Island Tunes

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ST.JOHN, VIRGIN ISLANDS – Music sings in the heart of every virgin Islander. It is a vital part of island life, and you will find a remarkable range of musical styles as diverse as the island’s people. A mix of African, French, Latin and other musical styles merged together in an ever-evolving art form that blands cultures past and present into a hip-swaying, pulsing college of harmonies.

Quelbe was declared the official music of the Virgin Islands by Governor Turnbull in 2003. Law now requires that it be taught in local schools. Quelbe is a medley of both European and African music of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Original Quelbe bands for makeshift affairs with homemade flutes and bass drums but grew to include guitars, tambourines, squash, banjo ect. Songs were often stories, gossip and commentaries reflecting island life. 

Quadrille is a form of line dancing that often accompanies music. It was derived from the old European quadrille and transformed in to a distinctive island dance reminiscent of old time reels and square dancing. It is common to see the twirling Madras costumes of a quadrille during Carnival and other festivities. It is an integral part of island culture.

 Some of the more popular Island tunes come in the form of calypso, which was born as a means of expressing the hardships  of slavery and stems from the island of Trinidad. It has evolved in to a spirited, tonque-in-cheek observation about local events, scandals and politics.

Soca combined calypso with a bit of modern soul while zouk has the distinctive flair of the French Antilles. 

Fungi, sometimes referred to as scratch band music, is native to the British Virgin Islands and is characterised by a variety of homemade instruments for a fun old-fashioned sound. 

Image by Joëlle Ortet

Steel Pan is an island tradition. Oil drums are cut in half, methodically dented and struck with mallets to produce a unique clear sound that is synonymous with the tropical setting. From traditional calypso to classical overtures, steel pan bands play a surprising repertoire of musical styles. Many local schools are proud of their steel pan bands, and the musical youth group.

There is a large Latin influence in island music, sometimes provocative, always lively. Salsa dance music hails from Puerto Rico and Cuba, whereas the energetic dance rhythms of the merengue waft across the waters from Latin Islands such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

 The steady pulse  of reggae has skyrocketed in popularity  throughout the World, with such iconic voices such as Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. Lyrics tend towards yearnings of freedom and redemption and are entwined with a hypnotic mellow beat. Island music doesn’t stop there. You can also find soul, rhythm and blues, jazz, rock and just about any other musical style you care to hear. Even the territories anthem the Virgin Islands March was composed by Martin Adams senior, a contemporary and student of John Philip Sousa, famed marching band composer. Island Tunes


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Other simiar stories: MartiniqueBermudaCaribbeanUS Virgin islands

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10 thoughts on “Island Tunes

    1. Thank you for your comment.The USVI consist of 4 larger islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island, and some 50 smaller islets and cays. You can book an exciting tour there, explore hidden historic gems in small island towns, go for a shopping, or simply lay on the beach and swim all day long. A destination that has no real “off-season,” the islands’ average winter temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius provides perfect beach weather all year long.

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    1. Virgin Islands would be a great choice, lots of cute little stores (mom and pop shops, especially antique jewelry stores) and good restaurants. I would walk from shop to shop, there are people everywhere, it’s pretty crowded. Very nice beaches. Lots to do, eat and you have easy access to surrounding islands.

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    1. Thank you Nancy on your energetic comment. You probably know well how the parties go on down the Caribbean Islands. In the Virgin Islands you can hear and dance on Caribbean rhythms, intoxicating steel drums, high-energy dance music, spiritual hymns, soca, reggae, blues, salsa, meringue … a lot of different styles!

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