Exuma, The Obeah Man - The Artist and Music

Exuma, The Obeah Man - The Artist and Music

Posted by Matt Lehman on Jun 3rd 2022

If you follow my IG, you knew this blog post was coming.  Maybe you hoped I'd push it on the back burner for a bit or maybe I had moved on.  You are not so lucky. 

I think everyone has certain songs, albums, and even artists that speak to them or for them in their lyrics, riffs, styles, or even personas.  For me, that artist is Exuma. 

Born Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey on Feb 1, 1942, known professionally as Tony McKay or Exuma.  He moved to New York when he was 17 to become an architect but that dream quickly faded when he ran out of money.  He somehow acquired a beat up guitar and started practicing Calypsos and writing his own songs.  He started playing with the likes of Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Richard Pryor, Jimi Hendrix and Barbara Streisand at a place called Cafe Bizarre in Greenwich Village Shortly after, He took the name Exuma, because it is the name of a group of Bahamian Islands where he grew up.  

His music is incredibly hard to lock down or defined. There are heavy influences of Carnival, Junkanoo, Calypso, Reggae, African tribal, and so on. The opening track on his Self-titled debute album, "Exuma, The Obeah man" starts with the howl of a wild animal, frogs, bells, beating drums and even a Zombie Exhaling.  You quickly realize you're not in Kansas anymore and you are certainly not listening to Toto. 

There is a Rolling Stone Article that quotes Will Sheff, the Lead singer of a band called Okkervil River as saying, "Dr. John's Debut album Gris-Gris is like rolling a fat joint where Exuma is more like PCP.  He was often referred to as the VooDoo Richie Havens. I think both are accurate but only offer a shimmer across the deep ocean that is Exuma and his music. He was a performer and a showman, starting many shows with a junkanoo parade from the dressing rooms through the crowds on to the stage.  He was a staple in the New Orleans Jazz Festival from 1978 to 1991.

He passed in his sleep in 1997. There are few acts I regret not being able to see.  Exuma is at the top of that list and I don't foresee that changing anytime soon.

Nina Simone has a track on her 1974 album It is Finished called the Obeah Woman which is her spin on Exuma, The Obeah Man. Obeah being a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies, practiced by many on the islands of the Bahamas.