Monday, May 20, 2013

Creolization, cultural hybridity -- misc. notes & links ** UPDATED 3x (at least) and counting **

A cultural studies motif pioneered by Scandinavian scholars that I first came across in, ya sure, a book on "polkabilly" bands in the upper Midwest ... and found useful in finessing some of the controversy over origins of the spirituals, "plantation songs," etc.

Ulf Hannerz, "Flows, Boundaries and Hybrids: Keywords in Transnational Anthropology." Published in Portugese as "Fluxos, fronteiras, hibrids: palavras-chave da antropologia transnacional" Mana (Rio de Janeiro), 3(1): 7-39, 1997.

H: Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

Anyway, here we are now, with hybridity, collage, mélange, hotchpotch, synergy, bricolage, creolization, mestizaje, mongrelization, syncretism, transculturation, third cultures and what have you; some terms used perhaps only in passing as summary metaphors, others with claims to more analytical status, and others again with more regional or thematic strongholds. Mostly they seem to suggest a concern with cultural form, cultural products (and conspicuously often, they relate to domains of fairly tangible cultural materials, such as language, music, art, ritual or cuising); some appear more concerned with process than others. [13]

n17 ... cf. Wolf's mestizo -- Christopher Waterman's study of juju ... "Popular cultural styles in Africa, argues Waterman (1990:8-9), "have rarely trickled down from the Western-educated elites or bubbled up from an autochtonous wellspring"; they are more often pioneered by an intermediate, cosmopolitan layer of artisans, laborers, sailors, railway workers, drivers, teachers and clerks. These are the people who are "characteristically adept at interpreting multiple languages, cultural codes and value systems, skills which enable them to construct styles that express shifting patterns of urban identity." And among them, then, are the musicians - "highly mobile and positioned at important interstices in heterogeneous urban societies, they force new styles and communities of taste, negotiating cultural differences through the musical manipulation of symbolic associations". [18]

Also, this: "... as I have said somewhere else, when you take an intellectual ride on a metaphor, it is important that you know where to get off." [6] (metaphor is culture as flow)

James P. Leary, Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music. New York: Oxford UP, 2006.

In their introduction to an issue of the Journal of American Folklore devoted to the topic, editors Robert Baron and Ann C. Cara declare, "Creolization is cultural creativity in process. ... Baron and Cara go on to enumerate distinctly creole musical forms ("jazz, salsa, calypso ... the tango, the mambo, the samba"), while they and fellow contributors located creolization in tropical climes where European traders, soldiers, missionaries, and colonizers encountered African, Arab, and East and American Indian peoples -- implicitly suggesting that cultural fermentation occurs only amid extreme heat and humidity.

Surely their "cultural and critical lens" would neither fod up nor freeze if refocused to include the Upper Midwest. Here, putatively superior Anglo-American elites were never completely successful in forcing the assimilation of supposedly inferior Woodland Indian and European immigrant peoples. Here, musical interactions have long been distinguished by egalitarianism, by freewheeling accommodation and blending across complex boundaries. Here reside North Coast creoles. (12)

* * *

As neighbors on farms, along lake shores and river banks, in and about small towns, in mining locations, in urban working-class neighborhoods, or as seasonal laborers in lumber cams, hop-picking fields, and cranberry bogs, Upper Midweserners traded songs and tunes, forging a new regional style that creatively fused their cultural and linguaistic similarities and differences. (13)

* * *

Indeed in the industrialized backwoods towns and hamlets of the Lake Superior region -- where farmers, miners, factory hands, merchants, dock [17] workers, and sailors mingled - successful working musicians of whatever background acquired new songs, tunes, and styles partly out of curiosity and partly because of the shifting demands of their diverse audiences. ... [16-17]

* * *

Nor was the [Scandinavian, German, Slavic and old-stock American] musical mix appreciably different in the rolling hills and farmland of the Upper Midwest's lower reaches. The creolization of sounds and dance steps had commenced by the mid-nineteenth century in the river, mining and farming communities on both sides of the Mississippi River where Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin flank and link with each other. ... [17]

Thomas Hyand Eriksen, (1999) “Tu dimunn pu vinn kreol: The Mauritanian creole and the concept of creolization”

