The Baha Men
"After twenty years, the Baha Men are an overnight success," read the headline in Rolling Stone magazine as it heralded the phenomenon of the band's breakthrough single, "Who Let The Dogs Out." When the Baha Men released their soon-to-be-ubiquitous worldwide smash on S-Curve Records on July 27, 2000, America had never heard of the nine-piece band from the Bahamas. Little did we know that we were the last ones to discover a band who had long been one of the world's most popular touring groups, rocking crowds everywhere from Europe to Australia and racking up numerous sales awards (they'd previously earned 5 consecutive platinum albums in Japan alone). "Dogs" took the band to a new level of international success in their long, established career, an anthem of anthems that brought the band their first Grammy in 2000 ("Best Dance Recording"). And all the while they remained, as their homeland's government officially proclaims, "The Bahamas' greatest musical ambassadors."
The song was everywhere, from dance clubs to pop radio to baseball stadiums. And the band was everywhere as well - on the field performing their hit just before the opening pitch of the World Series, on a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, on the radio, on TV. The title became part of the American pop-culture vernacular, incorporated into comedy monologues, television newscasts, and newspaper headlines ("Who Let The Boss Out," "Who Let The Mets Out," ad infinitum). Even Time magazine noticed the Baha Men's influence, stating "the song and the group have stoked thoughts of an island-music resurgence to match the influence of Harry Belafonte in the 1950s and Bob Marley in the '70s." While the Baha Men are flattered by the magazine's adulation, they would never presume to compare themselves to such legendary performers. But they do aspire to one day being as meaningful to the residents of the Bahamas as Belafonte and Marley are to Jamaica.
The Baha Men's album dominated the U.S. Top Ten for much of the year, reaching triple-platinum status in just four months. Who Let The Dogs Out went Top Ten in twelve countries, and was certified gold or platinum in ten. In addition to the Grammy, the group received Billboard Awards for "World Music Album of the Year" and "World Music Artist of the Year," as well a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award for "Favorite Song."
Even with the runaway success of "Dogs," the band's intense work ethic never faltered: in fact, they were out on the road as always, working harder than ever before. "The night the San Francisco Giants won the pennant," drummer/vocalist Colyn "Mo" Grant recalls, "we played 'The Star-Spangled Banner' and 'Who Let The Dogs Out' at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. We performed at a Subway Series game, with the Mets and the Yankees at Shea Stadium. We were the first act ever to perform live on ESPN." And as a result, "Who Let The Dogs Out" was named the Number 1 Sports Anthem of All Time by MTV. The group ended 2000 on a high note, supporting *NSYNC on a series of sold-out US concert dates, and when the Grammy Awards were presented in February 2001, "Who Let The Dogs Out" was named Best Dance Recording. Moving beyond "Who Let The Dogs Out," Baha Men went on to record the first single from the blockbuster animated film Shrek, entitled "Best Years of Our Lives," as well as the opening and closing themes for the hit comedy film Rat Race and the theme from popular Disney Channel TV show "Stanley."
"The past two years have been like a Cinderella story," says Grant. "Always going to the dance, ya know, hoping the slipper will fit . . . and finally one day it does."
Now the other shoe is about to drop: their new album, Move It Like This (released on March 26) is sure to pick up where the last one left off, pleasing old fans and surprising new ones as well.
Move It Like This (the Baha Men's eighth album) proves to be a culmination of the band's deep musical history - a logical step from a group at the height of their career. Once again, the group showcases their unique fusion of authentic Caribbean vibes with modern-pop alchemy. Just as Jamaica spawned reggae, the Bahamas are known for the percussive, lively "junkanoo" sound, and the Baha Men are the chief international ambassadors of this groove. Junkanoo -- named after a legendary African slave named John Canoe, who is said to have used tribal drums to lead a slave revolt in the Bahamas in the early 19th century -- uses cowbells and goat-skin drums to create a glorious, irresistible beat. This sound is found in great abundance on Move It Like This, with the Baha Men proving they can "keep it real" while creating a universal pop groove.
Move It Like This builds on the music of the seven Baha Men albums that came before it. There are, of course, some "Dogs" to be let out on the new album. Check out the sing-along first single, "Move It Like This" - which energetically gives props to dance styles like the "electric slide" and the "hitchhike" over an infectious groove, mixing old-school soul with electro hip-hop and island rhythm - as well as the life-affirming soul stirrer "Normal" and the pulsating, seductive vibe of "Rich In Love." Chock full of mainstream hits, the album combines the junkanoo spirit with dance, R&B, reggae and pop, best expressed in such tracks as the boisterous cover of Harry Nilsson's beach-party staple "Coconut" and what looks to be the new wedding anthem of the millennium, a cover of Curtis Mayfield's sweeping ballad "I Thank Heaven," where the Baha Men demonstrate how they can transform a classic into their own style.
