Ten sleepless knights keep the culture alive through traditional music and dance workshops

Young girls and boys participate in the Crucian Festival with the Ten Sleepless Knights Cultural Committee dressed in traditional Quadrille clothing. – (Photo by KGP Virgin Islands)

Kendell Henry, percussionist for the legendary Ten Sleepless Knights, sat down to talk about the Academy of Culture’s motto of sharing and preserving the culture of the Virgin Islands.

Starting March 5, 2022, the Academy of Culture will host a series of weekly workshops on Quelbe and Masquerade Music and Quadrille and Masquerade Dance. The workshop will run every Saturday through September 2022 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The series is sponsored by a grant from the Holy Cross Foundation for Community Development.

Registration takes place every Saturday in February between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the St. George Village Botanical Gardens, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. This cultural preservation workshop is in partnership with the Botanical Garden where the series will take place.

This is one of the ways the Ten Sleepless Knights contribute to the community by educating about the history and different aspects of cultural dance and music.

Today, quelbe is the “official” sound of the Virgin Islands, composed of squash (gourd grater), steel (triangle), flute and banjo uke, to the rhythm of an electric keyboard, drums , a conga and an electric bass. Quelbe is an indigenous and popular form of folk music that originated in the US Virgin Islands and has spread to other parts of the Caribbean. It was used as a form of oral history, documenting significant historical events and the daily trials and tribulations of island life. In 2004, the Virgin Islands Legislature passed a bill making Quelbe the official music of the Virgin Islands.

Young girls and boys participate in the Crucian Festival with the Ten Sleepless Knights Cultural Committee dressed in traditional Quadrille clothing. – (Photo by KGP Virgin Islands)

This series of unique and culturally rich workshops is paired with quadrille and masquerade dance. The quadrille is the traditional dance of the U.S. Virgin Islands, originating in France in the 1700s. As the dance is performed, the dancers are instructed in the particular moves to be performed by the “ringmaster” or “caller”. », often in French. The music of Quelbe was born from the fusion of Bamboula songs, Caruso songs, military fife, jigs and various quadrilles. The usual wear during the Quadrille dance is the madras.

Madras has long been the traditional print worn by male and female dancers. The official VI Madras was commissioned by local textile designer Debbie Sun through a 2016 grant from the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts. On June 5, 2021, the Virgin Islands Arts Council unveiled the official Madras of the United States Virgin Islands at the Frederick Dorsch Cultural Center in Frederiksted.

“We want to invite community members to come and learn the art of Culture VI,” Henry said. “We feel it [is] important to share and preserve our culture because [is] who we are as Virgin Islanders.

The series will include workshops that teach how to play traditional quelbe music, how to dance the quadrille, how to tie the madras headgear, and the history of music and dance. There are plans to encourage the next generation of Virgin Islanders to become involved in culture. Mr. Henry invited all ages and all parents to participate with their young children.

The Quelbe and Masquerade music instructors will include members of the Ten Sleepless Knights, and the Quadrille and Masquerade dance will be taught by the Ten Sleepless Knights Cultural Committee of female and male volunteers. An annual scholarship is also offered through the non-profit organization Ten Sleepless Knights to 3-4 students per year pursuing music studies. M. Henry noted that there are hopes of expanding the workshops to St. Thomas and St. John, but currently there is not enough funding.

For registration information or to donate, contact 340-473-3561 or [email protected]

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