Citrus and Rum...
Haitian native André Toussaint abandoned Papa Doc for the sunny shores of Nassau, The Bahamas and forged a successful career in the 1950s and '60s as a lounge singer of native calypso music, much of which he composed. on this collection. Toussaint's music was considered particularly refined, differing dramatically from the Goombay and Junkanoo music of the Bahamas. Fluent in French, Haitian, Italian, and Spanish, Toussaint often juxtaposed Bahamian folk songs with more popular world music. Toussaint was an excellent guitarist, a fact that betrays his greater talent than that expected from a "lounge" singer. Toussaint continued to perform in Nassau until his death in 1981.
My initial listen to this disc, particularly the guitar pieces such as "Island Woman" made me think of how much of this music I heard in American folk music like Country Music and the Blues. I then began to muse on exactly who influenced who, briefly falling prey to that potent arrogance of Americocentricsm. The Caribbean heritage is ripe with folk and popular music that is a brilliant amalgam of Spanish, South American, and African influences seasoned with much sun, sand citrus and rum. Undulating, dancing rhythms characterize the time signatures of island music, giving it that unique piquant flavor common to calypso.
No, America did little to influence this music. Rather, America was influenced by Island music. The Louisiana Creole Louis Moreau Gottschalk incorporated much Island character into his short piano pieces. Later, both Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton blended the Caribbean into their composing. When one listens to this disc, the experience reveals that Jimmy Buffet was not so novel after all, much in the same way one reacts to Magic Dick Salwitz's (J. Geils Band) harmonica playing after hearing Little Walter Jacobs. André Toussaint was perhaps the most influential of Island artists in popularizing calypso.
A valid comparison of Bahamian folk music and American folk music can be drawn in olfactory terms. American folk music smells of the dry dust and heat of the rural south and the urban north. It smells of beer and Scotch whisky and cigarettes and humidity. Bahamian folk music smells of sun and sand, seawater, limes and mangos, rum and cigars. It is happy and infectious music and André Toussaint was its great practitioner. He illustrates this in many ways— solo guitar and voice, big band small combos. In all formats, Toussaint is in control, effectively spreading the sunshine of the Islands.