel grooves and is played by scraping the grooved side with a small tube known as the clavo. This instrument is usually used to perform a traditional musical form of La Guaira region that is known as gaita de furro. An instrument similar to the charrasca is used by vallenato groups in Colombia, where the instrument is known as a guacharaca. Unlike the charrasca, however, the guacharaca is made from the stem of a plant called the uvita de lata.

Another example is the guayo of Cuba, which is made from a gourd of the güira tree. The seeds are removed from the interior and the usual grooves are cut in it. It is played by scraping it with a wooden stick. A variation of the Cuban guayo is found in Puerto Rico, where it is known as the güiro or güícharo. Another version, made of metal and similar in appearance to the Venezuelan charrasca, is called the torpedo or guira and is found in the Dominican Republic, especially among merengue groups.

In New Orleans and the state of Louisiana in the United States there is also an instrument known as the vest frottoir (also called the “rub board,” “scrub board” or “washboard”). Like the ripsaw and rake-and-scrape, it is an instrument created from an object that was made for a purpose that had nothing to do with music but was creatively adapted to convert it into a musical instrument. The vest frottoir is made from a grooved metal plate that was used in olden times to wash clothes by hand. The instrument is an important part of zydeco, a musical genre derived from the traditional “la la” music of the descendants of French immigrants in Louisiana, known as Cajuns. In zydeco groups, the vest frottoir is accompanied by the Cajun violin, as well as the accordion, guitar, bass, piano and wind instruments.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: May 17, 2012.

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