History Of The Tuk Band

Drum music was brought to Barbados by the first Africans who arrived here as slaves in 1627. At that time they had to fashion substitutes for the variety of drums they left behind in West Africa, using local materials like coconut and mahogany. Membranes for the drums were made from the skins of goats, sheep and cattle.

The English colonists thought that the slaves would use their drumming to organise and ignite rebellion against them, so they instituted a law in 1688 to prohibit the playing of drums and other “heathenous noises” on the plantations and even in the town. One of the penalties was death. The slaves managed to get around this law to some extent by adapting their African derived music which they played on weekends at dances to sound like that of the Europeans. It is believed that our Crop Over Festival could have originated in those times.

The Band
The fiddle played a lively tune on his boa supported by flutes horns and whistles. During the next 150 years a variety of other instruments were put in place so that by emancipation in 1838, Tuk music was firmly established. The newly freed slaves sang “Lick and lock up dun wid” to celebrate. By this time the composition of the Tuk band was set. Homemade drums were fabricated from wood (rum barrels or plywood) or metal as in old salt meat cans, with bicycle rims and plaited tamarind rods holding down the goat, sheep, cow or calf skin. Iron lugs were used to pull down the shell. The word “Tuk” appears to have been derived from the Scottish word “touk” meaning to beat or sound an instrument. The band owes its origin to the fife and drum marching band of the 18th century British regiment. Today it comprises of a base drum, a kettle drum (snare), a triangle or other percussive instrument and a penny whistle which has replaced the fiddle over the last 120years as the lead instrument.

Elements of Calypso, African High-Life and even North American negro folk religious music beats can be heard in Tuk music. It has a persistent, recognisable African base upon which British regimental rhythms and more recently the Barbadian experience has been superimposed. There are other similar types of bands throughout the Caribbean, but each has its own unique sound and feeling. Some costumed characters that accompany this band come out of our African heritage of “Masquerade”. The Stiltman (effigy of Mr. Harding – a symbol of hard times), the donkey (an important means of transportation in early times), the Shaggy Bear which was created over the years to represent a witch doctor-type creature and the Mother Sally representing the fertility of the female.

Tuk Patterns

The music takes the form of three major patterns – the Waltz, the Fassie (or March) and Tuk, which itself is an infectious 4/4 rhythm. The Tuk genre continues to develop due to the work of Wayne “Poonka” Willock, from the bank holiday/rum shop festive season affair, to an international medium.

Poonka and his Tuk group have taken these unique Barbadian rhythms to New York, England, Scotland, Cuba, Martinique, South Carolina, New Orleans and Germany. Local performances have been extended to include church harvests and fairs; they also play for weddings, christenings and high profile public functions. Hotels also schedule the Tuk group to perform for their guests, turning it into a big tourist attraction.

Tuk’s Influence

The Tuk band is inextricably bound up with the Landship movement, representing the engine that drives the movement of the “Ship”. The Landship is itself a cultural expression indigenous to Barbados and has been around just as long as the band itself. The three rhythms previously described constitute the stages trough which the “engine” goes as it pressurises for the “trip on the open seas”. The waltz would be used for the “warm up” at about 50 lbs., then the fassie, or march, would increase it to about 80 lbs. The Tuk beat would take it over the 100lbs. mark and the “ship” would then be sailing at full speed, displayed by the manoeuvre of the “crew” as they go about their duties.

Poonka pioneered the incorporation of this indigenous beat into the calypso arena in 1983, with mixed response. Since then, the beat has been used by Eddie Grant who has incorporated it into his productions and labelled it “Ring Bang”.


In terms of community life, we always hear a Tuk band on any festive occasion, especially bank holidays, Christmas, Easter and certainly Crop Over where it plays an integral role from the Gala opening ceremony to Kadooment day jump-up. Still, there is comparatively little to highlight this small remnant our African heritage. Defenders of this art form appear to be decreasing as society moves steadily away from appreciating aspects of our culture that are really ours.

Jamaica has the John Canou Masquerade band, in the Leewards and Trinidad there is the String or Street band, in Martinique Sa Sa Ye Sa, in Guyana and Dominica the Plastic System band. All of these bands in those countries had similar origins to the Tuk band in Barbados. Yet, not one of them plays the same or even close rhythm patterns to ours. Each one can be clearly identified and is given its rightful place in the cultural landscape of each individual territory.

The Future

With Poonka as its champion, Tuk attracted the interest of an all Barbados company, Rotherly Construction Inc in 1996. Directors Allan Evelyn and Joe Steinbok have given their commitment to ensure that Tuk continues on.

A programme has been developed with the ongoing promotion of Tuk as its objective. It includes exposing young Barbadians to the art through annual workshops ad by supporting the efforts of the Ruk-A-Tuk band.

 Originally sourced from Rotherly Construction Inc. Ruk-A-Tuk International - The History of Tuk Music Pamphlet