Review Summary: A bizarre Afro-Caribbean 'folk' album that sounds like a voodoo ritual condensed into a slightly more ordinary folk format
‘Unique’ is an often overused word in music, but there really is almost nothing Exuma’s self-titled debut can be compared to. The only thing remotely close is the even more bizarre ‘First Utterance’ by psychedelic folk legends Comus
. Both albums are bizarre twisted takes on the usually very ordinary folk genre, both have ‘pagan’ lyrics, and both use bongos, but that’s as far as the similarities go.
Exuma is really just the pseudonym of one man, Tony McKay who composed the music, sang and played nearly all of the instruments on the album except the variety of backing vocals. Born in the Caribbean, his homeland had an obvious influence on this album, which has a tribal Afro-Caribbean theme throughout.
‘Exuma’ sounds a bit like the soundtrack to a voodoo ritual put into a slightly more normal folk format. The focus of the music is definitely on the percussion here, with Exuma’s acoustic guitar work taking a back seat most of the time while complex and hypnotic drumming on bongos push the music forward. Whistles, chimes, bells and more unusual traditional Caribbean instruments add brilliantly to the percussion so it is always gripping and unpredictable.
There is also a lot of emphasis placed on Exuma’s singing. His voice is rough but still very powerful. It is best compared to that of Richie Havens, though it is sung in quite a strange bluesy way and with a strong but unobtrusive Caribbean accent. While not quite as unorthodox as the rest of the music, the singing fits the tribal atmosphere perfectly. In fact, the worst song is the only instrumental, which soon gets boring without Exuma’s vocals. Several male and female back-up vocalists are used, but support Exuma with tribal chants instead of regular singing.
Exuma’s lyrics deal with shamanism and voodoo beliefs. The lyrics are exceptionally well written, with stunningly vivid imagery of ancient gods and rituals. While not as grim as those lyrics on Comus’ ‘First Utterance’ which describe murder and rape, ‘Exuma’ can be quite dark. In ‘Séance In The Sixth Fret’ he depicts a séance to summon the dead, and often sings about Satan, especially in ‘Mama Loi, Papa Loi’, one of the album’s darker songs. It can be slightly cheesy, but the atmosphere is so believable it’s not much of a problem.
However, despite it’s weirdness, ‘Exuma’ is far from being a simple gimmick. There is easily enough variety and quality songwriting to keep it memorable and hold up to repeat listens easily. As well as being able to create sinister and sometimes frantic tribal music, Exuma is also capable of the complete opposite, shown in ‘Dambala’, a beautiful folk song with much less percussion and more emphasis on guitar melodies and the great singing and backing vocals. Despite the complete change in sound, the song doesn’t feel disjointed at all, still retaining the same tribal atmosphere, just used in a completely different way.
There aren’t really any faults with the album but it’s far too weird to be appealing to a large audience so can only be recommended to people who want to hear something unique and different in their music. If you do want to hear something completely unique though, you could do a lot worse than giving Exuma a listen.