Hang out on Anguilla for a while and almost inevitably you’ll meet Bankie Banx, the island’s reggae superstar and owner of the Dune Preserve, a combination beach bar/nightclub/ restaurant/concert venue. You can’t miss him: multi-hued dreadlocks perfectly framing a bushy beard, warm smile contrasting with ultra-cool shades, and a guitar that he carries so gracefully, so naturally that it seems like an organic appendage. You know the term, different drummer? Bankie has always marched to a different beat, and the fun funky “Planet Dune” (the fond nickname “because there’s no place like it on earth”) reflects his philosophy and lifestyle, over owing with character and characters.
I have lived too long in doubt/To drown in morality/They’re gonna try and shrink me out/And question my sanity (from “Moonshine”) The setting is idyllic: a two-acre strip of prime beachfront on seductive Rendezvous Bay caught between lapis sea and towering ivory dunes as curvaceous as Rubens nudes. There have been several incarnations of the bar (and Bankie himself, who’s taken many roads, musically, spiritually and literally, during an eventful three-decade career). It was devastated by hurricanes in 1996 and 1999; each time he rebuilt it, bigger and better than before: a testament to Bankie’s indomitable spirit and that of his fellow Anguillians, as well as their passion for their island.
He first pitched a tent back when he and his band, The Roots & Herbs (a playful pun on both the roots style of reggae and the Rasta dedication to… medicinal plants) were just making a name for themselves in the early 80s. Bankie started touring the region, then “hit the Europe circuit. I said I’d leave for six months, it turned into six years… I was a self-imposed exile, running from this bad record contract while chasing my dream and recognition too… Funny since I’d turned down Eddie Barclay when he left Polygram to start his own label, said he’d set me up solo to produce albums. I said “You wanna take me to a swimming pool in Paris, but I got the ocean here…’ I been a total island boy all my life; it was always about coming back home to rehearse and create.”
“I got so homesick in Europe,” he continues, “I kept dreaming about this particular spot, sketching it” (he now sells that moon-and-stars design as a T-shirt). Yet his career beckoned him stateside, and he spent several years based in New York touring East Coast. Closer to home, he was able to build a family house on the hill above his land, then a cabin which he dubbed Backstage. In 1992 he built a stage in front, put the rst real beach bar up in 1993, then decided to return home for good the following year.
I’ve been a dreamer a long time ago you know/They grow with my life, they slowly but surely grow/ Dreams are for dreamers/What wings are for sea birds/To y far away… to New Horizons (from “New Horizons”) Bankie’s buddy Bullett maintains the old Anguillian tradition of building and repairing boats. “If a boat loses a few races, you take it apart and try to x, improve it. Bullett became a boat surgeon. He’d cut it in half, stretch it out, move parts around rather than rebuild it entirely… Some beautiful pieces were discarded; guys would burn a re for fun… I said to Bullett, ‘We gotta get this shit right away.’ We started throwing salvaged boat parts down, had no idea what to do with them just knew they were cool… We made them into roofs and counters, getting wilder and wilder every day.” Bankie also collected old shing dinghies “You know the term, different drummer? BANKIE has always marched to a different beat…” and driftwood. “I’m into living art, love funky inventions.” Dune Preserve became one giant installation, linked by vividly painted platforms, crowned with giant cutouts of guitarists. “I do pencil art, charcoal, sketches, sandpaintings” (some of which hang on the walls). “The tables are also my art, glass with sand and seaweed displays inside, in different shades of green.” Totally natural, found art, the Dune Preserve embodied green architecture long before the term eco-conscious became trendy.
Bankie passionately preserves not only Anguilla’s cultural but natural heritage. In 1999, the Rendezvous Bay sand dunes were attened from a combination of hurricane damage, shifting tides, and new construction. Bankie collaborated with the Anguilla National Trust on restoring the once majestic dunes through patient hand-raking and redistributing beach grass, palms, mauby, and sea grape trees to help prevent erosion. Over time Planet Dune developed satellites. Planet Dune Night Club presents live music on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights where Bankie and/or guests perform for such fans as Jay-Z, Kevin Bacon, Beyoncé, Uma Thurman, Jimmy Buffett, Justin Bieber, even Bill Clinton – many of whom join in on impromptu jams. But the big deal is hosting Moonsplash. Held the end of March around the full moon, it’s a howling good time that started as an outlet for Bankie and friends then evolved into one of the Caribbean’s top music and cultural fests, luring leading reggae artists, while showcasing emerging talent, even featuring local food and traditional Anguillian crafts. Bankie always assembles an extraordinary constellation of stars to join him and Roots & Herbs, such as Grammy-winning reggae icon Bunny Wailer, fellow pioneer Derek Morgan, Cat Coore, Benji Myaz, Corey Stoot, Alana Davis, Joanna Williams, Tony Ruption, Steel Pulse, Tarrus Riley, Masud Sadiki, and One White Chic. Whether the style is roots or dancehall, the music is rousing, the charged lyrics politically and spiritually inspired in true reggae fashion: “Not that post-80s watered down, overproduced, gimmick beatbox crap without human contact,” Bankie exclaims. I was cruising on my yacht called Ganga/With my friend white Rizzla handling the sails/We met the royal yacht Britannia/On board I chat with the Prince of Whales/He said he’d like a trip on Ganga/ He just couldn’t stand those long cocktails (from “Prince of Wales”) But any time of year, Planet Dune resembles a barge set to sail off on some quixotic odyssey of discovery and adventure: Bankie’s dream of “a gathering place where I could sit and do what I do, a cultural chillout spot where people can just be themselves.”
HOUSE SPECIAL: Dune Shine. “My Mom was born on St. Kitts but grew up on Anguilla. As a teenager she became famous for making ginger beer from an old Kittitian recipe. When I opened the “vegetarian” Dune Preserve – people don’t come to the beach to diet, so that part didn’t last – I served her special ginger beer. My late bartender, Rude Lee (his name was Lee Carty, and he was really a lovely guy) said, ‘It tastes like wine,’ threw some overproof rum in, some juices like pineapple, some grenadine. We called it Dune Sunset because of the color. Traditional rum punches are sweet. But I took out the grenadine, which made it drier, and turned it into Dune Shine. I make High Shine, too. It’s the same base, but you add fresh ground ginger marinated for 36 hours, then strong alcohol like a dry rum, fresh pineapple juice, some other things.” Like everything else at Planet Dune, it’s otherworldly.