Creole Songs Cable Sang

[Just after the tour ended Cable wrote two articles for The Century Magazine that provide a way to "hear" the slave songs he sang as well as the kind of things he said to introduce and explain them to a bourgeois audience in the various northern cities visited by the tour. I haven't tried to recreate Cable's voice, but clicking on the pages of sheet music will let you see the way the songs were scored. Both the musical notation and the illustrations (by E. W. Kemble, the man MT hired to illustrate Huck Finn) are from the original Century articles.]

The Century Magazine
Feburary 1886


from The Dance in Place Congo

Up at the other end of Orleans street, hid only by the old padre's garden and the cathedral, glistens the ancient Place d'Armes. In the early days it stood for all that was best; the place for political rallying, the retail quarter of all fine goods and wares, and at sunset and by moonlight the promenade of good society and the haunt of true lovers; not only in the military, but also in the most unwarlike sense the place of arms, and of hearts and hands, and of words tender as well as words noble.

The Place Congo, at the opposite end of the street, was at the opposite end of everything. One was on the highest ground; the other on the lowest. The one was the rendezvous of the rich man, the master, the military officer--of all that went to make up the ruling class; the other of the butcher and baker, the raftsman, the sailor, the quadroon, the painted girl, and the negro slave. No meaner name could be given the spot. The negro was the most despised of human creatures and the Congo the plebian among negroes. The white man's plaza had the army and navy on its right and left, the court-house, the council-hall and the church at its back, and the world before it. The black man's was outside the rear gate, the poisonous wilderness on three sides and the proud man's contumely on its front.

Before the city overgrew its flimsy palisade walls, and closing in about this old stamping-ground gave it set bounds, it was known as Congo Plains. There was wide room for much field sport, and the Indian villagers of the town's outskirts and the lower class of white Creoles made it the ground of their wild game of raquette. Sunday afternoons were the time for it. Hence, beside these diversions there was, notably, another.

The hour was the slave's term of momentary liberty, and his simple, savage, musical and superstitious nature dedicated it to amatory song and dance tinctured with his rude notions of supernatural influences.


CENTURY MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION There were other dances. Only a few years ago I was honored with an invitation, which I had to decline, to see danced the Babouille, the Cata (or Chacta), the Counjaille, and the Calinda. Then there were the Voudou, and the Congo, to describe which would not be pleasant. The latter, called Congo also in Cayenne, Chica in San Domingo, and in the Windward Islands confused under one name with the Calinda, was a kind of Fandango, they say, in which the Madras kerchief held by its tip-ends played a graceful part.

The true Calinda was bad enough. In Louisiana, at least, its song was always a grossly personal satirical ballad, and it was the favorite dance all the way from there to Trinidad. To dance it publicly is not allowed this side the West Indies. All this Congo Square business was suppressed at one time; 1843, says tradition.

The Calinda was a dance of multitude, a sort of vehement cotillion. The contortions of the encircling crowd were strange and terrible, the din was hideous. One Calinda is still familiar to all Creole ears; it has long been a vehicle for the white Creole's satire; for generations the man of municipal politics was fortunate who escaped entirely a lampooning set to its air.

In my childhood I used, at one time, to hear, every morning, a certain black marchande des calas--peddler-woman selling rice croquettes--chanting the song as she moved from street to street at the sunrise hour with her broad, shallow, laden basket balanced on her head.

In other words, a certain Judge Preval gave a ball--not an outdoor Congo dance--and made such Cuffees as could pay three dollars a ticket. It doesn't rhyme, but it was probably true. "Dance, dance the Calindá! Boujoum! Boujoum!"

The number of stanzas has never been counted; here are a few of them.

"Dans l'equirie la 'y' avé grand gala;
Mo cré choual la yé t b'en étonné.

Miché Preval, li té capitaine bal;
So cocher Louis, té maite cérémonie.

Y avé des négresse belle passé maitresse,
Qui volé bel-bel dans l'ormoire momselle.

. . . . . .

Ala maite la geole li trouvé si drole,
Li dit, "moin aussi, mo fé bal ici."

Ouatchman la yé yé tombé la dans;
Yé fé gran' déga dans léquirie la." etc.

"It was in a stable that they had this gala night," says the song; "the horses there were greatly astonished. Preval was captain; his coachman, Louis, was master of ceremonies. There were negresses made prettier than their mistresses by adornments stolen from the ladies' wardrobes (armoires). But the jailer found it all so funny that he proposed to himself to take an unexpected part; the watchmen came down"--

No official exaltation bought immunity from the jeer of the Calinda. Preval was a magistrate. Stephen Mazureau, in his attorney-general's office, the song likened to a bull-frog in a bucket of water. A page might be covered by the roll of victims. The masters winked at these gross but harmless liberties and, as often as any others, added stanzas of their own invention.

