Award-winning filmmaker Andrea E. Leland collaborated with James Brewster to create a 70-minute documentary and archiving project. The result of their collaboration is a spirited musical journey to the Caribbean focusing on Scratch band music (also known as Quelbe) , an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music from the Virgin Islands that was recently declared the “official” music of the Virgin Islands.

79-year old James Brewster, the central character of this documentary, is an uncompromising, humorous, and provocative musician known for his playful compositions and lively performances and is the legendary “King of Scratch”

This engaging documentary includes performances by Jamesie and the All-Stars at a St. Croix nightclub; an agricultural fair on St. Croix; the World Music Festival and the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago; the Lotus Music Festival in Bloomington, Indiana; jamming with his friends; and performing and teaching in Denmark. Interspersed with these performances is more intimate footage of Jamesie talking with other musicians about the historical significance of the music and explaining how he came to create some of his songs and footage at his home revealing his more personal side . The documentary celebrates Scratch band music and one of it's most legendary performers. It provides a unique opportunity to view up close and personal the US Virgin Islands' deep-rooted musical tradition .

Project Significance:

While the US Virgin Islands are an extremely popular tourist destination, few tourists know of the rich cultural traditions of the people native to the islands . With virtually no representation in the popular media, the deep roots and cultural traditions of the Virgin Islands are either unknown or are considered only as a form of light entertainment. Instead, most tourists hear nicely packaged and easily digestible sounds while dining beachside at their comfortable resorts.

The rich musical style of Quelbe is a testimony to the oral tradition of the Caribbean people. The music and lyrics have long served to reinforce a sense of community, identity and history. Using song as a way to tell their stories, the Virgin Islanders passed on the stories of important events in their lives. The music provides a fine example of the complex textural mixture of African, European and Amerindian cultures, all of which have left their mark on these Caribbean islands.

North American culture is quickly taking over the islands, leaving folk traditions such as Quelbe marginalized and changing form rapidly. As younger generations of Virgin Islanders lose interest in their native culture and Quelbe musicians get older, it is urgent that the historically significant form of Quelbe music be documented. While several Quelbe CDs have been recorded, knowledge of the Virgin Island's folkloric musical traditions is not widely known among the American public. The literature on this music is scarce; most of the recorded oral histories (collected in the 1970's) are housed solely in a library on St. Thomas . There is no comprehensive video documentation of Quelbe and its major figures. The Virgin Islander's rich cultural heritage is crucial to the understanding of the settling of the Americas and deserves the attention this documentary provides.

A study-guide and DVD chapters to accompany the documentary will be developed to be used for educational purposes. Copies of all unedited footage and transcriptions are currently in the Center for Black Music Archives in Chicago. Contact: for more information. These archives will facilitate cultural preservation and opportunities for further research. Funds are being sought to duplicate all archival materials and place them in the University of the Virgin Islands library.


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