Mudcat Café message #546901 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #38525   Message #546901
Posted By: Joe Offer
11-Sep-01 - 07:29 AM
Thread Name: Cajun Mardi Gras songs
Subject: Cajun Mardi Gras songs

Louisiana Mardi Gras songs fall into two categories. The first genre discussed in this paper obviously have origins in continental French and French Canadian drinking songs. The second type, begging songs, share themes with continental French and French Canadian Mardi Gras, Guignolee, and Chandeleur songs. The similarities among these songs is due to several factors: probable borrowing across traditions in France and in Canada, or, considering their common theme, parallel developments in song texts. The begging songs used in Louisiana Mardi Gras, or portions of them, diffused from France to Louisiana, or equally plausible, from Canada or the upper Midwest. Because Mardi Gras was the only holiday that developed with a begging quest in Louisiana, it could have served as a mixing pot of song texts from different customs introduced at different times. Elements of these songs could be adopted by different communities and then changed through oral transmission or they were consciously changed for a unique sound just like the Mardi Gras songs derived from drinking songs. Other changes reflect adaptation to Louisiana, for example, the reference to gumbo and correspondingly a strong emphasis on chickens in begging songs.
Why some communities became distinguished by begging songs and others by those derived from drinking songs is difficult to ascertain. However, this distinction may be linked to the desire to develop a new Mardi Gras song based on the modification of a drinking song rather than directly borrowing an existing begging song. The geographical origin of French settlers must also be considered. For example, the northern prairie region of Louisiana, where begging songs are so common, was initially peopled by non-Acadian French settlers (Brasseaux 1992). The southern and central portion of the prairie region where drinking song texts are/were utilized have historically had high concentrations of inhabitants of Acadian descent (Brasseaux 1992; Sexton 1996). Also, as proposed earlier, communities may have purposely modified Mardi Gras songs found in other settlements in order to distinguish their custom. This is perhaps the best explanation for differences between the Mardi Gras songs of Tee Mamou and Grand Marais and it also offers insight into why begging songs differ from community to community. Of course, some differences in song texts also occurred through the course of oral transmission of the songs. Despite the great contrasts between the two types of Mardi Gras songs, there was obviously some borrowing across these categories, for example, the theme that the Mardi Gras come from England.
Song texts obviously exhibit change through time, but communities often assume that their songs have persisted in an unchanged form. This assumption should not be surprising. As Lindahl (1996a) notes, a community will acknowledge that their Mardi Gras tradition is of great antiquity, but specific knowledge of the tradition is based on the Mardi Gras practices of recent generations. Thus, subtle changes become codified through time. Unfortunately, because of the oral nature of these songs and the dearth of historical information on the subject, the specific details of these various musicological transformations may never be fully documented. However, the analysis provided clearly demonstrates the complex processes behind the evolution of the various songs that still echo across southwest Louisiana during Mardi Gras.