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Quick Guide to Virgin Islands Music

November 3, 2023 | Britnie Turner

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) are separate Caribbean territories that share common colonial history and musical influences. These musical influences reflect the island groups’ rich cultural histories and provide an opportunity to learn about the vibrancy and rhythm of Caribbean island life.

Quelbe (called fungi in the BVI) is the most iconic local music style that can be heard throughout the islands. Locals traditionally performed this style on improvised instruments made from gourds and everyday objects. Today, modern influences and instruments have reshaped traditional folk sounds but continue to play an essential role in expressing the island groups’ histories and local traditions.

Virgin Islands History: A Brief Overview

The U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands can sometimes get mixed up because of their geographical proximity and similar names. They also share some colonial heritage. However, the difference between the USVI and BVI is that the USVI is a U.S. territory, while the BVI is a British overseas territory. The two island groups also differ in governance, legal systems, and cultural influences. 

The Caribbean islands that were colonized by European powers, such as the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish, are referred to historically as the West Indies. These include the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the U.S Virgin Islands, which were owned by Denmark until 1917 when they were sold to the United States.

The West Indies also played an integral part in the transatlantic slave trade as enslaved Africans were brought to the islands to work on plantations. According to experts, the roots of African-American musical styles are a direct result of enslaved people being separated from their homelands, unfavorable working conditions, and the need to express emotion through music. Because of these factors, Virgin Island music is influenced by both African and European history as well as more recent North American cultural influences. 

Popular Virgin Islands Music Styles

Where Can I Enjoy Traditional Virgin Island Music?

Whether you plan to vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands or the British Virgin Islands, there are several places where you can sit back and enjoy traditional Virgin Island music. Popular venues include local bars and restaurants, such as The Beach Bar in St. Thomas, and live music events like the annual St. John Arts Festival and various cultural parades. 

On the British Virgin Islands, you can visit the Paradise Club Lounge Bar & Restaurant on Tortola to take in the buzzing beats of local bands and Virgin Island artists who play fungi. Some luxury hotels and health and wellness resorts go above and beyond to create memorable and immersive experiences for their guests by hosting music events. This might include inviting local musicians to perform traditional music or even hosting exclusive concerts in intimate settings.

Popular Virgin Islands Music Styles

The Virgin Islands, including the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have vibrant music scenes that feature a wide range of music styles stemming from their rich and diverse histories. These music styles are often referred to as “pan-Caribbean,” as they have been influenced by musical styles from neighboring islands. 

The following are some of the most prominent music styles that can be heard at festivals, venues, or even on street corners in the Virgin Islands.

Fungi and Quelbe Music

The traditional music of the Virgin Islands is quelbe, also called scratch or fungi. Quelbe music is a form of topical folk song and is considered the official music of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fungi (which is essentially the same as quelbe) is the official music of the British Virgin Islands. A fungi or quelbe band typically consists of a banjo, conga drum, gourd, washboard, and triangle, but saxophone and flute can also often be heard. Traditionally, quelbe bands would use homemade instruments such as a car exhaust pipe, known as an “ass pipe,” because its sound is similar to a donkey when it is blown into, and a banjo made from an old sardine can.

British Virgin Islands Music

Quelbe was most likely derived from sugar plantations, where enslaved people used the materials they had at hand to provide a rhythm and melody to which they could tell stories, share jokes, and spread gossip. It has a lively and joyful beat and is considered great dance music. Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Knights is a popular scratch band from the Virgin Islands. Known for their energetic performances and unique blend of Caribbean and reggae music, they have gained a local and international fan base. “LaBega Carousel” and “Queen Mary” are two popular quelbe songs that relate to historical events that took place on the island of St. Croix.


Calypso is an upbeat and lively Afro-Caribbean style of music that came to life in Trinidad and Tobago in the mid-19th century. Today, this infectious story-telling music style has been imported into the Virgin Island music scene. It often shows up in big island festivals and carnival celebrations.

Reggae Music

Reggae music is distinguished by its African rhythms and patterns, which include a slow tempo, a prominent bass line, and melodic guitar strums. The reggae scene thrives throughout the Virgin Islands, particularly in St. Croix. The Virgin Islands’ culture is greatly influenced by reggae music, often connected to pleasant and carefree island vibes. 


Another popular music style in the Virgin Islands is soca, which originated in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a mash-up of calypso and other genres, such as Indian music and reggae. Soca music is distinguished by its fast-paced rhythms, energetic beats, and upbeat lyrics. It is frequently heard at festivals and parties in the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands has been home to several well-known soca bands. Among the oldest and most respected are: Milo & The Kings, Mandingo Brass, Imaginations Brass, and Eddie & the Movements. 


Hip-hop vocalists are known for their poetic chanting or “rapping,” a style of speaking or chanting lyrics. Hip-hop, which has its roots in the African-American and Latino communities of the Bronx, is quickly gaining popularity across the Virgin Islands. 

Some notable Virgin Islands artists known for this genre include hip-hop duo Rock City from St. Thomas, singer-songwriter “Iyaz” from Tortola, and Puerto Rican rapper, singer, and composer Verse Simmonds from St. Thomas.

Immerse Yourself in the Rich Melodies of the Virgin Islands

Virgin Island music’s upbeat and lively genres reflect the Virgin Islands’ diverse past and cultural influences. Rooted in African, Caribbean, and European melodies alongside a growing North American influence, Virgin Island music includes everything from calypso and reggae to modern-day hip-hop.

When planning your next trip to the Virgin Islands, make sure you keep an ear out for the various types of music played on the islands. From there, sit back and enjoy the memorable melodies contributing to the locals’ sense of pride and place.