Caymanian kitchen dance music
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Swanky Kitchen Band is on a quest to revive the traditional music of the Cayman Islands. Set amidst the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, the three tiny islands are home to kitchen dance music, an infectiously danceable fiddle-driven style. The kitchen dance sound, created through a crossroads of European and African influences, nearly disappeared save for the efforts of Swanky Kitchen Band, the last of the Caymanian kitchen bands.

Kitchen dance music owes its name largely to architectural necessity: because Caymanians traditionally lived in easily burned thatched-roof homes, their kitchens were constructed in open-air/semi-enclosed detached structures. Cooking often became a community-wide event, with much comradery and celebration that often included music. Household kitchen tools, most notably a grater, became the driving percussive foundation paired with cowskin or goatskin drums. Along with the grater, the most defining instrument is the fiddle, which can be traced back to the British and Irish fiddling traditions brought to the Cayman Islands by its earliest permanent settlers. Since the 1700s, fiddle music has been the centerpiece of Caymanian folk music. Fiddle-driven dance tunes melded with the pulse of vibrant rhythms that crossed the Atlantic with enslaved Africans, forcibly brought to the islands. Folk songs tell stories of love and loss in the tiny, isolated maritime society known at one time as “the Islands time forgot.” 

“Swanky,” as the group is known to its fan base, was founded by fiddler Samuel Rose, at a time when development and societal change nearly ended the genre. Samuel grew up on the island of Grand Cayman, and first took classical violin lessons as a child. In his late teens, he was encouraged to shift his musical journey to preserve the music of his homeland, which had become critically endangered. Sadly, by the time Samuel began to embrace his musical roots, most of the old fiddlers and kitchen band performers had already passed away. Having learned indirectly from previous recordings of old masters, Samuel’s playing reminds us of their legacy and the depth of this unique Caymanian art form. 

In 2003, Samuel and guitarist Nicholas Johnson created Swanky Kitchen Band to preserve and revitalize this rapidly disappearing musical artform. They add a modern twist to their Caymanian heritage with more contemporary instruments, creating a 10-piece powerhouse dance band. Together, Swanky is sharing an important message with the world: that the music of the Cayman Islands is powerful, fun, and necessary.  

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