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Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)

cnd 06 Jul 21 - 10:25 PM
GUEST,# 01 Jul 21 - 11:45 AM
GUEST,# 01 Jul 21 - 11:26 AM
GUEST,Chris Murray 29 Jun 21 - 04:41 PM
GUEST,Pedro 21 Mar 18 - 07:04 PM
GUEST,leeneia 19 Nov 11 - 11:00 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 18 Nov 11 - 09:17 PM
GUEST,leeneia 18 Nov 11 - 09:05 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 18 Nov 11 - 07:52 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 18 Nov 11 - 07:38 PM
GUEST,leeneia 18 Nov 11 - 08:32 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 18 Nov 11 - 05:31 AM
James Fryer 18 Nov 11 - 04:08 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 17 Nov 11 - 03:52 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 17 Nov 11 - 03:47 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 17 Nov 11 - 03:47 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 16 Nov 11 - 11:23 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 16 Nov 11 - 06:08 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 16 Nov 11 - 03:15 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 15 Nov 11 - 11:10 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 15 Nov 11 - 11:10 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 14 Nov 11 - 07:53 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Nov 11 - 07:52 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Nov 11 - 05:56 PM
James Fryer 08 Oct 11 - 04:46 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 07 Oct 11 - 05:53 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 07 Oct 11 - 01:08 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 04 Oct 11 - 05:10 AM
GUEST,jrinc 04 Oct 11 - 12:40 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Sep 11 - 08:28 AM
Crowhugger 11 Sep 11 - 02:58 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 14 Aug 11 - 04:38 AM
GUEST,Eliza 14 Aug 11 - 03:58 AM
Darowyn 14 Aug 11 - 03:32 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 14 Aug 11 - 02:50 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 11 - 05:18 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 11 - 05:12 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 11 - 05:01 PM
GUEST,leeneia 10 Aug 11 - 10:09 AM
Gibb Sahib 10 Aug 11 - 04:31 AM
GUEST,James Fryer 10 Aug 11 - 02:44 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 11 - 02:37 AM
Darowyn 26 Jul 11 - 03:22 PM
Crowhugger 26 Jul 11 - 02:44 AM
GUEST,leeneia 21 Jul 11 - 09:24 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 20 Jul 11 - 11:16 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 20 Jul 11 - 11:05 PM
Crowhugger 20 Jul 11 - 10:47 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 20 Jul 11 - 05:39 PM
GUEST,leeneia 20 Jul 11 - 09:57 AM
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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: cnd
Date: 06 Jul 21 - 10:25 PM

I haven't found a ton more on the origins of this song, but here are a few about its origin. The earliest references I've found are from 1937. It seems to also go by the name Mango Walk, as attested to here.
" The folk songs of Jamaica have their origin in the distant past, although a few have a distinctly modern note. "Mango Walk" and "Linstead Heath" may some day become popular in America. (link)
The above fragment was reproduced in several papers; the earliest journal carrying it was the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, on May 9th, 1937, on page 14D's article titled "Nail Kegs Used For Jamaica's Drums."

A vague reference from 1924 could be earlier: The Urbana Daily Courier (November 15th 1924, p. 5) in an article about a night of songs "Under Many Flags" which mentions a song titled "Mattie Rag." This makes it seem likely, however they never mentioned Jamaica. (link). Other searches for a song by that name (or other variations on the spelling), however, don't appear until 1943 in The Vancouver Sun (link).

Classical composer Arthur Benjamin wrote a two-part suite called Two Jamaican Pieces composed of two parts: I. "Jamaican Song" and II. "Jamaican Rumba." Composed in 1938, the Rhumba (or Rumba) song is based on this tune. listen (source Boston Globe, June 5th 1955, p. 16B)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,#
Date: 01 Jul 21 - 11:45 AM

Also, flat guess on my part: a site mentioned the fruits dropping from trees and people gathering them because the mango walk (mango orchard) was public, so the fruits were there for the picking. Further, I think the Matty rag was just that: a rag that one would wrap around one's head to prevent getting conked on the noggin by one of the mangoes.

The song's association with the various forms/musics of Jamaica--and in this case some other Caribbean countries--will make finding the 'zygote' song really difficult.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,#
Date: 01 Jul 21 - 11:26 AM

I've spent over three hours looking for the original folk song on which the mento (etc) version is based. I found many references to the song the OP mentioned, but no song. Mattie Rag/Matty Rag (the mento version) is easy enough to locate, and earliest references seems to go back to 1950. But what song is it based on? Various performers who have done it all say the same thing: "It's an old folk song." My question is this then: Where can it be found??


