Modern Rhumba Box Invented By Leabert Bowen


The week after an article ran in the Star Newspaper on Vincent Bogle’s creation of a hand-held guitar-like electric version of the rhumba box, this article appeared in the Star Newspaper, May 29, 1964 in response. I posted the original article in my blog two weeks ago, and you can read it here to gain context. The response article above reads:

Dear Sir–Please give this letter equal prominence in the Week-End Star as was given to the article “Jamaican Rhumba Box Goes Modern” and which appeared on the Front Page on Friday, 22nd May, 1964, written and released by the Tourist Board.

There are scores of persons who know that Vincent Bogle did not design or invent the new electric rhumba box. This letter is to let those who don’t already know, that it is I who created the design and did the electrical fittings on the electric rhumba box, which Bogle posed with in the picture in the Star.

The instrument is not working at present because I have removed the part of it which belongs to me. Bogle has no knowledge of how this instrument is made, and neither can he play it. Bogle asked me to teach him to play the instrument and I am still teaching him whenever I can find the time from my busy schedule at Club Maracas in Ocho Rios.

I am, Leabert Bowen, Club Maracas, Ocho Rios P.O. St. Ann

So you see, it seems that Bogle was NOT the inventor of this contraption and Bowen was! He set the record straight then, and we set the record straight now! Were there any others, or similar contraptions, that preceded this? Perhaps, as it was a time of tinkering, innovation, and creation, so post any knowledge you may have in the comment section below. If you would like to read about Hedley Jones’s inventions, including a double-necked electric guitar, see his article that I posted here.

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.