The Scratch Band or Quelbe and Jamesie Brewster

Subject: Art
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Word count: 1131
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Quelbe equally known as Quadrille or Scratch Band Music is a native, grass-roots type of traditional music which has its origin in the United States of America’s Virgin Islands (Jamesie Project, 2016). It has since spread to the Caribbean and as a genre of oral folk literature; lyrics emanating from it are composed for immortalizing important and remarkable medieval happenings. They were also relied upon as a means of warning one of his or her neighbor’s poor mannerisms, combat daily struggles and relay the challenges of living on an island (Jamesie Project, 2016). The word quelbe in itself means “some music” and includes the use of scratch band implements such as wind instruments (trumpet, saxophone, fife, flute, and bombadine), the percussion and the acoustic string (Francis, 2012). My goal in this paper is to expound on the genre of Quelbe and its main proponent Jamesie Brewster.

Throughout the years, acoustic string tools used have been the double bass, banjo, wash tub bass, the violin, the guitar and the ukulele. Subsequent bass producing contrivances have included the marimboula, the electric bass guitar, and the bass pipe while the percussions constituted hand drums, quiro, snare and the triangle ((Francis, 2012 p. 10). Scratch band instrumentalists would use these accompaniments to “scratch up,” blow and produce music which had a quality of crudeness to it but was intriguingly intoxicating and rhythmic ((Jamesie Project, 2016). With the Virgin Islands legislating Quelbe as its official sound in the year 2004, the storytelling of a culture that was never lost began in earnest. Scratch having originated from the slavery periods of the Islanders under the Danish rule was a West African piece of musical entertainment which metamorphosed into a European influenced classic(Jamesie Project, 2016).

Jamesie Brewster is a world renowned performer of this genre, and it is in the way in which he draws you in that keeps one glued to the sounds produced through the instruments and by the handmade tools (Neely, 2008). In St. Croix Jamesie with the help of sardine-banjo-ukulele combination drags the audience into this sound together with an outstanding background balance of an insect’s chirping reverberation. The scratch music Jamesie produced created feelings of nostalgia and enabled the visualization of sceneries from the beach and the countryside. One can see his description of the harsh historical times the slaves were exposed to and brought sympathetic emotions. Through the rhythm and instruments, depiction s of thought and ideologies unknown to their slave masters were communicated to and fro (O’Connor, 2008).  Another significant element Quelbe possesses the reflection of an ethnic diversity which in turn mirrors the cultural patrimony of the society. Besides the, conservation and maintenance of the Islands traditions are felt in the music (Francis, 2014) despite the efforts by the Danish administration of suppressing the Queble in the 1700s (Francis, 2012). With the 1900’s establishing the end and abolishment of the slave trade and the economy declination characterizing St. Croix, the song “LaBega Carousel” became very popular as it bore witness to poor living conditions at the time. Its lyrics which are highlighted below speak of a person by the name of LaBega who criticizes the notion that beggars are not eligible for a pay increase. With a formidable Crucian spirit, the lyrics are as follows.

“I rather walk and drink rum whole night

Before me go ride on LaBega Carousel

You no hear what LaBega say,

‘The people no worth more than fifteen cent a day.’

I am walking, I am looking, I am begging

Before me go ride on LaBega Carousel.”

Other notable songs Jamesie made include “Mari Bull Loose Me,” “Caroline,” and “Queen Mary,” all which address and talk about day to day life’s activities (O’Connor, 2008). The Jamesie King of Scratch documentary gives a complete life and history of this great Quelbe most excellent right from his childhood to the kind of experience gathered as a musician. Jamesie born in the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) in 1929 was exposed to a mix of bamboula rhythms and melodies coupled with carioso ballads from an early age. His definition of scratch entailed the fusion of the ancient military fife, numerous quadrilles, jigs, minutes and drum music (Tom Eader, 2004) cited in (O’Connor, 2008). Jamesie’s father, an equally reputable musician, forbade his son from playing the guitar (which he owned) thus prompting the young Jamesie to manufacture his form which he prevailed as the “king of scratch” (O’Connor, 2008). On learning the ingenuity his son had, father urged the son to keep the legacy alive, and as a result, the year 2002 saw Jamesie being honored for his long-lasting donation towards the musical legacy of the Virgin Islands.

In addition, the Quelbe demystifies music and expands creative skill in tandem with basic musical principles. The songs necessitate repository for establishing musicianship and at the same time initiating lead and solitary recreational prowess (Francis, 2012). As a broad technique, the Quelbe confers the commencement to more complex harmonized preliminaries and with the incorporation of auditorium music alignment so as to inculcate music craftsmanship. It also gives enough room and knowledge-based curriculum for those willing to excel in professional strand playing. One goal that Queble has is the invention of the mastery to be used in the playing of the tune, series and notes succession by the ear. Quelbe shows the growth and maturity of music fundamentals via a band’s playing together with a multifariousness of overall musical functionalism (Francis, 2012). These activities vary from the clapping, singing solmization, to interchanging and extemporizing, to articulating the notes and patting. It is, therefore, paramount to see that the Quelbe was devised to highlight the need for a methodology that incorporates the usage of a guitar as a cord instrument directive and that is the feeling one gets when listening to Jamesie play. The bamboula drum for example made from skins and the barks of hollowed tree trunks is performed by the periodic squeezing of the skin and the back part of the foot so as to change notes and tunes. A second drummer improvises the use of kata sticks to produce beat and cadence drum’s top back side; the strum, on the other hand, is played by played by the swiping of a single finger, a thumb and a guitar tab in a sequencing movement over closely placed strings (Francis, 2012).  In so doing, a melodious pattern is created with the drumming providing a lively atmosphere featuring spontaneous and unscripted band singing and dancing as it is the case with Jamesie and the Happy Seven group (Francis, 2014). Today’s carnival musicals that are solely influenced by counterpoint rhythm and polyrhythms evoking frantic dance movements form a semblance of the bamboula culture and tradition.

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  1. Francis, Dale. The Quelbe Commentary 1672-2012: Anthropology in Virgin Islands Music. , 2014. Print.
  2. Francis, Dale. The Quelbe Method: Music Fundamentals in Quelbe Ensembles. iUniverse, 2012.
  3. “The Jamesie Project.”The Jamesie Project.N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016
  4. Neely, Daniel T. “Jamesie’s Crucian music.” Caribbean Studies 36.2 (2008): 247-249.
  5. O’Connor, Joan. “Jamesie: King of Scratch (review).” Notes 65.1 (2008): 150-151.
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