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,Chris Murray
Date: 29 Jun 21 - 04:41 PM

I'm only 10 years late to the discussion, but stumbled onto it last night when, well, researching Mattie Rag. I have some thoughts pieced together after listening/trying to decipher 10+ versions.

The earliest recording with a definite date that I found on YouTube is a version by Lord Flea with The Jamaican Calypsonians on the Times Record label from 1952.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEdGbZKfzkU

There is a cool version by Tony Johnson from an album called Calypso in Britain 1950-55 with additional verses about a glamour gal, Mattie, who wraps her hair in a rag, and who he takes on a plane to Paris. The standard verses are also contained in this version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0Yif0pIrGk

Someone mentioned the similar song Charley's Cow. I found this mentioned in a Catalog of Copyright Entries: Library of Congress, registered in 1957 to Edward Seaga. By the timeline, Charley's Cow is clearly based on the earlier Mattie Rag.
https://books.google.com/books?id=FzQhAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=charley+cow+song&source=bl&ots=L7P47JBphA&sig=ACfU3U22J05t5wJ1pSw0gWHqFLmKj8F7BQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwje9fCT073xAhXvlmoFHRMnB9gQ6AEwEnoECBoQAw#v=onepage&q=charley%20cow%20song&f=false

In some versions it's a "gal" who chew a rag. In some versions, a "dawta". In a couple, a dog. In the versions with a female(s) chewing the rag, it feels like wordplay with "chewing the fat" and a physical rag that belongs to Mattie, who I don't have a firm idea who Mattie is.

Regarding the versions with a dog a chew on rag, I found this Jamaican "proverb" - "Dawg have money nyam cheese, wen im bruk im chaw ole rag." at this site.
https://jamaicajamaicawi.wordpress.com/2021/02/10/jamaican-proverbs-from-a-z/

I think someone suggested papa might have gone down a mango walk for a carnal liaison, but it feels weird that the son who successfully ran away would have accompanied papa on such an excursion.

Someone mentioned the tradition of a mother/grandmother praying on a rag and giving it to a son to protect against capture into slavery. I found that very interesting. However, in both Charley's Cow and the much later Whatcha Gonna Do by Peter Tosh, there is a clear criminal offense mentioned for which papa is held.

There was talk about how the sing sweet songs and play guitar seems too light in spirit for the context of papa having been captured. It sure does. I have no speculation better than anything I read above to offer on that, except that perhaps in the context of the song Mattie Rag being sung in real time in real life it's simply an invitation for everyone to join in for the chorus.

Overall, my feeling is that there may not be one clear, correct meaning to the song. In some versions the version "dem catch papa" is first, in others the verse about "who fa rag" is first, making it seem like they aren't really connected, just two verses to sing, the order unimportant to any story being told.

Sometimes the mystery of the journey and the seeking is the greatest gift.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,Pedro
Date: 21 Mar 18 - 07:04 PM

Quoti means money in Jamaica


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 19 Nov 11 - 11:00 AM

You're welcome.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 09:17 PM

Thanks for that, leeneia!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 09:05 PM

No, I don't mind at all.

I've heard upbeat songs in the context of sadness, for example at funerals in the Catholic church. But I don't think a song about someone being dragged into forced labor would be as upbeat as this one.

""slaves sing most when they are unhappy" sounds like quite a generalization, don't you think? Surely some might sing, others might not want to sing at all.

When I was in high school and did badly on a math test, I went into the darkened living room and listened to the saddest music I could find. Stravinsky, I think.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 07:52 PM

BTW, Leeneia, do you mind if I quote your post on the other forum (a Jamaican discussion forum) where I have a thread on this song?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 07:38 PM

Well... thinking.. Leeneia, you could say that, but ... I remember a quote from I think Frederick Douglass-- that's America, but still-- which said that "slaves sing most when they are unhappy". Now I know that's a different cultural and national context, but there's something else. I also remember reading an extract from a book- "Rock it come over" written by Olive Lewin on Google Books, in which she said that an old funeral custom in parts of rural Jamaica was to perform songs and dances called Dinki, which have upbeat-sounding melodies. This was meant to deal with the grief over death. One of the songs sometimes played at those funerals was "Linstead Market", the lament of a woman who can't feed her children.


BTW Leeneia, do you mean "tone" or "tune"? There are lots of sad songs set to upbeat melodies-- Stone Cold Dead In The Market, for example, which is about domestic violence and what is now called "battered woman syndrome" (plagiarised from a 19th century murder ballad, Murder In The Market), the guitar playing meant to cope with the father's loss, to hide the family's sorrow.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 08:32 AM

I don't believe that interpretation at all. Would a woman whose husband has just been dragged into slavery tell her child:

'If yu neva run dem woulda ketch yu tu,
So sing sweet song an' play guitar.

