Junkanoo music and dance started in the 16th century and was originally a way for African American and Native American slaves to entertain themselves as well as escape from the grueling grind of daily life, according to Key West Junkanoo band conductor and organizer Keith Valdez.
“The original instruments they used were goat skin drums (Junkanoo drums), bells, whistles and anything that had a beat,” said Valdez.
Valdez has been with the Junkanoos since 1990 when it was just a group of Bahamian Conchs playing Calypso music — sans any marching. But Valdez said he felt strongly that the culture of the Bahamas should be spotlighted at Goombay Fest, and so the Key West Junkanoos were born. It started as a group of percussionist and dancers marching down Whitehead Street and later horns were added to create a larger sound.
“I play the tom drum with the band; the large one from a drum kit,” said Valdez. “Everybody has their own parts and I make sure everybody is on beat.”
The Junkanoos’ sound is fast paced and energetic. Speedy rhythms travel through participants’ and spectator’s whole body, causing a whole lot of shakin’. It is a crazy phenomenon that can be witnessed at any event the group plays and it is that energy that makes Valdez want to perform.
Charnette Valdez, one of the group’s dancers, agrees.
“I like the excitement we bring. It gets everybody’s adrenaline pumping,” said Charnette. “And they are experiencing the Bahamian culture and being a part of it.”
This year the Junkanoos will be wearing new costumes made by both Charnette and Keith Valdez, featuring the vibrant colors of the Bahamian flag. Kids are also involved in the spectacle. Dakota will be playing the bike horn and Shania will be dancing.
The group will be performing Friday and Saturday nights, Oct. 17-18 during the Goombay Festival.