When it first started it was just a block on Whitehead Street. There was containers out to collect donations and that was the only funding we had,” said Charles Major Jr. while thumbing through old photographs of Goombay Fest on the front porch of his home in Bahama Village.
It’s been 37 years since Goombay was born, according to Major, but the festival flavor is still the same. It’s still a big part. It’s still about the kids. It’s still about the Bahamian culture. And it’s still about the mouth-watering food and rhythmic music. The music, in fact, is one of his fondest memories.
“Watching the Royal Bahama Police Band play was something else,” he said, adding that as an event organizer, it was his job to make sure everybody else was doing theirs, and so he didn’t get to listen as long as he would have liked. “But I remember the Prime Minister of the Bahamas came that year and the former Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow presented him with a Conch Republic Flag,” Major said.
Major said Goombay Fest was the precursor of the modern-day Fantasy Fest, perhaps even the reason it was created. Goombay Fest was created by locals like Roosevelt Sands, his father Charles Major Sr., and Fred Scholl; all were part of the Neighborhood Improvement Association.
Major brought out numerous photo albums and pointed at founding members, his friend’s children and an artist named Walter Thoms. Thoms painted some of the original Goombay posters, which Major had displayed on the walls of his home. The artwork features captures the true Caribbean flavor of Goombay — women dancing, men playing drums and the bandleader of the Royal Bahama Police Band.
“He was a chess player. A very smart and articulate man,” said Major. “He passed away a few years back.”
Major is modest about his contribution to the 37-year-old event.
“It is like a cake recipe. I am one of the ingredients but it takes all of them to make the cake. I was blessed to work with great people and see the group now that took it over is doing a great job,” he said.