Jan. 29, 2004 – Many Virgin Islanders have known all along that it's part of the culture; on Friday, the whole world can know: Quelbe is the official music of the Virgin Islands.
At a 10 a.m. ceremony at Government House, Christiansted, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull will sign into law Bill No. 25-0056, making it Act No. 6642, designating quelbe as the official music of the Virgin Islands.
Most likely every resident has heard quelbe, whether they've identified it by name or not: Stanley Jacobs — of Six Pack and of Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights — has long been an ambassador, a proponent, and a practitioner of the special V.I. sound: serious drumming, percussion, banjo, guitar, flute, embellished tailpipe. The instruments and consequently the sounds have evolved since the use of music as a means of coded communication took hold in slave days.
Quelbe, fungi, scratch band — it's long been performed by Jacobs, James "Jamesie" Brewster, Sylvester "Blinky" McIntosh and others, and it's long been performed and heard and danced to at St. Croix Festivals.
The ceremony at Government House will feature Stanley and the Knights, the Claude O. Markoe Elementary School Quelbe Band, the St. Croix Heritage Dancers, and a historical account of quelbe by local musician-historian Dimitri Copeman. It's open to the public, although RSVPs are requested to 773-1404. Cultural attire – in particular, the special madras worn by Virgin Islanders – is also requested.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Lorraine Berry and Emmett Hansen II, with five more senators as co-sponsors, and was passed by the 25th Legislature at the Jan. 20 regular session, said a release from Government House.
A release from Malone states: "This is a significant step in the right direction for the United States Virgin Islands for two primary reasons. First, it represents a unique opportunity for Virgin Islanders to re-identify with our own cultural identity. For too long, many aspects of Virgin Islands culture have just faded into the background."
And secondly, "this would help the U.S. Virgin Islands distinguish itself from other places in the world in competition for tourism business. Just like Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Trinidad & Tobago have distinguished themselves in promoting their unique music cultures, so can the Virgin Islands with its very own unique quelbe music." Malone continues with a warning that the Virgin Islands must prepare itself to compete with Cuba's coming tourism.
As well as at Festival, the sound has been featured during the past year in a Jumbie Productions show, "Quelbe Past & Present." First presented to a Rotary International audience, in September it was staged to a full house in the Fort Frederik courtyard (see "'The best way to preserve culture is to live it'") and, reportedly, also entertained the recent judges' conference. For a 1999 series on quelbe music, input the term "quelbe" in the search box at the top of the Source's Music section.
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