Early nineties at Rendezvous Bay: groves encroach on the beach, the new villas from Rendezvous Bay Hotel are there but where today sits CuisineArt there is only sand dunes—two tiers of them, rising five meters high and reaching 25 meters inland. Candles shine an imaginary path into the dune. Wooden planks serve as steps from the top onto a makeshift stage, halfway down. It’s Moonsplash and Bankie Banx plays with abandon to a crowd of several dozen people.
Bankie, Anguilla’s prodigal son, was always “the wild one.” He’d already been playing in local bands for ten years when he formed Roots and Herbs in 1977. Their “Prince of Darkness” projected them onto the international scene at a time when reggae music was conquering the world. Then came the travels, the influences, the ten years of remarkable success.
When Roots and Herbs broke up Bankie Banx headed for New York. It’s a time he looks back on with a blend of satisfaction and a been-there-done-that kind of detachment in the lyrics to “Quality Time” (1999): say hi to them clubs where you pay to play, you bite the dust or you eat the hay. But as Anguilla’s tourism industry develops, Bankie sees the opportunity to do what he loves best where he best loves it. Which takes us back to Moonsplash in the early nineties: Bankie, a musician approaching 40 with a 25-year career behind him seems to be laying the foundations for early retirement.
Alas, Moonsplash grows exponentially and Bankie’s creativity explodes. Then comes hurricane Luis sweeping everything to the ground—and I don’t just mean Bankie Banx’s plans. So Bankie organizes one big concert to help Anguilla get back on its feet—and it’s electric. Bankie seems inexhaustible, he strums tune after tune, he missteps on the stage, rolls on the sand, gets up on his feet, dusts his guitar off and starts again. An allegory of his life, you could almost say.
Together with unparalleled destruction, Luis also brings enormous amounts of driftwood. Bankie’s makeshift stage now has a shattered keel for a bar: The Dune Preserve had been born. Bankie works tirelessly with his buddy Bullet in expanding the project, serving simple drinks to whatever tourists visit, jumping on the bar, guitar in hand, ripped jeans and bare chest as ever, ready to play a song or three before the next round of drinks has to be served. Then comes the best record he has produced in decades, Mighty Wind (1996), followed by another gem, Stuck in Paradise (1999). Every year, with every storm, The Dune is wrecked. Every year, with the constant stream of jetsam, The Dune is revived; and thousands of tourists flock to the island to see Bankie Banx play; and then comes Jimmy Buffet and the apotheosis is complete—rivers of people flood Rendezvous Bay from land and sea: there’s no turning back, The Dune will never be the same, and any danger (or dreams) of early retirement all go up in smoke.
Now in his sixties, you’d expect Bankie Banx to be winding down—but with this track record, who could doubt him holding strong for another quarter century? Long live the Lord of the Jungle.
Published in the 2016 edition of Experience St. Martin. Front image taken from the cover of Design Anguilla magazine, volume 9.