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Barbados Cultural Gem: What is Tuk Band?

Barbados Cultural Gem: What is Tuk Band?

Posted by Shanelle Weir on February 09, 2015

Tuk Band is a form of folk music considered indigenous to Barbados. Its origins stem from traditional African drumming rhythms fused with various elements and institutions during colonial times. The music of the tuk band can be very varied as it features three different main beats or rhythms, composed of complex, drumming patterns played against an African bass, and usually accompanied by a single instrument or group of melodious instruments.

Today, the band is usually associated with festivities, entertainment and celebrations, and performances may often feature many local popular characters. This paper will mainly examine its origins, composition, major associations (characters, other institutions and so on) and some of the roles it played in the changing societies. To understand the origins of this unique musical gem, one must understand the various conditions which shaped and influenced its formation.

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Drumming

Similar to the fate of many traditional religions and spiritual practices, traditional drums and instruments were outlawed during those times in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Africans were able to communicate with each other between plantations using particular traditional drumming patterns.

This communication, together with the use of instruments, had the potential to contribute to revolts and the plantation owners were very aware of this. In 1649, slaves and indentured servants rebelled against white owners using conch shells, horns and drums (Radula-Scott et al. 1999) and in 1675, slave owners officially passed a code to ban the use of drums. About 13 years after the passing of this code, laws were put in place to burn all drums and all loud instruments on the plantations (1688). In response to this oppression, the slaves hid their practices away so that they would still be able to pass on their cultures to future generations. Since the slaves were unable to use their traditional drums, they had to utilise the available instruments or make instruments which were similar to those allowed by the British and Scottish regiments.

These European marching bands of the 17th and 18th centuries are considered major influences on the tuk band. Even the name “tuk” originated from the Scottish word “touk”, which was used to describe the sound of a drum (Ali, 1996). Bass and snare The slaves produced drums similar to the regimental band drums, but used indigenous materials such as goat and cow skins. The two important drums used in tuk are the bass and snare, also known as the “bum-drum” and “kettle” drums, respectively. In early tuk bands, there were usually two snare (or kettle) drummers.

This second kettle was known as the vamp, which maintained the basic, but important consistent rhythm, while the second player improvised to add embellishments to the music. In addition to the drums, tuk bands also feature melodious and percussive instruments. Traditionally, tuk music featured singing and a fiddler. The singing aspect gradually disappeared through time, and the fiddle was replaced by a tin flute (Ali, 2006), which is also called a “penny-whistle”.

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