Ten Sleepless Knights Keeping 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 wear. – (Photo by KGP Virgin Islands)

Kendell Henry, percussion player, of the legendary Ten Sleepless Knights sat down to speak about the Academy of Culture’s motto to share and preserve Virgin Islands culture.

Beginning March 5, 2022, 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 through a grant by the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development.

Registrations are every Saturday in February between 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at St. George Village Botanical Gardens, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. This cultural preservation workshop is in partnership with the Botanical Gardens where the series will be conducted.

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

Today, quelbe is the “official” sound of the Virgin Islands, consisting of squash (gourd rasp), steel (triangle), flute, and banjo uke, within the rhythm of electric keyboard, drum set, conga, and electric bass. quelbe is an indigenous, grass-roots form of folk music that originated in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has spread to other parts of the Caribbean. It has been used as a form of oral history, immortalizing significant historical events and the day-to-day trials and tribulations of life on an island. 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 wear. – (Photo by KGP Virgin Islands)

This unique, culturally-rich workshop series is paired with Quadrille and masquerade dance. Quadrille is the traditional dance of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which originated in France in the 1700s. As the dance is performed, the dancers are told what particular moves to perform by the “floor master” or the “caller,” often in the French language. Quelbe music was created from the fusion of Bamboula chants, Caruso songs, military fife, jigs, and the various quadrilles. Customary wear during the Quadrille dance is madras.

Madras has long been the traditional print that is worn both by male and female dancers. The official V.I. Madras was commissioned to be made by locally-raised textile designer Debbie Sun through a 2016 grant awarded by the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts. On June 5th, 2021, the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts unveiled the official Madras of the Virgin Islands of the United States at the Frederick Dorsch Cultural Center in Frederiksted.

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

The series will include workshops that teach how to play traditional quelbe music, how to dance quadrille, how to tie the madras headpiece and the history of the music and dance. It is anticipated to encourage the next generation of Virgin Islanders to be involved in culture. Mr. Henry welcomed all ages and parents to participate with their young children.

The instructors of quelbe and masquerade music will include members of the Ten Sleepless Knights, and the quadrille and masquerade dance will be taught by the Ten Sleepless Knights Cultural Committee made up of women and men volunteers. An annual scholarship is also provided through the Ten Sleepless Knights non-profit to 3-4 students per year who are pursuing music education. Mr . Henry noted there are hopes to expand workshops to St. Thomas and St. John, but currently, there isn’t enough funding.

For more information on registration or to donate, contact 340-473-3561 or tsk.scholarship@tensleeplessknights.com.