Sunday, August 04, 2013

Creolization, Gullah, Geechee and the music of the sea islands -- more notes -- ** UPDATE 2x ** Bill Malone on cultural flux in the South; and a history of Louisiana creole music

William S. Pollitzer, The Gullah People and Thier African Heritage. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1999.

The similarities of Gullah to Krio were long noted by linguists. ... Cultural links between that region and the coastal islands also support the argument: the banjo, rice growing techniques, quilts, and more. Many terms related to music probably took origin from an Upper Guinea Coast language, especially Wolof: jiove from jev, to talk disparagingly' hip from hipi, to open one's eyes; and jam form jaam for slave. Even juke may stem from the Gullah word "joog<.em> for disorderly, ultimately from the Bambara dzugu meaning wicked. 125

Krio spoken in Sierra Leone and upper Guinea Coast 245n56. Cf Wikipedia

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Many Africans brought to the shores of Carolina and Georgia spoke more than one native tongue, and some knew one or more European languages as well. Of necessity the first blacks learned to understand and then speak a variant of the English of their white masters. The Gullah language arose slowly only after a significant number of people from different regions of Africa arrived on the coast. Those linguistic features understood by the largest number of slaves and shared with English were most likely to survive.

Creole evolved in the Low Country from the need for communication, but it also helped the people to endure the harsh reality of slavery. More than any other attribute, it characterized and molded together the individuals of the sea-island community. Unique in lexicon, syntax, and intonation, the speech formed an abiding bond of understanding among the slaves. An inflection in the voice, a change in tone, could convey to a fellow black a secret thought hidden from whites. Proverbs also conveyed subtleties and ambiguities that contributed to the survival of the people as they transmuted them into meaningful metaphors in their new environment. Songs, stories, and prayers, even with meanings obscure, kept alive dreams of a dimly remembered past. ...

Africans also influenced the speech of their masters. White children especially learned Gullah from a 'mammy' and from black playmates; house servants played an important role in this reciprocal process of dual creolization.

A similar process of continuity and change occurred in all aspects of culture and society. Just as Gullah and Krio are cousins, so the culture of the sea islanders and their African ancestors are related through a common heritage rather than as direct descendants. ... 129

cf. "decreolization" -- p. 128 -

Bill C. Malone, Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers: Southern Culture and the Roots of Country Music. Mercer University, Lamar Memorial Lectures, No. 34. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1993. Malone doesn't use the "C-word," but creolization and hybridity are clearly in play here:

As the southern frontier pushed steadily toward the Southwest [/] Scotch-Irishmen and Germans met and mingled with Scandinavians pushing in from the Delaware Bay, Englishmen coming in from the Atlantic Coast, and with people whose origins represented perhaps a dozen other racial and ethnic elements from the British Isles, Europe and Africa. The folk culture that they created was neither racially nor culturally homogeneous, but was instead the product of well over two centuries of adaptation and interaction among the European and African peoples who pushed the southern frontier from the Chesapeake Bay to the woodlands of East Texas. (13-14)

evidence for interchange between blacks and whites:

White solidarity, of course, in both a cultural and political sense, depended in large part on the presence of substantial numbers of black people in southern society. But black people were also indispensable elements of southern folk culture, and they made immeasurable contributions to its shaping and tone. The most expressive component of that culture, music, bears the unmistakable imprint of African-American style. Folk- [/] lorist Norm Cohen, in fact, asserts that it is the African admixture that has set southern rural music apart from rural music elsewhere in the United States, and that it is also the ingredient that has made southern music appealing to people around the world. (15-16)

p. 118n8 cites Cohen, review of BCM, Southern Music/American Music in Western Folklore 4 (Oct. 1980): 348-50 at 350.

Brits moved about after the abolition of serfdom in the 15th century ... "One suspects, admittedly on the basis of very limited evidence, that music and dance moved as freely in the British Isles as did the plain folk of that troubled realm" (11). [Cites "Carl Bridenbaugh's assessment of the migratory habits of rural Englishmen" 1590-1642 and David Fischer on similar mobility [/] among 18th-century American immigrants.] "Their music would have displayed a similar diversity of origin, reflecting not only the movement of people back and forth along the Scottish-English border, from Scotland to Ulster, and across northern England, but also the popularization of songs, ballads, and dances by itinerant professional musicians" (12)

Bridenbaugh, Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, 1590-1642 New York: Oxford UP, 1968

