Folk songs – the radio of olden times

Whether they were sung under the breadfruit trees, during “kitchen dances” or on the sand, folk songs are a vital part of Caymanian heritage.

Although there is sparse documentation on this particular type of music, the Cayman Islands Folk Singers offers a glimpse into the island’s history whenever they perform on stage, filling listeners with patriotic pride and joy with each unique song.

The Folk Singers group is a diverse composition of 27 amateur singers and musicians whose repertoire consists of old-time favorites such as “Hafford’s Jamboree,” and “Dog War in Watering Place,” as well as newer songs like “Come Back Home,” which was composed and originally performed by Steve McTaggart, accompanied by his brother Mike McTaggart on guitar. The Folk Singers recently performed at the Harquail Theatre in a concert entitled “Come back Home.”

Most of the older songs were written by Aunt Julia Hydes, whose picture adorns the official logo for the musical group. Soon to be 106 years old, she still sings and beats her drums to this day.

“The musical group was formed five years ago, primarily to address the scarcity of traditional Caymanian music being played, researched, experimented with, and taught in schools in the same valued and respectful manner as the music from other nationalities,” says Lorna Bush, manager of the Folk Singers and cultural heritage programs specialist at the Cayman National Cultural Foundation.

The primary instruments that the Folk Singers play are the fiddle, grater and drum. Describing the music as deceptively simple, Lorna says it is meant to convey deep feeling through narrative. Cayman’s folk music is not very different from that of the Caribbean or any other region, except, perhaps, its heavy reliance on the fiddle instead of the drum for its rhythms, she says.
She describes Cayman folk music as the form in which working people or the common “folk” expressed feelings in response to their specific conditions and with their own peculiar melodic and rhythmic structure.

“The folk songs and accompanying folk customs help provide a framework within which we can continue to define ourselves as a people; providing knowledge of the things that made us what we are today and for a dream of the road we choose to travel,” she says.

The songs recount Caymanian experiences – spanning personal relationships to community events to tales of the land and sea.

“Folk songs were the radio of olden times. The kitchen dances would normally be hosted by the family butchering beef for Christmas or other significant celebrations, or the seaman recently returned from the sea with his earnings, who would treat the entire village to food, drink and spontaneous kitchen or sand dances,” says Lorna.

“The highlight for me is being a part of something worthwhile, which has the possibility to affect the way traditional Caymanian music may be viewed by our own people and certainly by visitors. To be able to get this work into the schools to help give a sense of belonging to our youngsters and for them to know where we have traveled from, it’s an awesome feeling.”

Upcoming performances

The Folk Singers have a number of concerts scheduled until the end of 2014. They will be performing at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Veterinary Medical Associates regional conference on Nov. 4; during Pirates Week District Heritage Days; on George Town Day, Nov. 14; and also at Gimistory, the international storytelling festival of the Cayman Islands, which takes place Nov. 29 through Dec. 6.


Cayman Cowboy Andy Martin

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