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Island Expressions: Junie Bomba

April 5, 2009 — First and foremost in the heart and mind of Crucian-born Junie Bomba, he says, is to spread around kindness. But he spreads around much more to everyone he meets with his passion for music, art and sailing.
Junie Bomba was born in Frederiksted in 1946 and named Wilfred Elisha Allick Jr. after his father.
"My father was nicknamed 'Bomba,' I was Junior, so that's where 'Junie Bomba' came from," he says.
Bomba got his sailing skills from his father, too. His father was a well-known local sailor who traveled the world as a captain of cargo ships, he says.
"My grandfather was a sailor, too, so the sea runs back in the blood," Bomba says.
He took to the sea when he was 7. He loved weekends when he was allowed to get away from home and housework, when his dad would say, "Junie come — go with me." He learned to sail under the tutelage of his dad, sailing to St. Thomas, St. John and Tortola. In the 1970s, he owned a sailboat and ran charters to Buck Island. Now he shares his sailing skills with children as an instructor in the Frederiksted Community Boating Program.
Another skill handed down to Bomba from his father was the blowing of the conch shell horn.
"I've been blowing the horn since my papa days," he says, meaning his father taught him when he was little.
The queen conch was first used by island people years ago before telephones to send distant messages, such as a spreading fire or an approaching storm, Bomba says. The sound travels a half mile. The conch shell has the pointed end cut off and the hole where the meat was taken out is filled with putty. The smaller the shell, the higher the pitch, he says. The air blown in gets hurled around like a funnel.
Bomba recently blew the conch shell horn at the closing of the Transfer Day ceremony at the Lawaetz Family Museum. He has also taught conch horn blowing to public and private school children.
The queen conch shell is also used in an art form Bomba has created. A few years ago he was out in his back yard enjoying nature, thinking about himself, and a spirit came into him about what the inside of the conch shell looks like.
A lot of people make things such as lamps and horns from shells, but no one was creating pieces of art, Bomba says. He saws open the queen conch, revealing its inner beauty, the gorgeous pink shades of the spiraled shell. Bomba hopes people will look at it and find inner peace as they gaze upon and follow the spirals, or find energy to open their mind.
He uses a power saw and grinding and polishing tools, then rubs the shell with baby oil to give it a soft finish. To complete the project, he places the shell on a lacquered mahogany base. He took some finished shells to Blue Moon restaurant in Frederiksted where, he says, people "went off on it."
Bomba has given the pieces names, such as "Husband and Wife," with two shells placed artfully together. He has one he named "Sailboat," which looks just like its namesake, or "Eyes," where two almost-identical shell's spirals look like eyes. He sells his creations under the name Junie Bomba Conch Shell Creations at the Whim Museum Store, Starving Artist Shows at Whim, and Mango Melee.
Bomba has taught his art in schools, and has plans to distribute a DVD at schools showing children they can make things from the island.
"Kids can make a living from certain things off the island if they put their head together and have faith in the Creator," Bomba says.
His passion for music began when he was in his 20s while living in the Bronx in New York. He enjoyed listening to Latin music and people drumming in Central Park, so he taught himself to play the congas.
"Music is healing — when you play you feel it," Bomba says.
He plays with the Eddie Russell Quelbe Latin Jazz Band and Kurt Schindler at Blue Moon, Zeebos, Pier 69 and Divi Carina Bay Casino.
Bomba says his outlook on life is "How can I make myself happy?" He emits a deep, guttural laugh.
"I just try to do what I can till the Creator calls me," he says. "I will teach what I know, so somebody keeps it here. Maybe they will do better than I do."
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