Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | May 7, 2013

Quelbe, Folk Songs of My Youth

In my youth, I don’t remember violence in the community. What I remember most are the songs. These folk songs carry with them a legacy that can be traced back to Africa.

The melodies were simple but syncopated in a way that brought a smile to your face every time you heard them. My favorite was Queen Mary. Imagine little kids singing a protest song. The lyrics Queen Mary whe’ yo’ gon na bun. Beaming with pride we sang this song while we played feeling the spirit but not knowing the full meaning.

Every holiday season was a celebration. Mama, Bake the Johnny Cake and the Guavaberry Song were two of my favorite holiday songs. We didn’t have snow but we had great singers and musicians who celebrated culture with song. You could hear folk songs in church, in the streets and at home with family. To this day, the folk songs are sung by little kids.

But little kids can have a ball teasing each other. The song Wash Yo’ Skin in a Sardine Tin became Go Wash Yo Face in a Sardine Can. If you were not clean, you got teased…

These songs were our blues. Our way of identifying with a troubled past but finding the joy in life. These songs told stories of yesterday that were relevant to the climate of Caribbean life.

I can perform Sly Mongoose today and a Virgin Islands child will join in singing Sly mongoose dog got yo’ name/Sly mongoose oh what a shame. We will both probably laugh at the playful melody. The double entendre might be revealed but the musical fellowship instantly creates community.

Quelbe and Scratch Band are some of the terms that survived to describe what the Africans were articulating musically. Regardless of what you call it, these folk songs explain a rich history.

I think I will play through some melodies and reminisce on my childhood memories.


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