Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quelbe (Stratch Bands, Fungi) Music From The Virgin Islands

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents information about and videos of Quelbe (Stratch Bands, Fungi) music from the United States Virgin Island. A video of a stratch band from Aguilla is also included in this post. This post also includes a bonus video of the Quelbe Tramp [Christmas street dancing/parade].

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

..."The grassroots origins of Scratch music can be traced back to Africa and the days of slavery in the British Virgin Islands under Danish and British rule. Unable to own or play their own instruments and engage in dancing, the West African plantation workers made instruments out of any resources that they could find, to create a percussive, rhythmic blues sound that combined improvisational musicianship with a rich storytelling tradition. A sound that continued even after the abolition of slavery in 1834, with the lyrics usually acting as a form of oral history, narrating everyday life, humorous stories or recounting important political or historical events.

Scratch bands usually perform Quelbe, a native form of folk song that is typically performed at celebrations and informal events, often containing local colloquialisms, double entendres and sexual innuendo. The British Virgin Islands passed an act in 2001 to make the Quelbe the official music of the island, and the sound has since spread to other surrounding Caribbean countries. The Lashing Dogs is one of the most well known Fungi bands from the British Virgin Islands.".

By Erdinch Yigitce
The music of the Virgin Islands reflects long-standing West Indian cultural ties to the island nations to the south, the islands' African heritage and European colonial history, as well as recent North American influences. Though the United States Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands are politically separate, they maintain close cultural ties. From its neighbors, the Virgin Islands has imported various pan-Caribbean genres of music, including calypso from Trinidad and reggae from Jamaica...

Scratch bands, also known as fungi bands and formerly string bands, are a distinctive form of folk ensemble; they have survived the decline of other Virgin Islander folk traditions, through adapting to newly imported instrumentation and songs, and becoming a part of a more general revival of interest in folk culture on the islands.[1] The name scratch band may derive from the sound produced by scraping the squash, an instrument similar to the Puerto Rican guiro, but larger, or from the word squash itself, used to refer to the bands first by American visitors and then by locals.[2]

The traditional scratch band ensemble varied, but always used a percussive instrument, either the squash, tambourine, or a local form of double-headed barrel drum similar to the Dominican tambora, as well as an accordion, cane flute or violin as a melodic instrument. String instruments were also common, including the banjo, ukulele or a six-string guitar...

Quelbe is a form of topical folk song, and is the official music of the U.S. Virgin Islands.[3] Quelbe is commonly performed by scratch bands, Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Nights being the most popular throughout the Virgin Islands, though their folk origin lies in individuals, who sang the songs in informal settings, celebrations and festivals. These songs typically contained sexual innuendos and double entendres, as well as other hidden meanings; common topics included political events, such as a boycott...
More information about Quelbe music is found in the summary statement of the video given in this post as Example #2.

(These videos are presented in chronological order based on the date of their YouTube posting, with the oldest dated videos posted first.)

Example #1 Leon and the Hotshots

JDobson4, Uploaded on May 12, 2008

Scratch band at the Bath and Turtle Bar on Virgin Gorda Island 5-11-08
Click for another video of this scratch band.

Example #2: Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights

Captbw, Uploaded on Nov 17, 2009

Quelbe ("kwell bay") music is the official music of the Virgin Islands and Stanley (on flute) and his band are the kings of Quelbe. Often called "scratch" or "fungi" quelbe is a form of folk story and is the real deal when it comes to island music mon. The quadrille dancers turn out when Stanley and the boys are laying it down and they are just great to watch.

Example #3: Glamazini #116: Fungi Band Serenade British Virgin Islands

Glamazini, Uploaded on Jan 9, 2010

A traditional fungi band serenades us on New Years Day on Tortola British Virgin Island. The tradition is the band arrives at your home and plays a song to ask for entry. If you accept you give them a shot of rum and invite them in where they play music for you in exchange for food and drink. Gotta love it, BIG UP VI MASSIVE!!!
Another comment about this tradition is found below the video given as Example #6.

Example #4: Jamsie and the Happy Seven at the Gladys Abraham Elementary School: Faces of the Virgin Islands Past

yydanay515, Uploaded on Feb 6, 2010

Photos from the early to mid 1900s of Virgin Islanders

Example #5: "Razor Blades" jamming a medley at the Flower Show in the J. R. O'Neal Botanic Garden

Dale Morton, Uploaded on Nov 30, 2011
This video replaced one that is no longer available.[as of Feb. 7, 2017 or earlier.]

Example #6: Man Like You - Lashing Dogs

Riddim Galore, Uploaded on May 19, 2010

The Lashing Dogs is a scratch band from the British Virgin Islands. Their type of music is called Fungi in the BVI; similar to Quelbe in the US Virgin Islands. This track is from their album At Last.
Here's a comment from this video's viewer comment thread:
Blisscious- 2011
"I remember the days when I was younger and they used to come by my grandmother's house singing chorales. Not a season went by and they didn't stop at our home, course they had that guavaberry and the yuh know them man sang! The age I was then, to appreciate that kind of's a beautiful thing. Big up the Lashing and all other scratch band for keeping our festive culture alive!"

Example #7: Quelbe Festival March 9 2012 Frederiksted STX

Per Ankh Khamniversity, Published on Mar 10, 2012

Quelbe Festival March 9th, 2012
Frederiksted Waterfront on Strand Street in St. Croix, Virgin Islands
***Look out for the next one!!!!

BONUS VIDEO- Quelbe Tramp

VirginIslandsSource, Uploaded on Dec 29, 2009

Quelbe is the official native music of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a high-spirited musical style that gets people up and dancing. A tramp is well, it's what it sounds like. A band on a truck winds through town drawing people out into the streets to dance and celebrate. The Dec. 28, 2009, Quelbe Tramp was part of the Crucian Christmas Festival.
The Quelbe Tramp reminds me of Cuban videos that I've seen of La Conga. Here's a link to a post on my zumalayah blog about La Conga:

Jamesie, King of Scratch Trailer
This is the official tralier for an engaging and spirited musical journey to the Caribbean, this documentary focuses on Scratch band music, an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music from the Virgin Islands. 79-year old James Brewster is an uncompromising, humorous, and provocative musician known for his playful compositions and lively performances and is the legendary "King of Scratch"

** "Quadrille Dancing In The Caribbean"

Thanks to all those featured in these videos. My thanks also to the producers of these videos and their publishers on YouTube.

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