Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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At their merry meetings and midnight festivals, they are not without ballads of another kind, adapted to such occasions, and here they give full scope to a talent for ridicule which is exercised not only against each other but also, not infrequently, at the expense of their owner or employer; but most part of their songs at these places are fraught with obscene ribaldry and ac­companied with dances in the highest degree licentious and wanton.
That was in the eighteenth century, when vast numbers of the slaves were African by birth. At the end of the nineteenth century Hearn found that satire was still a prominent element in the songs of the black people of Martinique. He is speaking of the blanchisseuses, hard at work early in the morning in the rushing river at St. Pierre.
The air grows warmer; the sky blue takes fire; the great light makes joy for the washers; they shout to each other from distance to distance, jest, laugh, sing. Gusty of speech these women are; long habit of calling to one another through the roar of the torrent has given their voices a singular sonority and force; it is well worth while to hear them sing. One starts the song, the next one joins her; then another and another, till all the channel rings with the melody from the bridge of the Jardin des Plantes to the Pont-bois:
"C'est, mom. qui te, ka lave,
Passe, raccommode;
Y te nef he disout,
Ou mette moin derho,
Yche mom assous bouas moin;
Laphe te ka tombe
Lejan moin assous tete mom;
Doudoux, ou m'abandonne;
Mom pa ni pesonne pou soigne mom."
("It was I who washed and ironed and mended; at 9 o'clock at night thou didst put me out of doors, with my child in my arms; the rain was falling, with my poor straw mattress upon my headl Doudoux! thou dost abandon me I . . . I have none to care for me."). ... A melancholy chant— originally a carnival improvisation made to bring public shame upon the perpetrator of a cruel act; but it contains the story of many of these lives— the story of industrious, affectionate women temporarily united to brutal and worthless men in a country where legal marriages are rare. Half of the Creole songs which I was able to collect during a residence of nearly two years in the island touch upon the same sad theme.
Of the carnival, at which these satirical songs spring up like poisonous fungi, Hearn draws a vivid picture, pro­jecting it with terrible dramatic effect against an account of a plague of smallpox. There is a last masquerade before Lent, on Ash Wednesday—the carnival lasts a day longer in Martinique than anywhere else. Since January there has been dancing every day in the streets of St. Pierre; such dancing as might be indulged in, presumably, by decorous persons; but in the country districts African
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