Ripsaw: Cutting Edge Music of the Turks and Caicos
The Turks and Caicos Islands host a beguiling cultural mix, the result of years of shifting colonial control and emigration from other Caribbean islands, as well as from both Europe and Africa. This is best reflected in the music of the islands which embodies this cultural diversity as well as employing a unique and somewhat surprising instrument.
The cultural diffusion which can be found on Turks and Caicos is exemplified in the traditional music of the island which is called Ripsaw. Originated on Turks and Caicos it has since spread to the Bahamas and other nearby nations and is more commonly called ‘Rake-N-Scrape’ outside of the Turks and Caicos; however it is always linked back to its original roots. The most distinctive characteristic of Ripsaw Music is the use of the common handsaw as the primary instrument, alongside different kinds of drums, triangles, maracas, accordions and guitars. The saw is usually played with a long nail, fork, knife or screwdriver while bending the saw; its teeth are also hit and scraped to the beat of the music. This creates an effect of wobbled overtones in conjunction with the other instruments played in what can be described as a sound similar to that of paper being ripped or torn.
With the recent economic boom that has happened in Turks and Caicos, many of the people who initially moved away from the islands to the Bahamas have now started to move back to their native land, significantly influencing the music and entertainment available on the island, as well as the culture in general. The changes are most evident in the manifestation of Bahamian traditions in the contemporary culture of Turks and Caicos, which has created a cultural hybrid. One style of music that has returned with these emigrant is the Bahamian Junkanoo, which is popular around festivals but dates back to times of slavery. Despite its dark origins, It is a lively and brightly coloured musical performance, in which people dress up in costumes and often play different characters or groups play out certain scenes.
The use of the saw has also made it outside of the boundaries of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos islands, and is now played in the Southern United States and in Quebec in Canada. While its migration to Southern States is slightly more expected, the movement to Quebec is less so. In Quebec, French-Canadian musicians have developed a style of music that features the saw, violins, and spoons called Equoine. Back in its homeland, Ripsaw is growing in popularity and in 2003 Turks and Caicos saw its first annual Turks & Caicos Ripsaw Festival in which bands came from all over the islands to play and celebrate their culture. The revival of interest in Ripsaw Music is a sign of a commensurate revival in interest in the culture of the Turks and Caicos, which despite being a hybrid with many distinct influences, is markedly unique within the wider scope of Caribbean culture.
Have a look at the Five Cays Under the Tree band, playing Ripsaw.