No, she wouldn't. The ending is too happy for that.

Also, the recording that we can listen to on YouTube has a very happy tone, far too happy to be about slavery.

Clearly whatever trouble Papa got into wasn't very serious.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 05:31 AM

Yep. One poster says "Miss Mattie" or "Mattie" is the narrator's grandmother, the rag being her headscarf-- it was a custom during the days of slavery that the oldest female relative in a house (often a grandmother) would take a piece of cloth and tie it on her head to ward away duppies. She would pray over the scarf, then give it to her son or son-in-law. This was intended to be a sort of protection against capture by slave catchers kidnapping young men for the plantations. The narrator, a young boy, is telling his mother about his narrow escape, while his father was caught.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: James Fryer
Date: 18 Nov 11 - 04:08 AM

"Anyone still interested in this song?" Yes. I still don't see a definitive interpretation. But useful input there. Are you talking to people who know the song?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 17 Nov 11 - 03:52 PM

Can someone please delete the double posts?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 17 Nov 11 - 03:47 PM

Refresh


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 17 Nov 11 - 03:47 PM

Refresh


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 16 Nov 11 - 11:23 PM

Anyone still interested in this song?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 16 Nov 11 - 06:08 PM

Refresh again


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 16 Nov 11 - 03:15 AM

Refresh


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 15 Nov 11 - 11:10 PM

Is anyone still interested?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 15 Nov 11 - 11:10 PM

Just found out that the rag refers to a headscarf in a custom (possibly among escaped/freed slaves) at a time when young men were sometimes kidnapped and taken to plantations by slave masters, where an older female relative or grandmother in a house would take a piece of cloth and tie it on her head as a scarf during the night to keep away the duppies. She would pray over the scarf, then give it to her son or son-in-law to keep in his pocket when he went to the farm in the hope that he wouldn't be captured. The boy in the song is talking to his mother about his father who was captured, and Mattie, or Miss Mattie, is his grandmother.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Nov 11 - 07:53 PM

If anyone is still interested- another suggestion is that it refers to the narrator and his/her father stealing mangoes, or that it refers to "rag" as in "ragtime"- influenced by music from America.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 07:52 PM

That has no basis in fact; just what I thought. I have also posted on a Jamaican discussion forum, following James F's advice (thanks, James) and a poster there had the same suggestion as Leeneia earlier on this thread- it refers to something illegal or out of bounds.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 05:56 PM

Incidentally, I always thought that "Mattie Rag" was slang for a ragged woman; rag= ragged/tattered clothes, Mattie= Martha, Matilda.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: James Fryer
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 04:46 AM

I think to pursue this further you will need to look further afield. For example, the Limers yahoo group or (better as Limers is mostly Trini I think) a Jamaican discussion forum. Please report back if you find anything new! HTH


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 05:53 PM

has anyone got some definite information?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 01:08 AM

Refresh.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 04 Oct 11 - 05:10 AM

jrinc, are you from Jamaica? Or do you know Jamaican patois?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,jrinc
Date: 04 Oct 11 - 12:40 AM

Mattie Rag is the woman a married man has on the side.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Sep 11 - 08:28 AM

Thanks for that, Crowhugger!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: Crowhugger
Date: 11 Sep 11 - 02:58 PM

Further to my post from 20 Jul 11 - 10:47 PM:
The woman at the roti shack didn't know for sure. I still keep the words handy in case I come across someone to ask.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Aug 11 - 04:38 AM

Darowyn, I think Mattie is a person. After all, Lord Tanamo's version is called "Ol' Matilda".


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,Eliza
Date: 14 Aug 11 - 03:58 AM

Reminds me of a Peter Tosh song:-

Ma, oh Ma, dem hold Papa,
Say dey charge him fe' smoke ganja.
If me never jump de fence, dem hold me too,
So tell me Ma, what we gonna do?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: Darowyn
Date: 14 Aug 11 - 03:32 AM

I wonder if it was an advertising jingle for Mattie Rag tobacco, based on an existing song, possibly Charlie's Cow.
It's not an ususual thing to do, as anyone who watches commercial TV for more than hlaf an hour will know.
Was Mattie Rag ever a commercial brand?
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Aug 11 - 02:50 AM

So, has anyone got an idea where "Mattie Rag" came from? Or did "Charley's Cow" come first?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 05:18 PM

Seem to be several versions. Mattie Rag by Lord Tanamo, a ska, also titled "Ol' Matilda." On youtube.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 05:12 PM

Louise Bennett and "Mattie Rag on you tube. Seems to be a Charley Cow version. Poor reproduction.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ4bFl8vEyg


