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Musical Neighbour: Cat Island
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Posted by:Oct 20th 2008, 12:12:37 pm
Fig Tree News TeamAs undiscovered as Cat Island
Nassau Guardian

Located 325 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, Cat Island is a 150 square mile patch of beautiful sand beaches and lush tropical greenery. The sixth largest island in The Bahamas takes great pride in having that "undiscovered" feeling.

Cat Island also has an acappella gospel quartet that sounds "undiscovered," whose sincere harmonies will break your heart, bring a tear to your eye, and transport you back to the days "when we used to have church."

The Rahming Brothers William, Christopher, James, Clarence Jr., Bennett and Prince, are from a settlement in Cat Island called Bennett's Harbour. Sounding like the musical offspring of the Fairfield Four and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the quartet appeared at the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) in August, and at the American Gospel Quartet Convention this past January, where they took second place in the quartet competition. The six Bahamians dazzled audiences at the GMWA quartet banquet and again at the convention's closing ceremonies. They offered simple, but synchronized choreography and powerful, sincere singing, which has obvious origins in jubilee and shape note harmony, though the lead vocalists can, when necessary, add the ground-swelling intensity of golden age passion to the mix. In other words, the Rahming Brothers sound is frozen in time from a half century ago.

The quartet has two self-produced CDs. Their debut project is "What Will I Leave Behind", subtitled "In Memory of Our Parents," the late Bishop Clarence and Mrs. Rosalee Rahming. On this album, the Rahming Brothers make up in heartfelt enthusiasm and earnestness what the recording lacks in professional polish. In fact, the CD has the aura of an Alan Lomax field recording, giving the listener a sense that he or she is privy to hearing the handiwork of a diamond in the rough. At the same time, stunningly rendered songs such as "Glory to His Name" and "Feel Like My Time Ain't Long" give glimpses of a quartet whose style was maturing and bloomed on its sophomore CD, "Keep On Walking".

The breathtaking title track of "Keep On Walking" is the quartet's magnum opus. An appropriate walking rhythm accompanies the group's pumping vocals and Bennett's imploring lead. The song will echo in your mind long after the CD stops spinning. "I'm On the Battlefield for my Lord" is given a similar treatment and is thus one of the more formidable versions of this chestnut you are likely to hear. "Children Ain't You Glad," a variant of the jubilee favorite, "Moses Smote the Water," is made to order for the group's old-time jubilee style. "Winning the Lost" contains a memorable chorus with the lines: "My boss is Jesus/The devil in Hell can't fire me/I work for Holy Ghost incorporated." Of course, the benefit package is out of this world!

During the vamps of "Never Could've Made It" (not the Marvin Sapp hit) and the elegiac "Who's Gonna Fill their Shoes," the Rahming Brothers invoke the names of their relatives (former) and Bahamian social and political figures (latter), including the Rahming Brothers themselves, as in, "Who's going to fill our shoes when we're gone?" Good luck with that. The quartet sings lustily in that great big, round, masculine four-part harmony that is the sonic signature of sea shanty-singing groups in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Welsh choirs, and South African gospel groups. It's a virile sound that can be difficult to imitate.

Other island quartets have recorded in the traditional acappella gospel quartet style, most notably the Missionary Quintet (Folkways) and the Harmony Four, whose laid-back, country singing paid tribute to the 1950s-era Harmonizing Four, deep bass included. More research needs to be conducted on the origin and preservation of acappella gospel quartet singing in the Caribbean Islands. Meanwhile, enjoy the jaw-dropping, heartfelt musical testimony of the Rahming Brothers, and wonder how many more groups sing just like them but remain, like Cat Island, virtually "undiscovered."

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