Happy Fri-YAY! I’ve got some great news to share with you today about a fun way to spend your Saturday evening, bringing the sounds and colorful personalities of St. John into your home! A local non-profit organization, Sing St. John, will be hosting a free virtual Quelbe and Reggae Revival concert tomorrow (Saturday, April 24) at 7PM EST via zoom featuring the local talents of the late Mahlon “Koko” Pickering, Warren “Addis” Smith, Haile Isreal, Lemuel “Beeble” Callwood, Roy “Ras Feba” Reid and the Sing St. John Recovery Choir.
Sing St. John is an incredible organization led by, Executive Director, Kristen Carmichael-Bowers with a mission to provide universally accessible singing for all ages on St. John while fostering cultural awareness, a meaningful sense of community and resilience. If you have never met Kristen, you are missing out! She lights up a room upon entering it with her dynamic and upbeat personality and enthusiasm. She has a deep seeded passion for music and believes it is the birthright of every person to be able to sing. She has dedicated most of her life to teaching music and singing and we are so very grateful for her musical talents and desire to bring the “sing” to St. John!
Since her arrival on island in 2014, Kristen has devoted herself to inclusion and connection via singing and music for St. John residents of all ages, but she felt a need to bring more of St. John’s roots and culture into her programs.
“I began to plan this concert during the Songs of Resilience concert in the spring of 2019 when I realized that it was time for us to prioritize St. John’s roots. As a Vermont transplant, I honestly had no idea where to begin, but Haile Israel and I had been talking throughout the Songs of Resilience project, and we began to brainstorm a concert program. I reached out to Mahlon “Koko” Pickering, who had always been so supportive of our choirs. Not only was he “the quelbe guy” on St. John, but he really loved the children’s choir and was often in the park when any of our choirs performed there. The conundrum was: what was the way to honor this music as a person from the outside? How could we cross the cultural divide without overstepping? ” – Executive Director, Kristen Carmichael-Bowers
Quelbe music (also known as “scratch band” or “fungi”) was first developed in the Virgin Islands by slaves on the Danish plantations as a form of telling jokes, storytelling, and a way to communicate, often including innuendo in its lyrics. Instruments were made out of objects that could be easily found such as a tin can made into a banjo and a gourd used as a scratch, which was scraped with a piece of metal, creating that quintessential sound of the musical genre. Quelbe music is the official music of the US Virgin Islands, as it represents the history of the enslaved people of the Danish colony and their stories told through song.
“When Mahlon “Koko”Pickering came to record in December 2019, we spoke about Quelbe. I told him that I was worried that it might be considered offensive or culturally appropriating the music if I arranged it for choir and scratch band. He disagreed and we talked about what would be a good way to incorporate the choir in the sound. Mahlon came in and coached our choir and we had a fantastic time with him, trying to pin him down to agree to do something the same way twice.” – Executive Director, Kristen Carmichael-Bowers
This local legend passed away suddenly in October of 2020 and the loss dealt a devastating blow to the St. John community. But, Kristen pushed forward with her plans for this concert showcasing the roots music of St. John with the aid and advisement of other local talent…
“Haile and Warren “Addis” Smith also helped coach our choir. Haile had worked with us the year before and is the soloist for two Bob Marley songs, and Addis for the other. Each of them has their own songs featured in the program. Haile: No Worry Yah Self from an EP of the same name, and Addis’ song, “Jah Rastafari Live” from his EP, “Mercy Song.” Addis’s video “Reggae Rock” will also be included in our concert this year.” – Executive Director, Kristen Carmichael-Bowers
- Short talks from the musicians about Quelbe, Reggae, Rastafari, and the inspiration behind their music
- Reggae songs from the Virgin Islands
- “Reggae Rock” (a video by The Addis Revolution)
- Traditional Quelbe Songs including:
- “La Bega Carousel” (Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights)
- “The Monkey Song” (Mahlon “Koko” Pickering)
- “Jah Rastafari Live” (Addis Revolution- A Nyabinghi song)
If you would like a little preview of Quelbe music as featured in this concert, you can listen to the late Mahlon “Koko” Pickering performing his “Monkey Song” on Sound Cloud.
Join Kristen and the St. John Recovery Choir tomorrow night as they celebrate the life of “Koko” and the deep seeded cultural music of the Virgin Islands! The Quelbe and Reggae Concert can be viewed for free on zoom but donations will be graciously accepted to help defray the cost of sound engineering for the performance and support the musicians. Register for the zoom here and tune in Saturday night at 7PM for an immersion in the sounds and culture of St. John.