Bermuda Gombeys Dance & Music

Bermuda music is quite rich with the traditional folk. Within this folk, the Gombey dance and music is the most popular one in the island compared to the other forms. Bermuda Gombey dance is the mixture of British, West African and indigenous new-world cultures. Gombey is quite similar to the dance traditions like Bahamian Goombay. It actually refers to a specific type of drums of African origin. Some also relate Gombay to a Bantu word standing for "rhythm".  
Gombey dance is also quite similar to Mummers that are a kind of seasonal folk play performed by troupes of actors during Afro-Caribbean styles of celebrations. During the Slavery period in Bermuda, Afro-Caribbeans who were slaves in the island introduced many Caribbean traditions that influenced Bermuda's version of Gombeys. 
Today the snare drum generally used in pairs are part of the modern Bermudian Gombeys in addition to kettle drums and fife. Usually male dancers perform Gombeys in groups of 10-30 in masquerade costumes with bright colors and odd angles. The costume designs often reflect the plumage of tropical birds. The energetic dance gradually picks up and grows faster with time and becomes a great spectacle. 
Bermuda Gombey Dance (At Elizabeth Park, Hamilton) 
Bermuda Gombey Dance 
Photo: Kansasphoto, flickr, cc by 2.0 
While Gombey is now an integral part of folk art traditions of Bermuda, it was not accepted in the society in the earlier days the way it is today. After the slave revolt in 1761, there was in fact a legislature made in Bermuda banning Gombey. 
The authorities feared that some could easily hide their faces behind the colorful masks and commit crimes. Such restrictions continued until mid 1800s. However, over time people understood the depth and richness of the art and slowly started to accept it. Today Gombey performers represent the island and even perform overseas. 
While there are few audio recordings of Gombeys available like the album Strictly Gombey Music by Pickle Spencer Gombey Group offering some great collections, the experience of Gombey is never complete only with its audio sound. The rhythmic dance and the colorful costumes are all integral part of Gombey. 
In the island, the tradition of Gombey dance has been passed on through generations through personal coaching. The captain of each troupe decides the style of Gombey that the troupe would specialize in. Although all troupes look somewhat similar, if you watch carefully, you can see the subtle differences in beats, dances, costumes etc where they differentiate each other. Some of the elements to look for in a Gombey performance are cockfight, snake dance, freedom dance, fast and slow dance etc. 

How to see Gombey Dancing in Bermuda?

Originally the Gombey Dance was meant to be performed only on Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Year's Day when the slaves were given free time. Now it has become a popular act in many festive celebrations. During Harbor Nights (held on every Wednesday at Hamilton City during summer) and Market Nights (held every Tuesday at St. George during summer), Gombey dancing plays a prominent role.  
The Gombey dance is also quite popular during the Christmas season and is also performed during many events like the Bermuda Day Parade, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and also during soccer and cricket matches. 
Bermuda Gombey Festival is held annually in the month of September which is aimed towards giving an exposure to all about this important folk art. All the Gombey Troupes of Bermuda along with stilt walkers perform during the festival showing the skills they have acquired over the years. 
It is a tradition of the islanders to toss cash and coins at the feet of the Gombey dancers. The rhythm of Bermuda Gombey dancing is energetic and grows gradually swifter depending on how wild and energetic the spectators can become. 
Unfortunately there is no place in Bermuda where Gombey is performed everyday or regularly, as this is not a full time profession in the island. They are performed in special occasions as I mentioned above and sometimes in the hotels. 
Update June 2017: Gombey performance will take place in Queen Elizabeth Park in Hamilton on Saturdays during the summer season. Entry: FREE. Live Entertainment: 12:00noon–12:40pm, Gombey Performance: 12:40pm–1:00pm 
Update June 2016: Gombey Dance performance will take place on every Saturday at Queen Elizabeth Park in Hamilton City. It starts on June 4 and will continue up to October 29. The entertainment events starts at the park at 12noon, the Gombey Dance is at 12:40pm. Admission is free for all. Schedule: Live Entertainment 12:00 noon – 12:40pm; Gombey Performance 12:40pm – 1:00pm 
Update July 2013: As part of the Bermuda's folk life series, the Bermuda Post Offices have released stamps featuring Gombeys. The stamps reflect colorful costumes and movements of the Gombey dances. 
Raj BhattacharyaBy Raj Bhattacharya 
Raj, a seasoned travel writer and Bermuda destination expert, has extensive global travel experience. This website reflects his profound insights, garnered over nearly two decades of dedicated findings and research on the island. Raj has assisted countless Bermuda-bound visitors by providing direct, personalized responses to their queries and imparting his wealth of knowledge through this platform. This site serves as an indispensable guide for those seeking informed and reliable insights into Bermuda's treasures. 
Know more about Raj Bhattacharya 

Related Articles

1) Check out Bermuda Music and Dance to know about music and dances that are now part of the island's cultural tradition. 

Visitors' Reviews and Stories

Lynn Smith (June 2013) 
Planning a return trip to Bermuda with a friend...would love for her to see the Gombey dancing. trying to decide between week of Sept. 15 and week of Sept. 22. Question you know the date for the 2013 Gombey Festival? Or will the gombeys be performing in the Passenger Terminal 6 any day with either of those 2 weeks...or in Queen Eliz. park on Saturdays. Your help would be greatly appreciated by this Canadian visitor! 
Raj ( June 2013 
Hi, this year's schedule for the annual Gombey Festival has not been announced yet, neither a plan for the Saturday Gombey shows at the Queen Elizabeth Park. By the time you arrive, the Wednesday Harbor Nights and Monday Destination Dockyard festivals would be over this year which are otherwise great venues for Gombey performances. So unless your trip coincides with the Annual Gombey Festival, it would be hard to see them in the island. 
The only other good chance that I can see ... the Island Beach Party at the Snorkel Park (in Royal Naval Dockyard). It's scheduled until November 1st in 2013 and held every Monday and Thursday evenings. While there are other ethnic performances like fire limbo shows and dance etc, it also includes Gombey dance performances by an island troupe. There is a steep entry fee though ($20 per person only for the entertainment.. no food and drinks). Check out Island Beach Party for more details. Regards 
Ellen Dudley (June 2013) 
Please let me know if there will be any Goombay dance performances during the period from June 15 through June 19. 
Raj ( June 2013 
Hi, there are several places in Bermuda where you can see Gombey performance during that period. On Mondays a festive event in the dockyard called 'Destination Dockyard' features Gombey dancing apart from many other entertainment. At Harbor Nights held in Hamilton on Wednesdays, you can watch the Gombeys perform on the streets. You can also join the Island Beach Party held at Snorkel Park in Royal Naval Dockyard (for a fee) and enjoy island dances including Gombeys. The party is held on Mondays, Thursdays in the evenings from 7 - 10pm. Hope this helps! 
Roger Freisenbruch 
The word Gombey is derived from the word Zombie, a ghost or spirit who rises from its grave to join in a dance and song jamboree with other spirits. Gombey origin is Haiti and bagpipe music originating in Scotland. ... Thanks for making my birthplace alive.