John “Chippie” Chipman will tell you with great pride that he’s received every honor his country has to give. That includes the Bahamas Merit Award, being named Member of the Order of the British Empire, and an induction into the Junkanoo Shack of Fame — a combination few other people, if any, can claim.
Chipman is known as the godfather of Bahamian drumming. He’s mastered both playing and building the goombay drum, a goat-skin instrument played by hand. He’s a legend in the Bahamas’ biannual Junkanoo celebrations, as he’s been a main contributor to the art. And he revived rake ’n’ scrape, a music style combining the sounds of a goombay drum, scraped saw and accordion. “I play my music like the music that was 100 years ago,” he says. “Now, every band plays rake ’n’ scrape.”
And to think he started out as a waiter in the 1950s at Nassau’s Paul Meeres Club. There, Chipman developed his skill for drumming. It led him to fame and fans, and to becoming an ambassador for the Bahamas. “I’ve traveled around the world, representing the country, performing,” he says.
Now 88, Chipman still lives in Nassau, where he makes eight to 10 drums a day and says he performs “every day and night.”
It makes me feel good to know I do a good job. I play for the school free and the poor people free. I spread my art over the land so everybody can take a part. They all call me “the godfather.” [I’ll] beat every [Junkanoo] group in the past and every group in the future before I retire. My group is Chippie and the Boys. I enjoy playing because I’ve been doing it all my life. In this land, everything can go with drums. You’re going to play drums. Everybody comes to learn. I keep the young’uns learning, keep the tradition. All the islands and everybody, they come here for drums.
Biannually, the streets of Nassau fill with rhythms of goombay drums, cowbells, whistles, horns and dancers in colorful crepe.
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A Zany Zoo:
Nassau’s Ardastra Gardens has quite the unique show: Trained Caribbean flamingos march in sequence for the audience.