Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Mon Chere Bebe Creole (My Creole Sweet Mama)" - Dennis McGee & Sady Courville

"My Dear Creole Baby!" One of the iconic songs by Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee is "Mon Chere Bebe Creole (My Creole Sweet Mama)" recorded for Vocalion in 1929.   Cajuns use of French words, and the dialect that came with it, illustrated how isolated the culture remained from much of the rest of country. This was most evident in the songs they sung.   

The Cajun music genre appears to have borrowed this peculiar intensity from traditional Cajun and black Creole music, which, while they capture a wide range of emotions, excel at conveying pathos and despair.2 Author Shane Bernard recounts Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa's explanation:
In Cajun music you can hear the lonesome sound and the hurt...just like the blues sound of the black man is a sound deep hurt, deep sorrow.  The Acadians had it very tough from Nova Scotia down to Louisiana, and when they did get to Louisiana, they had a hard time.  And sometimes I feel that the Cajun sounds are of the loneliness and hardship they had back then.  This tendency emerges even in the earliest Cajun recordings, such as "Mon Chere Bebe Creole".2 

Regardez, donc, malheureuse,

Tu m'abandonnes pour toujours,

Malheureuse, aye yaille, j'suis après,

M'en aller, c'est pour mourir.

Dit "Bye Bye", chere maman,

Fais pas ca avec ton neg,

Eh, tu vas le faire mourir pour toujours,

Un de ces jours, Malheureuse,

Dit "Bye Bye" chere vielle maman.

Gardez donc, mais j'suis après,

Marcher, chere malheureuse,

Gardez donc pour toujours,
Malheureuse, malheureuse,
Dit "Bye bye" a ton pop et ta mom.

Gardez donc, fais pas ca,
Avec moi, chere petite, ah oui,
J'ai pas fait rien, chere, pour toi,
Fais pas ca avec moi, chere tite fille.

Gardez donc, malheureuse,
Mais gardez donc, jsuis après,
M'en aller dans les chemins,
Tous les jours, et les nuits,
C'est pour toi, malheureuse, si jolie.

Dennis McGee & Sady Courville
Those that lived here, with and without Acadian ancestry, sang songs that reflected the interracial dialogue between Cajuns and their Afro-Creole counterparts.   McGee continued to communicate musically cultural information about the influences and institutions that defined Cajun life before the Great Depression.3  

Cajun people remained largely un-Americanized until U.S. involvement in World War II. Swept up in the period's intense patriotism, Cajuns supported the massive war effort. In so doing Cajun GIs experienced a world much larger than the one back in Acadiana, while loved ones on the home-front pulled together to do their part for victory.4   By the 1950s, Happy Fats and Doc Guidry recorded the tune as "Dans La Platin". 

Look at that, oh my,

You left me forever,

So unhappy, aye yaille, afterwards,

I'm going away to die.

Say "Bye bye, dear mom",

Don't do this to your old man,

Hey, you're going to make him die, 

One of these days, oh my,

Say "Bye bye, dear old mom".

Look at this, well, I'm headed out,

Walking away, dear sad one,

So look at this always,
Oh my, unhappy one,
Say "Bye bye" to your dad and your mom.

So look, don't do this,
With me, my dear little one, oh yeh,
Oh my,
I have done nothing, dear, for you,
Don't do that with me, dear little girl.

So look at that, oh my,
Well, look at that always,
I'm headed down the road,
Every day and every night,
It's for you, oh my, so pretty.
McGee's use of the word "Creole" could be used in a variety of ways; a word hotly debated among those that are familiar with it.  Just writing about this word from an academic standpoint can cause controversy.  The term "Creole" was first used in the sixteenth century to identify descendants of French, Spanish, or Portuguese settlers living in the West Indies and Latin America. There is general agreement that the term "Creole" derives from the Portuguese word crioulo, which means a slave born in the master's household.5 

Determining the accepted definition in 1920 among Louisiana natives can be difficult.   During the early recording years, it's usage differed between New Orleans natives and the rest of the Cajun prairie people.  Even though many non-Acadians settled in the Cajun country, there's no doubt by the 1920s, many considered themselves Cajun and/or Creole.   Even in France today, there's a distinction between "creole noir" and "creole blanche".  Regardless of the accepted definition, historical literature proves the word had different meanings based on location and time period.   

The music itself became known as either Cajun and/or Creole music.  Even by 1939, accordion player Joe Falcon, of Cajun and Spanish ancestry, was a featured performer on what was known as the "Creole Hour" at the National Rice Festival.3   Yet, Canray Fontenot, notably considered one of the finest Creole fiddlers, personally regarded his fiddling technique not as a traditional Creole expression, but an interpretation of Harry Choates' style.3  What could McGee mean by the word "Creole"?    Is this something different than Cajun?   According to author Herman Fuselier, "ask 30 people and you'll get 30 different answers."6

Despite the dialect's decline, Cajun identity and ethnic pride remain strong to the present. The ethnic intermixing that created the Cajuns is still evident in the names of some of the most famous Cajun musicians: Nathan Abshire, Lawrence Walker, and Dennis McGee were all renowned Cajun musicians with surnames of non-Acadian origin. This paradoxical embrace of others while forging a strong Cajun identity can perhaps be summed up with this observation from Dennis: 
"McGee, that's a French name," he proclaimed. "I don't know anyone named McGee who doesn't speak French."4

  1. Dennis McGee & Sady Courville.  Jack Bond
  2. Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues By Shane K. Bernard
  3. Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music By Ryan Andre Brasseaux
  4. http://www.medschool.lsuhsc.edu/genetics_center/louisiana/article_acadianscajuns.htm
  5. Creoles by Helen Bush Caver and Mary T. Williams
  6. http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/entertainment/2015/07/09/mean-creole/29942095/
  7. Lyrics by Stephane F
Louisiana Cajun Music Volume 1: First Recordings - The 1920's (Old Timey, 1970)
The Early Recordings Of Dennis McGee: Featuring Sady Courville & Ernest Fruge (Morning Star, 1977)
The Complete Early Recordings of Dennis McGee (Yazoo, 1994)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Got info? Pics? Feel free to submit.