"Brief History of Cajun, Creole,and Zydeco" (dead link 08-22-13)

As Barry Ancelet explains in his monograph Cajun Music: Its Origins and Development, the Acadians who came to Louisiana beginning in 1764 after their expulsion from Acadie (Nova Scotia ) in 1755 brought with them music that had its origins in France but that had already been changed by experiences in the New World through encounters with British settlers and Native Americans. Taking stories with European origins and changing them to refer to life in Louisiana or inventing their own tales, early balladeers would sing without accompaniment at family gathering or special occasions. The fiddle supplied music for dances, although Ancelet also describes a cappela dance tunes that relied on clapping and stomping to provide the rhythm.

The music of the Acadians in Louisiana in the 19th century was transformed by new influences: African rhythms, blues, and improvisational singing techniques as well as by other rhythms and singing styles from Native Americans. Some fiddle tunes and a few ballads came from Anglo-American sources. The Spanish even contributed a few melodies, including, according to Ancelet, the melody for "J’ai passé devant ta porte," which comes from a concerto for classical guitar.

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At the same time that the Cajuns was being transformed by new influences, the African American descendants of slaves who had been brought by force to America were developing their own music, and the music of the two cultures influenced one another. If a full history of the development of the French music of African Americans in Southwest Louisiana were ever written, it would need to take into account the complexities of a culture that included free people of color who gained considerable prominence in some communities before the Civil War and freed slaves who after the Civil War continued to live in extreme poverty as tenant farmers. Many of the slaves who gained their freedom under French or Spanish rule before the Louisiana Purchase were of mixed racial ancestry, further complicating any attempt to understand the historical intricacies of relationships among the peoples of Southwest Louisiana. And, just as with Cajun music, since the music of the 19th century was not recorded and not transcribed in writing, the origins of what has come to be called Creole music will always remain cloudy.

The music of Creole culture drew on the same French traditions as Cajun music but added to that the influence of African music in the New World–the rhythms of the Caribbean or the soulful melodies of the blues or a combination of these sources and more. The Lomax recordings include examples of jurés, sung dances in a style typical of West Africa and the West Indies in which "melodies are built around a refrain that has a danceable rhythmic shape and that enables the group of singers to make music for collective dancing." "Blues de la prison," another song recorded by the Lomaxes, draws on the style of singing that evolved from West Africa to become American blues.

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The Lafayette-based organization C.R.E.O.L.E, Inc. defines Creoles “as individuals of African descent whose cultural roots have been influenced by other cultures such as French, Spanish, and/or Indian. These individuals have traveled through the centuries carrying their oral history, art forms, culinary skills, religious beliefs and kaleidoscope culture.” The Louisiana Creole Heritage Center defines Creoles as “people of mixed French, African, Spanish, and Native American ancestry, most of who reside in or have familial ties to Louisiana." Using either definition, Zydeco is “Creole music,” created and performed by Creoles. However, in the way the term is widely used today specifically in reference to music, “Creole” usually describes music performed by Creoles in the Creole language, in the old style that includes the fiddle as part of the instrumentation, a music known in an earlier era as “la-la music.” In interviews, Canray Fontenot and Bois Sec Ardoin both referred to their music as “Creole music." Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco, sang many of his songs in Creole, including some classic Zydeco songs performed with his uncle Morris Chenier on fiddle, and many Zydeco bands include music from the older Creole tradition as part of their repertoire, so, in practice, the terminology used to describe Creole music in Southwest Louisiana can be applied in a variety of ways. In the case of the group the Creole Zydeco Farmers, "Creole" might refer to music, language, culture, and ethnic background all at the same time. The key point is that both the older style la-la music and today's Zydeco are products of the Creole people of Southwest Louisiana and their rich culture.

(For information on various meanings of the word Creole in Louisiana from past to present, see Carl A. Brasseaux, French, Cajun, Creole, Houma: A Primer on Francophone Louisiana, Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2005. Brasseaux says the word "has come to mean something different to nearly everyone using it." See Fehintola Mosadomi, "The Origin of Louisiana Creole," in Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color, ed. Sybil Klein, Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2000, for a discussion of some of the past research and current issues; and Albert Valdman et al, A Dictionary of Louisiana Creole, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998, for more on the Creole dialects.

Apparently a mirror from a website at LSU Eunice, now hosted on the website maintained by Greg English at

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