Mudcat Café message #546899 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #38525   Message #546899
Posted By: Joe Offer
11-Sep-01 - 07:29 AM
Thread Name: Cajun Mardi Gras songs
Subject: Cajun Mardi Gras begging songs
saved for expansion... These songs share numerous textual similarities. The Mardi Gras identify themselves as participating in a great voyage that occurs only once a year. They state that thegroups come from far away or, more specifically, in the first Grand Mamou song, England is identified as the point of origin. The refrain "all around the hub" in the Grand Mamou variants suggests a circular tour with the site of the evening's ball in the center. A key component of all these variants is the reference to the captain. The singers specifically request charity: chickens, grease, rice, and sugar, or they mention these items with the connotation that the impoverished group needs them for food. The beggars emphasize that they are des bonsjeune gens/des politessiens (good/polite people). In keeping with the theme of a quest, the Mardi Gras songs emphasize that the group must continue on its route by urging the captain to wave his flag thus signaling the group to move on to another site; for example, Capitaine, capitaine, voyage ton flag, la belle est loin (captain, captain, wave your flag, the sweetheart is far away), or Capitaine, capitaine, voyage ton flag, allons aller chez l'autre voisin (captain, captain, wave your flag, let's go to another neighbor's place). Lastly, all three Louisiana variants (as well as other related songs) share the theme of inviting the hosts to the evening gumbo and dance which benefits both the Mardi Gras and the greater community.
The Anse Prien Noire Mardi Gras song text is obviously adopted from the Cajun-French. However, the manner in which it is performed is indicative of the retention of African performance style. For example, Spitzer (1986) notes a major stylistic difference among the begging songs of Grand Mamou and L'anse Prien Noire. He differentiates the Creole variant in that, "this call-response chant, with partially improvised text, marks the Creole Mardi Gras as different from the Cajun Mardi Gras which emphasizes the repetition of a more standardized text to a more elaborated melody by one voice [human or instrumental]" (Spitzer 1986:484). At least one Cajun group, the counterpart to the Basile Creole Mardi Gras, performs the Mardi Gras song in similar fashion, perhaps an indication of African American call and response performance influences on Cajun performance style in that community. However, it must be noted that call and response is found in other North American French traditions, for example the Prairie du Rocher, Illinois Guignolee song.
These Mardi Gras songs are clearly related to earlier European begging songs. Two factors suggest this connection. First, as Oster and Reed (1960) noted in a pioneering article on Louisiana Mardi Gras, both variants of the Grand Mamou Mardi Gras song are "sung to the same melody, which is ancient since it has a gapped and modal scale" (Oster and Reed 1960). Thus, the indication is that, at least stylistically, these songs can be traced to France of several centuries ago.
Secondly, many lines from these variants of the Mardi Gras song are strikingly similar to continental French Mardi Gras and Guignolee songs as well as 19th-century French Canadian Guignolee and 20th-century La Chandeleur songs. For example, the notion of an annual visit is present in many Upper Mississippi Valley and Quebec Guignolee songs. The reference to a captain hearkens back to 19th-century Guignolee celebrations in Brittany, France, which mention a leader called "capitaine" or "chef' (Postic and Laurent 1986). The portrayal of the Mardi Gras as being in need of food is found in continental French Mardi Gras songs, for example, one 19th-century song text states Mardi Gras n'a pas soupe (Mardi Gras hasn't eaten) (Van Gennep 1947:897), whereas another variant informs the hosts that c'est Mardi Gras qu'est a la porte. Qui demande des crepes moVes (It's Mardi Gras who is at the door. Who requests soft pancakes) (Nogues 1891:57). Such statements are also very similar to continental French Guignolee songs which emphasize that the beggars Cherther de Ia viande.... (Seek meat) (Postic and Laurent 1986). This theme is also present in upper Mississippi Valley and Quebec vanants that request une thi~nee/echinee (pork backbone) to make afiicassee (stew) (Brassieur 1993; Gagnon 1955). Requests for foodstuffs also occur in some 20th-century Acadian La Chandeleur songs of the Canadian Maritimes; for example, Monsieur Marie a pas encore dine. Va-t-en dans ton quart me chercher du lard, va dans ta potdzine me chercher d'lafarine (Mister Marie has not yet eaten. Go bring me some bacon, go bring me some flour) (Arsenault 1982). Assurances about the good conduct of the beggars are also made in continental French Guignolee songs stating that Nous ne somme pas des maifaiteurs (We are not troublemakers) (Postic and Laurent 1986). The sense of urgency in continuing the route after each visit appears in French Guignolee songs such as the lines: Au nom de Dieu, depethez, depethez. Car nous avons encore tres loin a aller (In the name of god, hurry. We still have far to go), La route est longue et le terme est loin (The route is long and the end is far), and Allons dans une autre maison nous promener. Cherther une autres maison comme celle-d (Let's go to another house. Find another house like this one) (Postic and Laurent 1986).
Despite continental French origins, these songs are not simply pristine survivals of an earlier era but rather they demonstrate considerable in situ modification. For example, the dish gumbo, an example of cultural creolization in Louisiana, features prominently in Mardi Gras songs, a reflection of its importance as the last extravagant meal before the onset of Lent. Correspondingly, chickens, the primary ingredient of gumbo, are the item of charity most emphasized in these songs. The mention of chickens is rare in accounts of continental French Mardi Gras with the exception of begging quests in 19th-century Marne which were started after the end of communal cockfights, and Champagne where the collection of live chickens was a component of Mardi Gras (Van Gennep 1947). Chickens are a significant element of Acadian Chandeleur. For example, the leader of 19th- and early 20th-century Acadian Chandelur groups often carried a staff topped with the carved figure of a chicken (Arsenault 1982). The evening meal associated with the courir du Chanddeur included chickenfiicot (soup). However, no continental French or French Canadian song texts that refer to chickens were located.
With the exception of some continental French Guignolee songs, reference to a captain seems to be found only in Louisiana Mardi Gras songs, and mention of the capitaine's flag seems to be unique to Louisiana Mardi Gras. Reference to the capitame and his flag is a dominant theme in Louisiana Mardi Gras begging songs; this is perhaps indicative of the paramount authority wielded by Louisiana begging quest leaders in contrast to their French and French Canadian counterparts. Another Louisiana-specific distinction occurs in the variant of the Grand Mamou song stating that the group comes from England; this is most likely a local borrowing from a drinking song-derived Mardi Gras song.16 And the use of the refrain "all around the hub" does not appear in any of the numerous continental French or French Canadian songs surveyed. Likewise, an invitation to the communal gumbo and dance is found in all Louisiana begging songs but seems absent elsewhere.
this section hasn't been proofread yeat. I hope Mr. Scanner did a good job...