Working together for a Grand Bahama Junkanoo resurgence

Working together for a Grand Bahama Junkanoo resurgence

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — For Colin Bain, a student of Sunland Academy in Grand Bahama and avid junkanooer, the country’s central cultural showpiece is all about connecting with his community. 

Colin – just 11 years old but already a rising star – is known affectionately by his Junkanoo family as “Mr. Drummer Boy”.”He has already participated in three consecutive senior junkanoo parades with the renowned group Showtime and Junior Junkanoo twice with Walter Parker Primary School.

“Junkanoo means a lot to me,” Colin said. “It’s a cultural event where you get to have fun and play music for the people in the crowd. I enjoy making the crowd happy and excited.”

Colin was introduced to Junkanoo by the Principal of Walter Parker Primary School, who invited him to participate in a Rush Out put on by the Government of the Bahamas after the parades were reinstated after the pandemic. It was a live-recorded event held at the Sports Complex in Freeport.

 “Like every ordinary young junkanooer, when at home, he would beat on anything that comes to hand, or even his body,” said Colin’s mother, Permal Saunders.

“His love and passion for it grew; he became more involved in the group and took interest in pasting costumes, so he also learned the art and crafts aspects. 

“Junkanoo has opened his horizons and developed his talent. He was chosen to perform at the Bahamas National Arts Festival in 2023 and blew the judges away, receiving the highest points in base and tum-tum,” she added.

Permal described the talent and creativity of the young people in Colin’s Junkanoo group as “truly amazing” and said practicing and performing together has built a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie.

“It’s truly unbelievable. You see these very young people teaching each other, and correcting each other, if need be, and trusting each other’s advice and opinion, making suggestions or recommendations on costumes and just enjoying each other while preparing for the most exciting cultural event in Grand Bahama. It also keeps the young men active and involved in a positive way.”

Colin added: “Junkanoo affects the youth in a positive way. Lately, a lot more high school students have been participating in senior Junkanoo.” If this interest among young Grand Bahamians is to be sustained, Colin believes more support is definitely needed, as currently, Grand Bahama can only raise funds for one parade a year, unlike the two large-scale events that are held in Nassau every year.

For several years, Grand Bahama’s economic struggles have affected all facets of life on the island, including Junkanoo. But that has not discouraged the artists, musicians, and performers who, despite the odds, continue to work year in and year out to make the distinctive art form thrive in an effort to help boost the community’s resilience.

“As we all know, the island has been hurting for many years,” said Andrew Been, Chairman of the Grand Bahama Junkanoo Corporation. “The impact from Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic has made a bad situation even worse. Despite these challenges, the people of Grand Bahama continue to be determined and strive to develop our community.”

According to Mr. Been, Junkanoo has a significant role to play in this effort. “It is a cultural expression that brings together the mature and the young to display our artistic talents. The decorative costume designs, the music, and dance are all uniquely Bahamian and reinforce a sense of who we are as a people, giving us encouragement to strive on. Junkanoo groups are instrumental in reviving the excitement in Grand Bahama,” he said.

He said the Corporation’s caretaker mandate is to ensure the preservation and promotion of this authentic, homegrown cultural artifact, ensuring that it remains alive and vibrant by passing down skills and knowledge to future generations.

“To this end, we have made every effort to introduce our young people to this unique art form. Every Junkanoo group has a youth element. The groups would love to do more with youth programs, such as teaching musical instruments, dance classes, and costume design and building workshops. Unfortunately, the funding is not always available,” he said.

Thankfully, this is beginning to change, Mr. Been said, crediting key public and private stakeholders for stepping up to the plate and helping spark the start of a resurgence for Grand Bahama Junkanoo.

“In my opinion the 2024 New Year’s Day Parade was the best parade in a very long time. Through the efforts of the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture, the Grand Bahama Junkanoo Corporation, and its corporate partner, the Carnival Corporation – it was a big success,” he said.

“The Grand Bahama Junkanoo Corporation Ltd. Is indeed grateful for the tremendous sponsorship by Carnival Corporation. As a new corporate partner on the island, Carnival has seen the need and step up to the plate.”

Mr. Been said the financial support had an immediate impact, allowing Junkanoo groups to boost youth involvement in the parades by making resources available for them to learn new skills and materials for crafting their costumes.

“We appreciate what Carnival Corporation has done for Junkanoo on the island of Grand Bahama in 2023/24,” he added. “We look forward to their continued support.”

Colin’s mother, Perma, added, “We need youth Junkanoo expanded and promoted throughout Grand Bahama. I would like to see the East and West have performances at a smaller scale once a year to keep the adrenaline flowing leading into our New Year parade.”