Taking risks while giving the people what they want is the formula that put the Baha Men into the spotlight, and Move It Like This represents a bold step in this direction - a step that secures their place as the innovators of a brand of music which is, and has always been, uniquely their own. "I only hope that American audiences will embrace the Baha Men as a group the way they embraced 'Who Let The Dogs Out' as a song," Mo concludes. "We love what we do - all of what we do - and we just want to get the people into it."
The inviting, innovative musical concoction that makes up the Baha Men's unique sound was created when the band first formed in the early '80s, and is rooted in the rich musical history of the Bahamas.
In 1971, the Bahamian group Beginning of the End scored a huge international hit with "Funky Nassau," the first record to combine traditional junkanoo with pop music. Numerous musicians in Nassau, hoping to emulate the success of "Funky Nassau," formed bands and pursued record deals. The most successful of the unsuccessful lot was Gary Davis and the Vendors, who signed with 20th Century Records and had a minor R&B hit in 1972 with "Funk Machine," spotlighting the talents of a teenage drummer named Colyn "Mo" Grant. Meanwhile Harry Casey, a young studio assistant for Miami-based TK Records (the label for which Beginning of the End recorded) became friends with the group, studied their sound and was inspired to form a band of his own. He originally named his group K.C and Sunshine Junkanoo Band, and after shortening the name, he went on to make musical history with a series of monster hits blending junkanoo with disco soul on the same TK label. Back in Nassau, TK's next Bahamian export was T. Connection, a group built around the tropical guitar of Pat Carey and the intense percussion of Anthony "Monks" Flowers. The band scored a million-seller in 1978 with the disco/junkanoo fusion "Do What You Wanna Do."
By the early '80s, erstwhile Vendors drummer "Mo" Grant had hooked up with Nassau bassist Isaiah Taylor, guitarist Herschel Small and keyboardist Jeffrey Chea to form High Voltage. The group scaled the heights of musical fame in the Bahamas, with a series of hit records of their own and as backing band on a number of albums by local legend Eddie Minnis. Around this time they hooked up with Kendal Stubbs, an engineer at Chris Blackwell's local Compass Point Studios who had played bass on the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love," which was recorded at Compass Point. Hoping to take the group to international success, Stubbs set about creating a contemporary arrangement for the classic Nassau hit "Back To The Island," originally popularized by Ronnie Butler. Stubbs pitched "Back to the Island" to then-Big Beat Records A&R chief Steve Greenberg, who immediately signed the group to a U.S. deal. In order to reinforce the connection between the band and their homeland, High Voltage decided to change their name to Baha Men.
While "Back To The Island" was a hit in several U.S. markets (it is still used as the music in all television and radio commercials for Bahamas tourism), the band did not achieve real success outside of Nassau with the album, entitled Junkanoo. On their second Big Beat album, Kalik, the band enlisted the services of friend and fan Lenny Kravitz, who wrote and produced the single "Sunny Day," which topped the charts in Japan, beginning a string of six consecutive platinum albums in that country (Lenny Kravitz returns to the Baha Men fold on the Move It Like This album, singing back-up on "I Just Wanna Fool Around.") Kalik was also notable for the arrival of former T. Connection members Carey and Flowers, who joined the band, and still remain to this day. Around this time, the group earned great exposure by appearing as themselves in several musical numbers in the Touchstone Pictures film, My Father the Hero, starring Gerard Depardieu.
When Steve Greenberg left Big Beat to head the A&R department at Mercury Records, he brought the Baha Men with him. Two albums for Mercury followed, and then, in 1999, it all began to come together with the addition of three new singers. Rick Carey (son of guitarist Pat Carey), Marvin Prosper and Omerit Hield (nephew of original Baha Men lead singer Nehemiah Hield) instantly brought a burst of youth and flair to the group, which was now poised to break into the U.S. market - a market that had until this time somehow remained curiously unaware of what the rest of the world had already discovered.
Greenberg heard a local Caribbean hit called "Who Let The Dogs Out" and convinced Baha Men group leader Isaiah Taylor to record it, even starting up his own record label in order to release it. "It's a rare relationship in today's capricious revolving-door music industry," asserts Taylor. "Steve is for real. Once he believes in you, he will support you all the way. In the past, people tried to turn him off from us, saying he was wasting his time on this band. Steve wasn't having any of that, and in the end we were all winners."
We all know what happened next.
"This band revolutionized the junkanoo sound in the Bahamas," explains drummer Colyn "Mo" Grant with pride. "The traditional junkanoo music is just percussion -- drums and cowbells -- and later, the horns came into it. But we fused electric guitars, keyboards and trap drums with the original junkanoo to create our own sound. We're proud we could develop the music of our homeland to the point where we could bring it to the world."
BAHA MEN members:
Rick Carey Lead Vocals
Omerit Hield Lead Vocals
Marvin Prosper Lead Vocals/Rap
Herschel Small Guitar/Music Director/Vocals
Anthony "Monks" Flowers Percussion/Vocals
Jeffery Chea Keyboards/Vocals
Patrick Carey Guitar/Vocals
Colyn "Mo" Grant Drums/Vocals
Isaiah Taylor Bass/Group Leader/Vocals