Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Exuma


Released 1970 on Mercury
The Seth Man, December 2003ce
“Night or day, the colour scheme
Bursts into pieces –
The big man’s dream.
The future is freedom, the past –
A chain
The present is anybody’s game.”
-Exuma (from the original liner notes)



Exuma the man -- not the star that (according to the liner notes) once lit Mars -- was a Bahamian-born folk artist formerly known as McFarlane Anthony McKay who during his days performing in Greenwich Village folk clubs was discovered by Blues Magoos manager and producer Bob Wyld. Wyld promptly re-named McKay ‘Exuma’ (taken from a nearby Bahamas island adjacent to McKay’s own birthplace), himself ‘Daddy Ya-Ya’ and then fronted a loose aggregation of singers and musicians as The Junk Band who provided accompaniment as a dense and organic back line to the whole Junkanoo with a thicket of percussion and chants behind Exuma’s raw vocals and madly strummed barebones acoustic guitar. Daddy Ya-Ya produced the album while promoting the album’s vibes with a full grown beard as he appeared in silhouetted profile back to back with Exuma on album’s gatefold.

A lone coyote howl and the sound of zombie feet trudging through the humid primeval mud of night crowned by a host of insects initiates the rite by way of introduction with “Exuma, The Obeah Man” who then vociferously pronounces himself frenetically in a voice located somewhere between Richie Havens and an early Bob Marley with laryngitis as a spirit doctor from birth against one hubbub of undulating percussion, whistles, jungle caws while the insects keep a solid backbeat. You could compare this to anything from Dr. John to Les Baxter scoring an psychedelic exploitation film starring Joseph Spence with a fraction of the chords or even Arthur Lyman meets the Esso Steel Band if they bolted their day jobs as a tourist attraction and fled back into their native backwoods to perform all night ecstasies with chants, bells and very large tympani that booms across the islands to signal: No, they won’t be coming back, ever. Meanwhile, “Exuma, The Obeah Man” is still insistently driving through a Bahamian Triangle of whistles, clustering bells and percussion that are all struck into a groove that is all fuck. And with The Blues Magoos’ very own Peppy “Spy Boy” Thielhelm caught up in the proceedings it’s hard to believe he was ever truly gonna be gulf coast bound...

The serpent spirit is successfully coaxed and conjured up in the slow, soothing “Dambala.” Even as resoundingly loud tympani frills explode all around like psychic incoming mail, it does not halt the wistfully sweet cooing of the combined female singers nor Exuma’s exhortations and battered campfire acoustic rhythm in the least (although they jolted the hell out of me when I first heard them because they are truly booming sonically from the depths of wooferdom.) The gasping breath from a woman’s throat is about as stirring a rhythmic device as I ever did hear, and if that ain’t bad enough the incantations then go on to threaten to melt down your walls AND your steel drums, make you dumb and make you blind. And if that ain’t bad enough, that overhead bombardment of bass tympani continues to drown out the background ambience (and most of the foreground, as well) as well as your senses until you’re well and truly disoriented.

Exuma’s gently weaving acoustic guitar opens ”Mama Loi, Papa Loi” and is soon swamped by the gurgling of zombies loose roaming around in broad daylight emitting drunk as a skunk impersonations of Captain Beefheart. The refrain of “Mama Loi, Papa Loi/I see fire in a dead man’s eye” continues -- along with that booming bass drum and the jangling, opaque curtain of percussion. Help...

“Junkanoo” instrumentally approximates the Bahamian festival of the same name which is Brazil’s Carnival, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and rock’n’roll parties every night everywhere: where people step out and let their hair hang down. Here it’s by blowing horns on cue against a galloping conga line, wearing colourful threads and celebrating for no reason at all except for maybe nothing less than just being alive. And “Jukanoo” is as infectious and jammed full of dumb tootings on slide whistles for no damn good reason like any truly joyous event should be. “Séance In The Sixth Fret” begins with Exuma asking the studio denizens for a silence of ten seconds before he goes into a trance to communicate with long deceased spirits. Absolute silence...Then a heaving, sobbing orgasm pours from Exuma’s whole body. “Hand on quill...hand on pencil...hand on pen...” he sings softly, plucking a somber, repeated acoustic riff slowly as if a balm to those fretful souls who are trapped in a restless eternity. Triangles and gongs are struck...Exuma starts channeling voices of the departed while dispensing helpful advice as thunderheads continually unfurl across the studio. Right after his signal to the afterworld grows faint, Exuma lets loose with a final last vocal freak shriek, colliding with the last burst of thunder and the spell is (for the time being) finally broken.

“You Don’t Know What’s Going On” buoys up the proceedings greatly after the séance with a sing-a-long whose familiar tones you can’t exactly put your finger on. With his skeletal acoustic guitar, the studio is led by Exuma down the path that is always homeward bound. The slow paced, swaying finale of “The Vision” brings the world of Exuma full circle. Soon, winds of eternity start swirling all around Exuma and the assembled Junk Band members, kicking up a whirlwind that causes all the chimes and bells to resound and jingle with the rhythms of the unseen spirit of nature as each member is one by one whisked off into the great beyond until a final heartbeat from Exuma’s sacred foot drum marks their final exit -- leaving behind only a pile of abandoned percussion, some feathers and bells...and this record.

Exuma’s first album is certainly his most evocative and freaky, with his successive releases “Exuma II,” “Do Wah Ninny” and “Snake” becoming more song-oriented. And although all are adorned with Exuma’s own fantastically paintings of transforming human faces into their respective animal spirits, none of them come close to matching the overall atmospheric completeness that is that mystic rite in the humid night of...“Exuma.”