Bahamian Musicians To Headline New Orleans Jazz Festival

By Rogan Smith |
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Raphael Munnings, Wendi Lewis, Dyson Knight

The jazz capital of the world will have to make room for a little rake n’ scrape and junkanoo this weekend, as several Bahamian musicians gear up to headline the 50thanniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The event, which is considered the grandfather of all music festivals in the United States, is one of the biggest and most successful jazz festivals in the world.

Some 600 artists, musicians and entertainers will converge on 13 different stages over two weekends, featuring every musical genre you can imagine from jazz to rock, funk, bluegrass, country and western, gospel, rake n’ scrape and junkanoo. 

The festival, which started last weekend, ends on May 5th.  

Thousands of music fans will flock to the city to see the biggest names in the music business featured as headliners, including Earth, Wind and Fire, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Al Green, Carlos Santana, Pitbull, Neville Brothers, The O’Jays and Herbie Hancock to name a few.  

Bahamian music icon, Raphael Munnings, former lead singer of the band, Beginning of the End; former Baha Men lead singer, Nehemiah Hield; multi award-winning musicians, Dyson Knight and Wendi Lewis, and the Bahamas Revue Band led by Dion Turnquest will headline the stage performers.

A 25-member Junkanoo group, made up of performers from various major Junkanoo groups, will “rush into the hearts” of tens of thousands of festival goers over the two days of their performances on May 3 and 4th

Music legend, Raphael Munnings on the keyboard.

Munnings, known for the chart-topping 70s hit, Funky Nassau, said he felt honored to have been invited to participate in the festival’s anniversary celebrations.

“The 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will afford The Bahamas an opportunity to showcase its music and culture to the world. 

Munnings says this will be one of the biggest and most historic music festivals in the world this year. 

How It All Started

In 1982, the Pennsylvania-based Black Music Association (BMA), which is made up of a group of professional musicians, entertainers and producers, invited a Bahamian delegation to a music convention in New Orleans to perform. 

“After a stellar performance at that convention, the organizers of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation extended an invitation for us to participate in the festival the following year, 1983. The rest, as we say, is history. The Bahamian artists who performed during that festival were fantastic, and of course, junkanoo was the icing on the cake,” said Munnings. 

For more than 30 years, Bahamian artists have enjoyed a solid relationship with the festival and the City of New Orleans. So much so, that there have been several attempts to forge a sister city relationship between New Orleans and Nassau.

Munnings said he is hopeful that will come to fruition in the very near future. 

“Such a relationship between our two cities will go a long way to assist Bahamian artists to develop our music/entertainment industry by associating with one of the most vibrant, progressive and successful music cities in the USA,” he said. 

Advocating For More Inclusion

Throughout the years, Munnings, like many Bahamian artists, have advocated for more local entertainers to be incorporated into the local nightclub and resort scene. However, the opportunities have dwindled significantly.

“The local nightclubs, which provided employment for live Bahamian entertainment is virtually non-existent today. These nightclubs also served as training grounds/incubators for new artists to learn the art of entertainment. They provided a stage to showcase new talent,” he said.

The music legend noted that the Bahamian public has endorsed rake n’ scrape, goombay and junkanoo as The Bahamas’ indigenous music. However, he maintains that local talent remains challenged. 

“The sales market here is very small and needs to be expanded to worldwide distribution. Bahamian artists, musicians and entertainers require professional management and booking agents to distribute works worldwide. Legal assistance is required with copyright of intellectual properties, both locally and internationally, including the execution of music contracts,” he said. 

“Funding to produce high-quality musical recordings and videos is hard to access through the local financial institutions. The music business is classified as very high-risk.” 

Munnings also noted that the local business sector is not incentivized by the Bahamas Government to invest in the music/entertainment industry. 

“For example, local investors are not given the same level of exemptions on customs duties, VAT, and other taxes as are enjoyed by many foreign investors,” he said. 

“Major resorts in The Bahamas do not offer live Bahamian entertainment on a regular basis. It ought to be mandated in their Heads of Agreement to offer live Bahamian entertainment in exchange for the many tax exemptions and concessions they receive from the people of The Bahamas.”

L-R: Raphael Munnings, ZNS TV anchor, Ledaunne Davis and music legend, Freddie Munnings Jr.

Despite the challenges, Munnings said he continues to push for Bahamian artists to gain more exposure. 

He noted that his brother, Fred Munnings, who is producing the Bahamian presentation for the jazz festival’s 50th anniversary, took two Bahamian delegations to China in 2016. 

A Bahamian delegation is once again scheduled to perform in China on May 17-27, 2019. 

“These kinds of opportunities open doors for other Bahamian artists to get their music and art exposed to countries of the world. Whenever we perform anywhere in the world, we carry the brand of The Bahamas. We are ambassadors for the people of The Bahamas. The world will know the manner of our bearing as we proudly showcase our music and culture all over the world,” he said. 

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