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 05:01 PM

Hubert Porter, a great mento singer, was the vocalist of the version posted by Leeneia.
It is called "Charley's Cow" in Porter's version.
Mattie Rag
Matty Rag


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 10:09 AM

Thanks, James. The version about the cow is more fun because it makes more sense. This is from mentomusic.com

Mama, Mama dem ketch Papa
Dem ketch him down a mango walk
And if I didn't run they would catch me too
so sing sweet song and play guitar

Wai, Oi, Papa gone
Wai, Oh, Papa gone

If I didn't run they would catch me too,
So sing sweet song and play guitar

You should a seen how policeman run him down
And jump on him and hold him down
Dem say he steal Mas Charley cow
And dem gone wid him to prison now

Wai, Oi, Papa gone
Wai, Oh, Papa gone

Dem say he steal Mas Charley cow
And dem gone wid him to prison now

Him say to tell you not to cry
For Mas Charlie did tell a lie
The cow was loose and he took it to pound
An' de beast got away and can' be found

Wai, Oi, Papa gone
Wai, Oh, Papa gone

He say to tell you not to cry
For Mas Charlie did tell a lie

One day one day I will find a way
To make that lying Charley pay
Me send to Papa gone a jail
But I remain an' I will not fail

Wai, Oi, Papa gone
Wai, Oh, Papa gone

One day one day I will find a way
To make that lying Charley pay

Mama, Mama, the dog barking hard
At someting in de next door yard
Someting in dere, I betta see
What pushing down that coffee tree

Oooh, Ooooh, now I know
Look Mama, its Charley's Cow

De cow din't really stray too far
so sing sweet song and play guitar


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings (Jamaican Mento)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 04:31 AM

Papa went down by the mango row
'Cause he heard a hog was chewing on a piece of rag
When he asked him (the hog) whose rag it was
He (the hog) told him it's Mattie's rag.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: GUEST,James Fryer
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 02:44 AM

There is another song "Charlie's Cow" which has the same tune and some of the same lyrics. In that song (from memory) the singer's papa is accused of stealing the cow but it turns out to have strayed.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 11 - 02:37 AM

Yep, that could be it about *that* line.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: Darowyn
Date: 26 Jul 11 - 03:22 PM

"Cause 'im ear wan hog a chaw a piece a rag."
That seems to me to mean:-
Because he heard one hog had chewed a piece of rag.
Maybe a hog is a literal pig, or maybe a metaphorical one!
There doesn't seem to be any discussion of this line so far.
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: Crowhugger
Date: 26 Jul 11 - 02:44 AM

I haven't forgotten; they were closed today unexpectedly :-(


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 21 Jul 11 - 09:24 AM

Yes, Crowhugger, please do.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 20 Jul 11 - 11:16 PM

And I would love it if you asked at your roti shack.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 20 Jul 11 - 11:05 PM

Well, Crowhugger, mento is a Jamaican music tradition, sort of the predecessor to reggae. It's very similar to calypso, but with different rhythms, and the repertoire is based on folk songs and original songs, often with bawdy lyrics and lots of double-entendre, which makes some of very fun to sing for a 17-year-old Australian Chinese girl with ambitions towards becoming a calypsonian (professional singer and musician who performs calypso in "tents" at Carnival and other similar celebrations, often improvising insult and topical songs) and ethnomusicologist, collecting and studying calypso and English-speaking Caribbean folk music (although I am interested in both Trinidadian *and* Jamaican music) as then I can sing rude songs without being called out on it by my parents and teachers, because of all the symbolism. Lots of teenagers sing stuff that's really explicit.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: Crowhugger
Date: 20 Jul 11 - 10:47 PM

Morwen, what means 'mento' songs?

Leeneia and I may both be off track. Or both right: Sometimes a song is meant to be ambiguous, to be heard one way before the 'chillun' are in bed and another way afterwards. (Lots of Afro-originating songs had ambiguous lyrics to keep slave-owners from knowing what was really said.

Again, I'm just indulging in speculation. If I remember to put the lyrics out in the car (too hot to do it now even at this hour, un-freakin-believable weather) I'll ask about it at my local roti shack next time I have a craving for curried goat or aloo pie; even though they're Trini they might know some Jamaican patois or know whom I might ask.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 20 Jul 11 - 05:39 PM

Crowhugger, so it seems that you and Leeneia have different views of what this song means. I wouldn't be surprised if it did turn out to be the second scenario! Mento songs often deal with stuff like this!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Mattie Rag meanings
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 20 Jul 11 - 09:57 AM

I agree. Mattie is probably a person.


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