September 7th, 2007
When most of us think of “scratch,” it brings to mind DJs spinning records. However, this new 70 min. documentary by Andrea Leland explores scratch band music (otherwise known as Quelbe), an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music that was recently declared the “official” music of the Virgin Islands. In this setting, scratch refers to “homemade instruments one can ‘scratch up’ . . . such as scratching a hollowed-out gourd with [a] hair pick, [or] picking at a banjo made from a sardine can, a piece of wood and strings.”
Leland chronicles the life of 79-year old James Brewster, known as the “King of Scratch,” and follows his group “Jamesie & the All-Stars” to various venues, from a St. Croix nightclub to Bloomington, Indiana’s Lotus Music Festival and Chicago’s World Music Festival. Additionally, the film features Jamesie and other scratch band musicians in more intimate settings, where they have an opportunity to discuss the history of this unique music and oral tradition.
Jamesie: King of Scratch is currently scheduled for screenings thoughout Europe and North America. A foundation has also been established to support the educational component of the project, which will include a teacher’s study guide and extra DVD chapters of in-depth interviews with the musicians. Copies of the DVD can be ordered directly through Leland’s website. All unedited footage and transcriptions are currently housed in the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Review Genre(s): World Music