Music

Central to what makes the Caribbean Quadrilles distinctive and sets them apart from their European roots is the music used. Whether melodic and led by the violin, or rhythmical and driven by drums, the music of each island Quadrille is a vital element that shapes each dance’s distinct identity. Each region developed its musical styles fusing the African and European cultures into a unique result.

As music styles developed and taste with them, a wider range of music is now used to dance the Quadrille. Practitioners mention that different types of music are used to accommodate the tastes of the audience and to open the dance up more.

St Lucia

In the music for the St Lucian Quadrille the violin rules supreme. The melodies requiring great skill are supported by the guitar, the cuatro and the shack-shack. This arrangement is fairly set and preserves the traditional music of the island across generations. On occasion other instruments are introduced, such as the trumpet or the keyboard.

‘There were four main instruments. The lead instrument is the violin which provides the harmony of the tune. Then we have the cuarto which is a four stringed banjo and it provides the rhythm of the tune. Then we have the shack-shack, which is a can filled with seeds, which is our local version of a rattle. The fourth instrument is the acoustic guitar, used for the base line. There was an instrument called the Bah-ha, which is a long pole, they used to use, but I never saw it past my eighth birthday’.
‘A market has opened where there is CDs with Quadrille music. It can be very spicy or graceful; all traditional music appeals to our inner psyche based on our African ancestry.’

Andrew Scott, founder member of Les Danseur Traditionelles de St. Lucie

‘They [enslaved people] were not even allowed to beat the drums, so they improvised and made things out of sticks, bamboos and any natural thing they could find.’

Monica Ferdinand, Quadrille performer

Jamaica

Mento is the traditional music for Quadrille and is still widely – but not exclusively – used for the dance.

Mento music grew out of the cultural melting pot along with the dances in Jamaica. Dating back to the late 19th Century and with its roots in African traditions, Mento was the forerunner to ska and reggae music that became very popular in the 1940s-1950s.

Instruments used can vary in both number and range. Usually the main instruments are a banjo, a guitar for rhythm, a rumba box (marimba), the Mbira, a hand drum and maracas. There is no hard and fast rule however and this is reflected in variations across the island.

When sung, mento is similar to kaiso which originated in West Africa and has its roots in the griot traditions of African music.

‘The camp style Quadrille has evolved. It isn’t static at all. Throughout Jamaica in all the different parishes…you will find people dancing to the local music.’

Beverley Bogle, JANUKA

‘A market has opened where there is CDs with Quadrille music. It can be very spicy or graceful; all traditional music appeals to our inner psyche based on our African ancestry.’

Andrew Scott, founder member of Les Danseur Traditionelles de St. Lucie

‘And what we’ve found is that you can dance Quadrille to any music, really. And the young people that have attended our performances, especially the ones in the park, they wanted to hear some type of music that belonged to them. And so we dance Quadrille to their music. And they rave.’

Beverley Bogle, JANUKA