Rake ‘n’ scrape: the saw as main musical instrument

Ophie and Da Websites (Photo: The Islands of The Bahamas)

From June 2 to 3 was held in Cat Island, an island in the Bahamas archipelago, the 19th Rake ‘n’ Scrape Festival. During these two days, about fifteen artists and groups celebrated this musical genre. But does everybody know this traditional Caribbean music whose main instrument is the hand saw?

Rake n scrape 10 - LA UNE

Our Caribbean region is rich in musical genres, we already know that. But, do you know rake ‘n’ scrape ? A quick survey revealed that some people do not yet know rake ‘n’ scrape which is played in The Bahamas. The originality of this music is the saw – yes, the carpenter’s hand saw – is the main instrument. Other instruments such as the goatskin drum, the guitar, the triangle and the accordion are added to the band to produce this pleasant music.

There is no precise explanation as to the origin of the name of this music even if several hypotheses are advanced. What is certain is that the Bahamian rake ‘n’ scrape is a variant of the ripsaw native to the Turks and Caicos Islands, more specifically to the Middle Caicos and North Caicos. Ripsaw also uses the hand saw.

Between the 1920s and 1940s, this musical genre was brought to the Bahamian territory by many immigrants from this other Caribbean archipelago located south-east of the Bahamas and northwest of Haiti.

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The sound of the saw, the soul of rake-and-scrape

These citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands settled in particular in Cat Island with their ripsaw. The blend of both cultures and traditions gave rake ‘n’ scrape music. So, music travels with men and the contributions of everyone in the territories where it arrives enhance it and allow it to stay alive. Because of this mix between both Caribbean archipelagos, some people do not want to open discussions on the origin of rake ‘n’ scrape

Today, Cat Island is the only place where the Bahamian rake-and-scrape is celebrated by an annual festival in June during Labor Day celebration. Indeed, the Cat Island Rake ‘n’ Scrape Festival took place on June 2 to 3 with the participation of about fifteen artists and groups on stage.

Concerning the rather singular use of the saw, it should be to known that it is played by scraping an object, usually an old knife blade, along the saw teeth. It could be said that the musician must have nimble hands…

The sound which is obtained is similar to paper which is ripped ; that would be the origin of the word “ripsaw”. “Rake and scrape” would be the method that the player uses the saw to get that particular sound.

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An important element of the Bahamian musical heritage

Moreover, it seems that the simple saw was used by the creators of this music to imitate the sound of the güiro, a percussion instrument made with a gourd and used by Haitian, Dominican and South American musicians. It also seems to be slaves arrived in these Caribbean islands with their masters – British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution – who invented the ripsaw to imitate the sound of the shekere, this instrument of percussion of West Africa also made with a calabash.

In The Bahamas, rake ‘n’ scrape music usually accompanies the quadrille and the polka, two ballroom dances which were in vogue in Europe in the 19th century and are popular in several Caribbean islands (in particular the quadrille).

With the help of the Cat Island Rake ‘n’ Scrape Association, we mention some famous groups and artists of this musical genre : Lassie doh Boys, Beau Hog and Da Rooters, KB, Stileet, Ronnie Butler, Rahming Brothers, Stubbs Brothers, Puzzle, Ophie and Da Websites etc.

Rake ‘n’ scrape has become an important part of the Bahamas’ musical heritage that brings together the inhabitants of all the islands of the archipelago and seduces people who listen to it for the first time.