Sunday, May 15, 2016

"Prenez Courage (Take Courage)" - Cleoma Breaux

Unlike other Cajun songs, the origins of this one do not come from the typical Cajun prairies or American hillbilly songs.  This early Cajun recording had its roots in a Croatian folksong, that came to Cleoma Breaux Falcon by way of 19th century American ditty and the last Queen of Hawaii—Lili’uokalani.  The queen's song was entitled "Aloha ‘Oe".  The words "Aloha ‘Oe" were the same iteration that Falcon heard.  Legendarily, the queen had composed this lover’s farewell during a horseback ride on the windward side of Oahu in 1878. The queen's inspiration came from watching a mixed couple taking leave of one another. Later she sang the song in her own farewell to her kingdom when Hawaii was incorporated into the United States, the 50th state, in 1959.

Prends donc courage, cher,

Prends donc courage, cher,

Quand-même ma famille est tout contre toi,

C’est un jour à l’avenir,

Qu'moi j's'hâte(?) avec toi,
Prends donc courage,
Prends donc courage.

Prends donc courage, chere,
Je seras donc viens vite, oui,
T'en r'viens vite, on a joué, cher,
Ça fait dur à m’en aller avec toi,
Prends donc courage,
Prends donc courage.

L’amour, c’est bien dur d’ambondonner, oui,
Serait donc autant de plus dur pour moi,
'Donc courage,
Prends donc courage,
Moi je seras donc bien vite,
Avec toi, ouais cher.

Lili`nokalani’s friend Charles Burnett Wilson, marshal of the kingdom, later pointed out that the tune "Aloha ‘Oeof the verse resembled "Rock Beside the Sea," a ditty that American church music composer Charles Coozet Converse came up with in 1857. Allegedly, Converse himself borrowed the melody from a Croatian folk song “Sedi Mera Na Kanen.”  

The most direct translation of the title is "have courage", however, in English, it's more common to say "take care".  In the line "c’est le derniere a l’annee, qu'moi j's'hâte avec toi", her pronunciation is very difficult to discern.  In one take, she slurs the phrase "je suis hâte" which means to be in a hurry, or in this case, anxiously awaiting for someone.  Another possibility is she's saying "moi, je seras donc avec toi" meaning she'll be with him real soon.  

So, have courage, dear,

So, have courage, dear,

Because even my family doesn't care for you,

One day soon to come,

I'm looking forward to being with you,
So, have courage,
So, have courage.

So, have courage, dear,
I'm awaiting your quick return,
Come back soon, we've been playing around, dear,
So that I'll be able to go away with you,
So, have courage,
So, have courage.

The love, it's hard to abandon, yeh,
Therefore, the tears will be difficult for me,
So, have courage,
So, have courage,
Therefore, I'll go soon,
With you, yes dear.

The song "Prenez Courage (Take Courage)" was recorded for Columbia/Okeh (#90003) in 1929 during her trip to Atlanta with Joseph Falcon and Ophy Breaux.  Falcon’s version strayed the furthest from the original Croatian version. Her's has no sappiness. She doesn’t dwell on the leave taking but instead calls for courage, not just on her own part but that of her lover’s too.   According to musician Peter Simoneaux:
It's a wonderful example, one of the best I know, about how Cajun music has always been imbued with outside influences. Louisiana Cajun & Creole people always had big ears, I think. They always soaked up what was going on around them, but then, and this is key, they proceeded to make it uniquely their own.

  2. Lyrics by Stéphanie D, Stephane F and Jordy Allen

Louisiana Cajun Music Vol. 2: The Early 30s (Old Timey/Arhoolie, 1971)
Cajun, Vol. 1: Abbeville Breakdown 1929-1939 (Sony/Columbia, 1990)
As Good As It Gets: Cajun (Disky, 2000)
Prends Donc Courage - Early Black & White Cajun (Swamp Music Vol. VI) (Trikont, 2005)
The Perfect Roots & Blues Collection (Sony, 2015)


  1. This is one of our favorite songs ever.... Thanks for sharing!

  2. we need to add this to our play list

  3. Thanks for a great blog. I finally figured out the access route. I love this period of Cajun.


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