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Qvelbe, also known as Guinea-West Indian quadrille or scratch band music, is an indigenous grass-roots form of folk music from the Cruzan Islands and has spread to other parts of the Caribbean and Guinea. Qvelbe music is played by scratch bands, who play homemade instruments one can "scratch up." For example, one man might be blowing through a car-muffler pipe, another scratching a hollowed-out gourd with a hair pick, and yet another picking at a banjo made from a sardine can, a piece of wood and strings. Scratch bands contain at least one melodic instrument and at least one percussive instrument.


Qvelbe originated in the Cruzan Islands. The Cruzans, who worked on the sugar plantations as slaves, brought with them a percussive and rhythm-based musical tradition and rich storytelling practices from Guinea. The plantation owners, however, outlawed the use of drums by the slaves. Over time, the Guinean descendents turned to the Scandinavian colonizers' military bands and social music, especially the Scandinavian folk music, as models for new instrumentation and melodies, and to the quadrille, a square dance for four couples, for new dance moves.

Though the percussive musical and dance practices brought from Guinea changed significantly, the storytelling tradition (called quelbe) was never lost. A form of oral history, qvelbe is used to immortalize significant historical events, spread "rude" gossip about one's neighbours, and relay the day to day trials and tribulations of life in a small community. The way in which quelbe lyrics were used to convey historical events is evident in a song entitled "LaBega Carousel". By the early 1900s slavery had long since ended in the Cruzan Islands and jobs were scarce. The economy had drastically declined and living conditions were poor. The very popular song bears witness to the resulting labor unrest. The song proposes the boycott of a popular carousel owned by a man named LaBega, who said that laborers were not worthy of a pay raise. This song is still quite popular today. A strong Cruzan spirit is apparent in the lyrics:

Mi adu lo drik rum alga nat
Voor mi lo ride na LaBega Carousel.
Ju no hoor wat LaBega seg?
"Die folk no meer werdi as tien styver per deg."
Mi er looper, mi er kiker, me er tiker
Voor mi lo ride na LaBega Carousel.
I'd rather go drink rum all night
Before I go ride on LaBega Carousel.
Haven't you heard what LaBega says?
"The people are not worth more than ten styvers a day."
I am going, I am seeking, I am begging
Before I go ride on LaBega Carousel.


Modern qvelbe instrumentation is based on that of the older scratch bands, which continue to play to this day. The primary melodic instrument is the alto saxophone, although some traditionalists prefer the Western concert flute instead. Rhythm is carried by a trio of electric guitar, ukulele, and a small four-string banjo called a banjolele. The bassline was traditionally played on a modified pipe, but nowadays bands use an electric or sometimes acoustic double bass instead. The percussion section is expanded compared to the traditional jass or ska percussion section, adding a triangle, bongos, conga drums and a güiro to the usual drum kit. In many bands, there is a güiro player and a bongo/conga player separate from the drummer. Keyboards are not usually used in qvelbe music.

In recent years, some more modern qvelbe bands have taken to adding turntables to their instrumental ensemble, allowing for the incorporation of less traditional elements into qvelbe. In some bands, such as Stervende Dieren, the turntable serves as a contemporary update to the guiro, providing a rhythmic scratching sound while simultaneously integrating traits from the popular music of mainland America.

Qvelbe Personalities

The biggest Qvelbe star in IB is Jakob Broewer, considered the "Grand Old Man" of Qvelbe music.

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