Of Tuk Bands and the Blues

Is there more to the Barbados Landship and Tuk Band than meet the eye?

After the Philip Pilgrim fundraiser at the Legions Hall in Brooklyn this past June, Coralyn Munroe, a patron, remarked: “It was great. It took me down memory lane. I saw people I had not seen in a long time.”

Munroe did not give specific details, but the spontaneous response to Tuk International’s movements, entry and parade, songs and white Navy like outfits made the three-member band the major centre of attraction. Indeed, when leader of the band Archie Miller pivoted and turned, shouted an instruction, or became animated, many patrons laughed.

However, Llewellyn Bishop, chairman of the fundraising committee, loved the band’s performance but had a broader perspective:

“I am not sure that we know the full story. According to my research, Tuk Band music and the Landship type maneuvers also played an important role in the development of Blues music.”

Truth be told, Bishop referenced a 1979 documentary entitled Where The Land Of The Blues Began, produced by Allan Lomax, John Bishop and Worman Long.

In the preface of the 58-minute documentary that was completed under the auspices of the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television, Lomax explains the retentive influence of African practices and traditions in the human struggle:

“Black Africa had distinctive performance styles, quite as formal as those of Western Europe. Moreover, these expressive patterns clearly represented and reinforced the fundamental structures of African society. Their broad provenance throughout Africa, south of the Sahara, indicated that even though they had been transmitted orally and nonverbally, these cultural traditions were both powerful and stable. “

Lomax further posited: “Careful comparison showed that black African nonverbal performance traditions had survived virtually intact in Africa America, and had shaped all its distinctive rhythmic arts, during both the colonial and the post-colonial periods. It was this unwritten but rich African tradition that empowered the creativity we had encountered in the lower depths of the Mississippi Delta. “

Music became the centre prop of the struggle as black “steel muscle” workers cleared frontiers and open windows in the Mississippi Delta for cotton farming and railroads.

The fife and drum band shown in the early part of the film comprises three drums and a flutist. Band members wear hats and their music and dance maneuvers are similar, if not exactly, like any Tuk Band in Barbados.

The fife and drum band is viewed as one of the early influencers of Blues. The narrator explains: “All through the northeast Mississippi hill country, the fife and drum bands call the folks to summer picnics. This picnic music was a happy relic of the old time South hidden away in the Mississippi hills just like a reservoir of hot rhythms for the later Blues. And it’s a joyous group thing, while the Blues tend to be solo and melancholy. It was the song of the individual foreigner caught between poverty and prejudice. And you hear the first notes of the Blues in the work songs he sang.”

Later in the film, there is a reference to Tuk parties.

For most, the Barbados Landship – started by Moses Wood – is a cultural movement and organization that is known for its entertaining parades, performances, and dances. But if one notes the similarities with the struggle of the Blues, then a strong case can be made for a grand celebration of African spirit.

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