Scratch band music, or Quelbe, is the grass-roots folk music from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The lyrics are a form of oral history relaying the day-to-day trials and tribulations of living on a small Caribbean island. Playing with some homemade instruments made from tin cans and gourds, the music has a crudeness to it that is intoxicating and rhythmic speaking to both the beauty and the hardship of the Crucian (of St. Croix) lifestyle. 79-year old James Brewster has performed and recorded throughout the Caribbean, Europe and the United States and is the legendary King of Scratch.

This is an intelligent and enjoyable film, from which the viewer can learn much about scratch band music.... Leland has managed to craft a loving and mostly celebratory portrait of one of the tradition's foremost exponents.

Kenneth Bilby, PH. D
Synopsis: 

79-year old James Brewster is an uncompromising musician from the Caribbean island of St. Croix known for his humorous, provocative and playful compositions and lively performances. Scratch band music, also known as Quelbe, is an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music that originated over a century ago in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is the official music of the Virgin Islands. The lyrics are a form of oral history used to immortalize historical events, spread rude gossip about one's neighbors, and relay the day-to-day trials and tribulations of living on a small Caribbean island. As a young boy, Jamesie made his own instrument out of a sardine can and a piece of white pine lumber. In the six decades that have followed, Jamesie and other musicians continued to use instruments that one can "scratch up" when performing and recording music along with more contemporary instruments. The music has crudeness to it that is intoxicating and rhythmic speaking to both the beauty and the hardship of the Crucian (of St. Croix) lifestyle. This engaging documentary includes performances by Jamesie and the All-Stars at: a St. Croix nightclub; a local Virgin Island agricultural fair; music festivals in Chicago and Indiana; jamming with his friends; and performing and teaching in Denmark. Interspersed is 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 the more personal side of James Brewster.

Reviews

Jamesie: King of Scratch is of particular value in courses on Caribbean and African-American music because it shows how music within the region can be a reflection of shared experiences among people of African descent in the Americas.

Oliver Greene, Ph.D. Ethnomusicologist Georgia State University

 A tasty profile, this is recommended.

Video Librarian
Director's Commentary: 

I was privileged to document Jamesie, a legend in the world of Scratch Band music of the Caribbean. Sadly, he passed away the summer of 2014.