Updated: Oct 10, 2019
The whiff of conch slices through the sea air. A slanky Rasta pulls away from a Domino game and sits in one of the 20-something stands tucked along Potters Cay Dock, and orders a tropical conch salad and a Kalik beer.
In the distance, “Back Dat Bam Bam” vibrates from a stall further down the row, nearly eclipsing the horns and hums of 5 o’clock traffic. A stall over, a voluptuous woman (or, what locals would call ‘a big, fat gussie mae’) rocks her hips from side-to-side, synchronizing her pelvis to the melody. She shifts her weight so that her butt jiggles with every ‘bam, bam’—this is the effect of Bahamian music. This is the effect of Dillon ‘D-Mac’ McKenzie on Bahamian culture.
Like Tony McKay and Phil Stubbs, Dillon is a master storyteller. Weaving civic issues such as unemployment and adultery with folklore that connect young and older Bahamians.
A great example: his 2011 hit, The Gaulin’ based on a folklore about a relationship between a man from Andros, Bahamas and a mysterious woman, who, if you looked closely enough, was a hideous bird-like creature. Blinded by love, the man could not see her for her true self.
“The Gaulin’” song was to attract the ear of young people with the message behind it and the music—clap your hands and all of that was for the younger audiences, while older Bahamians related to the story,” Dillon says.
He admitted that the melody was an adaptation of ‘Sandra,’ performed by Grand Bahamian band Smithy Saltations, a familiar tune for veteran Bahamian music lovers.
Although “The Gaulin’” is one of Dillon’s most notable hits from his debut album, “Party Zone,” it was closely out-shined by other Rake ‘N Scrape songs, “Dog Don’t Bark at Parked Car” and Rock You All Night.” His latest single, “Back Dat Bam Bam” is saturating the local airwaves and music festivals throughout The Bahamas.
In 2013 and 2015, Dillon was awarded the highly acclaimed Ministry of Tourism’s Cacique Award for Best Song Writer. That same year, he won the first Bahamian Icon Award for Best Entertainer. He has performed throughout the Caribbean and around the world, like a true Bahamian music ambassador.
Despite Dillon’s success to capture both young and older audiences, he continues to face the same threats to Bahamian culture as older musicians did 20 years ago. Hip Hop, reggae, soca and other genres continue to compete for attention, radio airwaves and for audiences to buy-into (pun intended) their music and style.
“There has always been a fight and I can’t place all the blame on the radio stations because of the simple fact that the music that we produce and have been producing has not taken (an) evolutionary move,” says Dillon.
Until Bahamian musicians transition from folklore music to more palatable tunes, then listeners will see more Bahamian artists on the world stage. Mentioning soca and reggae as an example, Dillon points out how those sounds have rippled into other influences, including calypso, electro-dance, and culture and dance hall.
Dillon praised the up-and-coming Bahamian artists that have carved their spot in the sand, performing music with a Bahamian cultural background, but a worldly sound.
On his short list: Julien Believe, Pop singer Angelique Sabrina, MDeez and SosaMan to name a few.
This new wave of Bahamian performers is slowly showing that the battle for airplay and live arenas may be tipping in their favor. According to Dillon, they all possess the same essential ingredient—finding their niche and staying true to who they are.
“A lot of people are now appreciating authentic Bahamian music. I believe that everything is based on a firm foundation. You have to know who you are, what is your make-up, what is your culture, what’s your musical style,” he says.
While other Bahamian entertainers look to personal experiences and relationships for inspiration, Dillon feeds off of the simple Bahamian life and a Snapple cap. Believe it or not, under Paradise Island Bridge, sipping on an icy beer and listening to the stories of passersby are how most of his lyrics are born.
“That’s where most of the songs come from—listening and hanging out with the people. I can still be out by the dock, get me a Kalik and scorch conch from over by Skinny, and it’s amazing of the stories that you hear,” says Dillon.
Dillon has made his studio his new home, devoting hours to his new album that will debut this summer. Although tight-lipped about the album title, he describes the song collection as “shrake,” which is a cross between Rake ‘N Scrape and Soca.
One of the singles, “In The Bush,” has an up-tempo, make-you-feel-like-dancing sound that mirrors “The Gaulin’,” stirring in the same ingredients to draw both old and younger audiences.
But, the rhythm never stops—not on the album or in Dillon’s career, as he gears to perform every weekend for several months, taking time only to draw from a cold beer and keeping his pulse to the Bahamian people.