I’d wager that “Local” is hardly the first word that comes to mind when you think “Nassau.” The capital of the Bahamas lures hordes of visitors, but for most that translates to an all-inclusive hotel on Paradise Island, a pristine beach and one too many Bahama Mamas.
A great shame that is. New Providence—Nassau is actually not an island but the capital city of New Providence—has long been one of my Caribbean loves because I’m awed by the way it’s submerged in American culture (and, frankly, Americans) yet still so staunchly Bahamian. The local lives here, proud and strong and beautiful. Here’s how to luxuriate in it.
Cable Beach, Nassau
Music “Rake ‘n’ Scrape”: a gardening tactic? No, a musical genre—the musical genre of the Bahamas—that sounds like the rollicking child of calypso and hoedown. The centuries-old traditional version was made by bending a saw and scraping it with a small object; its modern iteration incorporates strains of soca and hip-hop, and can be heard on the radio, in the airport, at festivals and parties—in other words, this is not some old-time, old-folks affair but a music deeply woven into the fabric of contemporary Bahamian life. The best times to immerse yourself in it are during Junkanoo, the Bahamian version of Carnival CCL +1.89%, held around Christmas, and at the annual Rake ‘n’ Scrape festival staged on neighboring Cat Island every June. Feast your ears on this infectious Rake ‘n’ Scrape-flavored hit by Nassau’s most popular party band, Visage.
Art Since the 1970s, Nassau’s art scene has been vital to not just amplifying the beauty of the island but promoting authentic Bahamian identity. That legacy is alive and well, making Nassau one of the Caribbean’s great art capitals; this year a local star, Lavar Munroe, had his work featured in the Venice Biennale. Get an art history lesson at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (nagb.org.bs), home to the work of iconic pioneers like Brent Malone, Stan Burnside and Amos Ferguson—whose magnificently vibrant paintings remind me of work by African-American master Jacob Lawrence. Continue ogling at Doongalik Studios (doongalik.com), founded in the 70s by the late architect, artist and cultural advocate Jackson Burnside and his wife, Pam; move on to the D’Aguilar Art Foundation (daguilarartfoundation.com), where the diverse collection of photography, sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking spans five decades. Glimpse the contemporary art scene at Popopstudios International Center for The Visual Arts(popopstudios.com), an independent art studio and trendy gallery devoted to the preservation and advancement of alternative Bahamian visual culture and headed by John Cox, an impressive mixed-media artist. On a recent trip I discovered the stunning creations of Edrin Symonette, who crafts Afro-Bahamian masks combining features of Africans and Lucayans, the native inhabitants of the Bahamas (sacredheart.mediacore.tv/media/bahamian-artists-edrin-symonette)
Mask by Edrin Symonette
Travel Tales: Where Luxury Meets Local & Wanderlust Meets Culture-lust
I am: writer, globetrotter, professor, culture-hound. Born and raised in New York City, with one foot fixed in the Caribbean, I have written about travel, the arts and identity politics for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many more; I produce on-air segments about global music and culture for National Public Radio (NPR). I am ceaselessly curious, fearless in my journeys, relentlessly ravenous to see and learn more. My global routes marry luxury with local, which is the essence of this travel blog: Welcome to a place where wanderlust meets culture-lust, where otherworldly high-end meets rootsy down-home.