Vincent Bogle

Jamaican Rhumba Box Goes Modern


This article appeared in the Jamaica Star newspaper on Friday, May 22, 1964 and announced, “Jamaican rhumba box goes modern.” Last December I wrote about Hedley Jones and his musical inventions, and you can read that HERE. But here is another innovator, Vincent Bogle, who improved on the rhumba box. The article reads:

Traditional artists who bewail the rapidly changing face of Jamaica’s folkways had better prepare themselves for some shaking news. The Jamaican rhumba box, which for years has given its distinctive sound to the island’s calypso bands, has gone modern.

Vincent Bogle, one of the island’s leading makers of these distinctive instruments, has produced a new design which adapts this primitive instrument to the demands of today’s amplified, electronic orchestras.

Formerly, rhumba boxes were acoustical, depending on a closed column of air projecting through a sound hole to amplify the sound. Tuned keys of spring metal were rigidly mounted on the front board of the soundbox, generally made of mahogany or cedar and the player sat on the box in order to play it.

Mr. Bogle’s new design is a radical departure from traditional design. The new box is hand-held and in fact is not a box at all. It is a solid-bodied instrument with the keys mounted on it, and with two microphones affixed. The player now plays standing, or seated on a chair, and the sound of the box is fed electronically into an amplifier and to a speaker.

The improved rhumba box reflects the gradual modernization of Jamaica’s calypso orchestras. Such leading groups as the Lord Jellicoe Calypso Band at the Sheraton-Kingston, and Calypso Joe’s group at Flamingo/Courtleigh Manor, shifted to the use of string bass because of the tonal and sound limitations of the old box. Some groups have been using amplified bass guitars following the trend started by the island’s popular dance orchestras.

The rhumba box itself is an African instrument, said to be about six centuries old. Instruments of many differing types, but all similar in basic principle, are found throughout the West Coast of Africa, as well as in Rhodesia and Tanganyika. They all use the method of having tuned spring metal “keys” which are plucked to obtain music, and in each case the keys are mounted on a sounding box which amplifies and projects the sound.

A good rhumba box of the old type, sturdy enough for knockabout use by a working calypso band, sells for about seven guineas. The new design “guitarumba” costs 17 pounds, 10-. Most of the cost is for the two microphone pickups. Mr. Bogle says he has registered the design.