In an era of global mass communication and capitalism, creolisation can be identified nearly everywhere in the world, but there are important differences as to the degree of mixing. … In spite of the differences, there are some important resemblances between the various conceptualisations of "the creole", which resonate with the theoretical concept of creolisation: Creoles are uprooted, they belong to the New World, are the products of some form of mixing, and are contrasted with that which is old, deep and rooted. …

A very relevant aspect of Creole identity, as opposed to other collective, ethnic identities in Mauritius, is its fluidness and openness. It is sometimes said that "many Creoles look like Indians nowadays", and it is true that many Mauritians with Christian names and a "Creole" family structure, Creole networks and a creole way of life do look vaguely Indian. This is caused both by conversions and by intermarriage. In general, Creoles are more tolerant of intermarriage than other Mauritian groups, and it is to some extent possible to become a Creole within one’s own lifetime -- while one cannot conceivably become a Hindu, a Sino-Mauritian or a Franco-Mauritian. The fuzzy category of Mauritian Creoles thus includes both the traditional Creoles, that is dark-skinned working-class people most of whose ancestors were slaves, and a residual category of modern or postmodern Creoles, who are Creoles because they do for various reasons not fit in elsewhere. …

Yim Tan Lisa Wong, "Hybridity & Postcolonial Music." 1997. Postcolonial Studies @ Emory

Examples of musical hybrids abound as the post-colonial period of history reigns. The colonized and the colonists affected and influenced one another. The diaspora of migrants contribute to the fusion of different cultures’ musical instruments, structure, and sound. The result of the hybrid musical forms demonstrates a new world sound, one that can not be compartmentalized according to land, language, and political borders. Read more:

Robert Christgau, "Juju Beats: The Rise and Rise of African Music." Village Voice Nov. 1990.

Review of JUJU: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music / By Christopher Alan Waterman (University of Chicago Press) and AFRICAN ROCK: The Pop Music of a Continent / By Chris Stapleton and Chris May (E.P. Dutton)

... African pop genres are compellingly paradigmatic subcultural forms--usually shaped, as Waterman emphasizes, not from below by "the people" or from above by "the artist," but by displaced, uprooted seekers who fight for their identities by riding the waves of cultural flux. And to a subset of European and American listeners who've been immersed in mediated African rhythmic and vocal ideas all their lives, they're also compelling as pure music. ...

Good directory page by Foot-Notes, a Norwegian-American dance band in northeastern Iowa near Decorah, with lots of Norwegian and upper Midwest links at ...

Among the links is one to "The [Norwegian-American] Old-Time Music Scene Today" by Philip Nusbaum, an excerpt from a 1988 Minnesota Historical Society project, available on the Rivers of Song website from the 1998 PBS series at

While this recording emphasizes Norwegian tunes, many of the players involved have eclectic musical backgrounds. Typically, they not only attended Scandi- navian entertainments but those of other groups as well. In the 1940s and 1950s, many listened to broad- casts of German-American and country music. Some of their repertoire shows the effects of such exposure. Ar-chie Tiegen, for example, picked up "Mariechen Waltz" from broadcasts of the famed German-style band led by Whoopee John Wilfahrt of New Ulm." (30) Tunes such as "'Gary Polka," played here by the Erskine Olde Tymers, and "Life in the Finnish Woods" are cur-rent in the repertoires of Norwegian and other ethnic based old-time musicians throughout Minnesota. Songs from American popular tradition, such as "Red Wing," "Love Letters in the Sand," and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, 3-31 as well as American hoedown numbers such as "Soldier's joy" and "Ragtime Annie" also have found their way into the repertoire of old-time musicians. Members of The Bjorngjeld Family grew up in North Dakota listening to old-time music both locally and over the radio, along with broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. The result of these early influences is a synthesis. It is not necessarily a tune's origins, but the style of playing-- the fiddle/ accordion lead over a string band and/or piano accompaniment-- that accounts for the Norwegian old-time "feel" of most of these recordings.
... from Norwegian-American Music from Minnesota: Old Time and Traditional Favorites by Philip Nusbaum. Companion booklet to the music recording published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and the Minnesota State Arts Board. (blurb at"targt="_blank">

From Creoles of Color of the Gulf South (1996) By: James H Dormo. Quoted on zydeco page in website at

