Bagpipes, tartan and reggae set to meet under the beating Barbados sun

It’s where reggae meets the bagpipes, kilts are twinned with sunhats, and a cross-cultural experience is fused under a hot Barbadian sun.

Carol Anderson (left) hands over chanters to the Barbados Defence Force Band, with hopes to set up a pipe band with young army cadets. PIC: Contributed.
Carol Anderson (left) hands over chanters to the Barbados Defence Force Band, with hopes to set up a pipe band with young army cadets. PIC: Contributed.

The Barbados Celtic Festival is back this May, with organiser Carol Anderson helping to plan the party from Edinburgh amid hopes the event will go live event for the first time in three years, pandemic permitting.

Meanwhile in Barbados, Orcadian fiddler Jeana Leslie, who has relatives on the island, has been hammering out plans for a party to remember. It will be the first since the island removed the Queen as the head of state last year.

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Among those set to travel are the Strathallan School Pipe Band with their Pipe Major Craig Muirhead. Fellow players from England and Canada are also due. In the past Eddie Reader, Peatbog Faeries and Molly Duncan and Hamish Stuart from the Dundee-forged funk outfit Average White Band have also performed.

Pipers from Fraserburgh on the boardwalk at the last live Barbados Celtic Festival in 2019. PIC: Contributed.

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Ms Anderson said: "The sound of the pipes and drums coming through the streets of Bridgetown brings goosebumps! Especially to us Scots in the heat of 29 degrees sunshine.

"Its an exhilarating experience to be part of it all – and I am extremely proud of what everyone does to bring it to fruition and make it something very special – a fusion of cultures, a rich exchange of music - and joy all round.”

The historic links between Scotland and Barbados, where the Scotland district sits on the east coast, runs deep and over hundreds of years.

James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, who hailed originally from Perthshire and was knighted and favoured by James VI, was the first ‘proprietor’ of Barbados and was granted the island in 1627.

Thousands of Scots were transported there, first as prisoners of war by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th Century and then Jacobites after Culloden, with criminals also rounded up and sent there to become indentured servants, sometimes on the sugar plantations. Some of the earliest arrivals became known as Redlegs due to their skin burning in the sun, with their descendants among the poorest on the island today. Scots also became planters themselves, and profited greatly from chattel slavery.

The Barbados Coat of Arms features a Saltire formed of two sugar cane stalks, crossed canes held in the hand of a black slave, which also appears on the Bajan dollar coins. Meanwhile, the “Order of Saint Andrew” is Barbados’s highest national award, with the Queen removed as head of state on St Andrews Day last year. Both countries share St Andrew as their patron saint.

Ms Anderson said: “A lot of people you meet in Barbados have names such as Andrew, or Grant and these names have filtered down throughout the generations. A lot of them don’t know the history of Scots and Barbados and it has taken a long time to get brought into the classroom, as it has done here.”

Ms Anderson, a PR consultant, said islanders were keen to embrace the festival and share their cultures. Pipe Major Muirhead is working with army cadets to set up a pipe band on the island, with chanters presented to its young recruits and hopes it will travel to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo with the Barbados Defence Force Band. Meanwhile, the Barbados Suzuki Fiddlers are preparing some Scottish tunes for the day, with a specially prepared Bajan haggis – made from local black belly sheep – also to be dished up.

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