CENTURY MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION The Calinda ended these dissipations of the summer Sabbath afternoons. They could not run far into the night, for all the fascinations of all the dances could not excuse the slave's tarrying in public places after a certain other bou-djoum! (that was not of the Calinda, but of the regular nine-o'clock evening gun) had rolled down Orleans street from the Place d'Armes; and the black man or woman who wanted to keep a whole skin on the back had to keep out of the Calaboose. Times have changed, and there is nothing to be regretted in the change that has come over Congo Square. Still a glamour hangs over its dark past. There is the pathos of slavery, the poetry of the weak oppressed by the strong, and of limbs that danced after toil, and of barbaric love-making. The rags and semi-nakedness, the bamboula drum, the dance, and almost the banjo, are gone; but the bizarre melodies and dark lovers' apostrophes live on; and among them the old Counjaille song of Aurore Pradère

CHO. Aurore Pradère, pretty maid, (ter)
She's just what I want and her I'll have.
SOLO. Some folks say she's too pretty, quite;
Some folks they say she's not polite;
All this they say--Psha-a-ah!
More fool am I!
For she's what I want and her I'll have.
CHO. Aurore Pradère, pretty maid, (ter)
She's just what I want and her I'll have.
SOLO. Some say she's going to the bad;
Some say that her mamma went mad;
All this they say--Psha-a-ah!
More fool am I!
For she's what I want and her I'll have.

Mr. Ware and his associate compilers have neither of these stanzas, but one very pretty one; the third in the music as printed here, and which we translate as follows:

SOLO. A muslin gown she doesn't choose,
She doesn't ask for broidered hose,
She doesn't want prunella shoes,
O she's what I want and her I'll have.
CHO. Aurore Pradère, etc.

The Century Magazine
April 1886

from Creole Slave Songs

CENTURY MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION One of the best of these Creole love-songs--one that the famed Gottschalk, himself a New Orleans Creole of pure blood, made use of--is the tender lament of one who sees the girl of his heart's choice the victim of chagrin in beholding a female rival wearing those vestments of extra quality that could only be the favors which both women had coveted from the hand of some one in the proud master-caste whence alone such favors could come. "Calalou," says the song, "has an embroidered petticoat, and Lolotte, or Zizi," as it is often sung, "has a--heartache." Calalou, here, I take to be a derisive nickname. Originally it is the term for a West Indian dish, a noted ragout. It must be intended to apply here to the quadroon women who swarmed into New Orleans in 1809 as refugees from Cuba, Guadeloupe, and other islands where the war against Napoleon exposed them to Spanish and British aggression. It was with this great influx of persons neither savage nor enlightened, neither white nor black, neither slave nor truly free, that the famous quadroon caste arose and flourished. If Calalou, in the verse, was one of these quadroon fair ones, the song is its own explanation.

CENTURY MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION"Poor little Miss Zizi!" is what it means--"She has pain, pain in her little heart." "À li" is simply the Creole possessive form; "corps à moin" would signify simply myself. Calalou is wearing a Madras turban; she has on an embroidered petticoat; [they tell their story and] Zizi has achings in her heart. And the second stanza moralizes: "When you wear the chain of love"--maybe we can make it rhyme:

"When love's chains upon thee lie
Bid all happiness good-bye."
Poor little Zizi! say we also. Triumphant Calalou! We see that even her sort of freedom had its tawdry victories at the expense of the slave. A poor freedom it was, indeed: To have f. m. c. or f. w. c. tacked in small letters upon one's name perforce and by law, that all might know that the bearer was not a real freeman or freewoman, but only a free man (or woman) of color,--a title that could not be indicated by capital initials; to be the unlawful mates of luxurious bachelors, and take their pay in muslins, embroideries, prunella, and good living, taking with them the loathing of honest women and the salacious derision of the blackamoor; to be the sister, mother, father, or brother of Calalou; to fall heir to property by sufferance, not by law; to be taxed for public education and not allowed to give that education to one's own children; to be shut out of all occupations that the master class could reconcile with the vague title of gentleman; to live in the knowledge that the law pronounced "death or imprisonment at hard labor for life" against whoever should be guilty of "writing, printing, publishing, or distributing anything having a tendency to create discontent among the free colored population": that it threatened death against whosoever should utter such things in private conversation; and that it decreed expulsion from the State to Calalou and all her kin of any age or condition if only they had come in across its bounds since 1807. In the enjoyment of such ghastly freedom as this the flesh-pots of Egypt sometimes made the mouth water and provoked the tongue to sing its regrets for a past that seemed better than the present.