As many of you know, the folks over at Cruz Bay Landing held a grand opening party to coincide with the full moon last Friday night. The party had a great turnout and we’ve heard that more may be in store in the future. We also heard that a certain country singer was in attendance…
Koko and the Sunshine Band was on hand to provide some entertainment and they sounded amazing. We’d like to thank Kevin McCarthy, owner of Coconuts and Plumeria villas on Gifft Hill, for taking the following video. Check out this short clip of their rendition of Jamaica Farewell:
(The video is dimly lit per the band’s request, according to Kevin.)
According to Kevin, Koko and the Sunshine Band is a “scratch band” who classifies their music as “Quelbe,” pronounced qwel-bay. Here’s some background on qwelbe music courtesy of The Jamesie Project:
Quelbe, also known as Scratch Band Music or Quadrille, is an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music which originated in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has spread to other parts of the Caribbean .
A form of oral history, its lyrics are used to immortalize significant historical events, spread “rude” gossip about one’s neighbors, and relay the day to day trials and tribulations of life on a island.
Scratch bands musicians play homemade instruments one can “scratch up.” For example, one man might be blowing with all of his might through a car-muffler pipe, another scratching a hollowed-out gourd with his hair pick, and yet another picking at a banjo made from a sardine can, a piece of wood and strings. Scratch band music has a crudeness to it that is both intoxicating and rhythmic. It speaks to both the beauty and the hardship of the Crucian lifestyle. In 2004, the Virgin Islands legislature passed a bill making Quelbe the official music of the Virgin Islands.
Scratch originated during the time of slavery when the Virgin Islands were under Danish rule. The West Africans who worked on the sugar plantations as slaves brought with them a percussive and rhythm-based musical tradition and rich storytelling practices. The plantation owners, however, outlawed the use of drums by the slaves. Over time, the African descendents turned to the European colonizers’ military bands and social music as models for new instrumentation and melodies. Improvising with available materials, all of the slaves’ new bands, the predecessors of today’s scratch bands, ultimately contained at least one melodic instrument (such as a flute made from cane) and at least one percussive instrument (such as a squash made from a hollow, open-ended gourd).
Though the percussive musical practices brought from Africa changed significantly, the storytelling tradition was never lost.
Want to hear more? Koko and the Sunshine Band will be playing at the Coral Bay Caribbean Oasis this Sunday, January 26, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Click here to read more about Caribbean Oasis.