Please join us for another Spring workshop on 4/28 at 4:30pm in Rm. 205, Goodspeed Hall. Special guest Timothy Rommen, Professor of Music and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania, will present his new research, in a paper titled “It Sounds Better in the Bahamas: Musicians, Management, and Markets in Nassau’s All-Inclusive Hotels.” As usual, light refreshments will be served. See below for an abstract.
Premise: Ethnomusicologists working in the Caribbean have historically, and for a variety of reasons, generally avoided focusing on music in touristic contexts. Scholars in disciplines such as anthropology, cultural geography, and leisure studies, for their part, have focused solely on tourism, leaving any engagement with music to the “experts.” And yet, all-inclusive resorts represent one of the primary sites of encounter between local musicians and tourists throughout the Caribbean. More to the point, tourism is such a ubiquitous economic and social fact in the region that it must be taken seriously as a lens through which to understand and analyze local musical production.
Context: “It’s better in the Bahamas!”—claims the nation’s current tourism slogan. But what exactly is this better “it”? Assuming, for a moment, that an answer might involve music in some way, the Ministry of Tourism has virtually no ability to control whether or how tourists will experience “it” while visiting the Bahamas. This is the case because there is virtually no live music on offer outside of hotels. The live music that is performed in the hotels, moreover, is almost entirely disconnected from (cultural) policy and labor concerns (due to the lack of an effective musicians’ union). In fact, the hotels in which visitors experience their Bahamian vacations are, essentially, free agents. They all have their own branding to worry about and their own commitments to clientele, and this is especially the case at the all-inclusive resorts such as Sandals and Breezes that promise a package experience to their guests. What role do musicians play in these contexts? What creative constraints do they face? How do they make decisions about repertory and style?
Case Study: With these ideas in mind, this paper explores the complicated dynamics attendant to contemporary tourism in the Bahamas, focusing on two musicians—Funky D and Alia—who have built their careers around performing for tourists at all-inclusive hotels (Breezes, in particular). Paying particular attention to notions of craft, to genre expectations, to agency and encounter, and to exploring the ambivalences, joys, and frustrations they experience in negotiating their positions within all-inclusive resorts (both as employees and as performers), this paper makes a case for why ethnomusicological perspectives on music touristics are so urgently needed in the region.