In America, both European and African cultures were far from home, on new ground. Settlers learned some old ways from each other and made up lots of new ways for themselves as they carved out a new world on the frontier. Among the most important influences in this new blend was percussion. This new music was hard-driving, polyrhythmic dance music. This critical African tradition may also have been reinforced by an overlap with Native American drumming. In any case, it survived to provide a beat for zydeco and Cajun music, as well as for rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, hip hop, and other black-influenced American music styles. Zydeco, zarico, zodico, zordico, and even zologo represent a few of the spellings used by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, record producers, and filmmakers, as well as dance hall owners and fans, to transcribe the word performers use to describe Louisiana's Creole French music. The word Creole, which originally meant simply "native or homegrown, not imported," served, among other things; to distinguish African slaves from the more valuable Creole slaves.

In South Louisiana, where the French language is an important cultural identity maker, French-speaking blacks often called themselves Creoles noirs (Black Creoles) or Creoles de couleur (Creoles of color), Creoles Francais (French Creoles) to distinguish themselves from French-speaking whites, who might be either Creoles Francais (French Creoles) or Cadiens (Cajuns), as well as from English-speaking blacks, who are called negres americains (American Negroes).

Subject: RE: Origins: Lakes of Ponchartrain From: PoppaGator Date: 19 Aug 04 - 05:00 PM

[Mudcat Cafe

The word "Creole" comes from the Spanish "crillo," which originally referred to the first generation born in the "New World," offspring of settlers from Europe (Spain or France). It has come to mean different things to different people; the most controversial aspect of the various debates is probably whether the term "Creole" refers to white or to black/mixed-race people. (Way back during the days of that first generation of American-born "Creoles," there may have been disagreement over whether the term was restricted to kids with two white parents, as opposed to those born to a Frenchman and an African or Native American woman.) You'll find staunch proponents of one interpretation to the exclusion of the other, plus plenty of us who accept "either/or."

Whether referring to Caucasians or colored folk, the adjective "Creole" usually connotes a more urban, aristocratic, and/or sophisticated cultural quality than the funky down-home "Cajun."

One very common meaning for "Creole" refers to the New Orleanian population of light-skinned black folks (most of them no more than 1/16 or 1/32 African) whose ancestors were never slaves and who maintain their own little elite society to this day.

Another meaning for "Creole" refers to any and all French-speaking black people of southwest Louisiana, the community that developed Zydeco music. Unlike most of the other meanings, "Creole" in this context has absolutely no connotation of urbanity or aristrocracy. These Creoles come in all shades of brown and black, including pure African blue-black, and they're farmers, not city folk. Of course, their numbers do include royalty, such as Clifton Chenier, the late great King of Zydeco.

A couple of us debated meanings of these terms in another recent thread on this same song, along with a few other questions and opinions brought up by the lyrics -- you might be interested.

... In the mid-1830s, during the first mass emigration from Ireland to the US prompted by the first potato famine, New Orleans was by far the most popular US destination -- large numbers of jobs were available to dig the New Basin Canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississipi River. These jobs were available to immigrants because the work was so dangerous that slave-owners would not risk their "property" to perform the necessary heavy labor. The work force was overwhelmingly Irish, and huge numbers died of tropical diseases, mostly yellow fever. In fact, statistically, an Irish worker had a better chance of surviving if he stayed home to suffer through the famine than if he went to New Orleans to work and die on the canal.

Family and friends who stayed home in Ireland were certainly aware of the many deaths in the swamp, and Irish immigrants never again came to New Orleans in significant numbers, turning instead to New York, Boston, and (via the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes) Chicago.

Even today, native New Orleanians with Irish surnames are many generations (170+ years) removed from their Irish roots and usually of mixed Irish/German/Italian/French ancestry. Anyone here who knows of relatives in Ireland, or who even knows what county or what town their ancestors came from, is someone who moved to New Orleans from the North or West (or whose parents made such a move).

There seems to be no sure evidence whether "Lakes" is an American or an Irish song. It is, of course, part of the contemporary repertoire for "traditional" Irish musicians, and the subject matter is just as obviously American. My theory -- what I'd **like** to believe ;^) --is that the song comes from one of those poor Irishmen who built the New Basin Canal, or from a family member back in Ireland reading his letters, perhaps creating the song to memorialize a brother or son or friend after he had succumbed to the yellow fever.

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