Music: Toasts/Chants

Six (6) toasts recorded on the East Coast of Demerara, 2008.

In her pioneering work in progress, “Toasts, Boasts, and Memory: A Preliminary Look at the Lyrical Traditions of Guyanese Masquerade,” Dr. Paloma Mohamed describes the masquerade toast/chant process as follows:

“The performance always begins with the lively music of a three or four-man musical ensemble made up of the fife which is usually the lead instrument, the kettle drum (Kittle or Boomba) and a triangle. The Toaster usually the leader of the band will stop the music with the vocal command “Bantu or Bantoo” in some recent instances the words “thank you” are also used. The music then stops and the chant or toast is given dry—that is without musical accompaniment. When the toaster is finished he then gives a verbal signal for the band to continue playing by saying “Music!” or “Band!” The musical ensemble then resumes their playing to which the dancers and other characters in the band dance and retrieve monies thrown into hats or unto the ground by spectators.” 

In addition to describing the toast/chant process, Dr.Mohamed offers a connection to Egungun–the African art of masquerade. This work focuses timely attention on a long-lasting constituent of Guyana’s cultural landscape–an example of an African retention. 

For Dr.Patricia Cambridge:

“A distinctive feature [of Guyana’s masquerade music] is the three-note figure played by the flute—a quick ascending fourth (quavers/eighth-notes) that begins on an upbeat and a descending second, which is played on the downbeat and held for three beats until the figure is repeated. In my recollection, this long note (a dotted minim/half-note) was sometimes embroidered with a trill. The boom is struck loudly on the second half of that downbeat. That syncopation added to the excitement, which was reflected in a change of dance steps to the stumble.” She adds, “For me, this is what gives Guyana’s masquerade a distinctive sound and makes it different from other similar art forms in the region.” 

Here are clips from toasts recorded on the East Coast of Demerara in 2008. 




Paloma Mohamed. “Toasts, Boasts, and Memory: A Preliminary Look at the Lyrical Traditions of Guyanese Masquerade.”