Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?

GUEST,Paul Seligman 09 Oct 11 - 07:02 AM
Musket 09 Oct 11 - 07:21 AM
GUEST,Bluesman 09 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM
Bernard 09 Oct 11 - 07:58 AM
Stower 09 Oct 11 - 08:00 AM
GUEST,Bluesman 09 Oct 11 - 08:15 AM
MGM·Lion 09 Oct 11 - 08:38 AM
Tug the Cox 09 Oct 11 - 08:48 AM
saulgoldie 09 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM
The Sandman 09 Oct 11 - 09:23 AM
DMcG 09 Oct 11 - 09:25 AM
The Sandman 09 Oct 11 - 09:28 AM
GUEST,Tatterfoal 09 Oct 11 - 09:33 AM
Eric the Viking 09 Oct 11 - 09:57 AM
Lighter 09 Oct 11 - 10:21 AM
GUEST,Bluesman 09 Oct 11 - 10:27 AM
GUEST 09 Oct 11 - 10:32 AM
GUEST 09 Oct 11 - 10:34 AM
MGM·Lion 09 Oct 11 - 11:06 AM
GUEST,SteveG 09 Oct 11 - 11:40 AM
DrugCrazed 09 Oct 11 - 11:51 AM
Max Johnson 09 Oct 11 - 12:42 PM
Will Fly 09 Oct 11 - 12:51 PM
Greg B 09 Oct 11 - 12:55 PM
Richard from Liverpool 09 Oct 11 - 03:33 PM
Stower 09 Oct 11 - 03:48 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Oct 11 - 06:34 PM
Joe_F 09 Oct 11 - 06:43 PM
Leadfingers 09 Oct 11 - 07:00 PM
Mrrzy 09 Oct 11 - 10:56 PM
beeliner 10 Oct 11 - 12:23 AM
Stower 10 Oct 11 - 03:00 AM
Musket 10 Oct 11 - 03:40 AM
MGM·Lion 10 Oct 11 - 04:16 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 10 Oct 11 - 04:42 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 10 Oct 11 - 05:18 AM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 06:40 AM
GUEST,matt milton 10 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM
Lighter 10 Oct 11 - 09:02 AM
GUEST,matt milton 10 Oct 11 - 09:03 AM
Midchuck 10 Oct 11 - 09:14 AM
GUEST,Working Radish 10 Oct 11 - 09:43 AM
GUEST,raymond .greenoaken 10 Oct 11 - 02:31 PM
BTNG 10 Oct 11 - 02:37 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM
MGM·Lion 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM
Richard from Liverpool 10 Oct 11 - 02:43 PM
GUEST 10 Oct 11 - 03:20 PM
Vic Smith 10 Oct 11 - 04:13 PM
GUEST,raymond greenoaken 10 Oct 11 - 04:33 PM
DMcG 10 Oct 11 - 06:37 PM
olddude 10 Oct 11 - 07:09 PM
olddude 10 Oct 11 - 07:11 PM
GUEST,Buddhuu sans cookie 11 Oct 11 - 09:02 AM
Bonzo3legs 11 Oct 11 - 09:06 AM
Lighter 11 Oct 11 - 10:13 AM
GUEST,Jim Knowledge 11 Oct 11 - 11:11 AM
GUEST,999 11 Oct 11 - 11:17 AM
dick greenhaus 11 Oct 11 - 11:26 AM
GUEST,josepp 11 Oct 11 - 12:24 PM
olddude 11 Oct 11 - 12:40 PM
GUEST,AlanG at work 11 Oct 11 - 12:50 PM
olddude 11 Oct 11 - 12:53 PM
Morris-ey 11 Oct 11 - 01:24 PM
GUEST,mg 11 Oct 11 - 02:12 PM
Dave the Gnome 11 Oct 11 - 03:17 PM
BTNG 11 Oct 11 - 03:41 PM
GUEST,matt milton 11 Oct 11 - 03:48 PM
greg stephens 11 Oct 11 - 04:00 PM
Jeri 11 Oct 11 - 04:43 PM
GUEST,josepp 11 Oct 11 - 08:55 PM
GUEST,Jim 11 Oct 11 - 09:23 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Oct 11 - 05:13 AM
Brian Peters 12 Oct 11 - 05:28 AM
MGM·Lion 12 Oct 11 - 05:39 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Oct 11 - 07:08 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Oct 11 - 07:11 AM
Lighter 12 Oct 11 - 07:23 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Oct 11 - 07:31 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Oct 11 - 07:31 AM
MGM·Lion 12 Oct 11 - 07:45 AM
GUEST 12 Oct 11 - 08:38 AM
johncharles 12 Oct 11 - 08:54 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Oct 11 - 08:54 AM
GUEST,matt m 12 Oct 11 - 10:15 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Oct 11 - 11:02 AM
GUEST,josepp 12 Oct 11 - 12:22 PM
Morris-ey 12 Oct 11 - 01:52 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Oct 11 - 04:21 PM
GUEST 12 Oct 11 - 07:27 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Oct 11 - 12:00 AM
GUEST,Guest-AVFS 13 Oct 11 - 01:01 AM
Jim Carroll 13 Oct 11 - 02:59 AM
GUEST,matt milton 13 Oct 11 - 04:40 AM
Phil Edwards 13 Oct 11 - 04:57 AM
Nigel Parsons 13 Oct 11 - 05:36 AM
GUEST,matt milton 13 Oct 11 - 06:42 AM
Bonzo3legs 13 Oct 11 - 06:58 AM
Phil Edwards 13 Oct 11 - 03:56 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Oct 11 - 10:47 PM
GUEST,Paul Seligman 14 Oct 11 - 04:43 AM
GUEST,Paul Seligman 14 Oct 11 - 09:13 AM
Keith A of Hertford 14 Oct 11 - 09:24 AM
The Sandman 15 Oct 11 - 08:40 AM
GUEST,blogward 25 Oct 11 - 05:11 AM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:









Subject: Sterotyping in Scottish singer's prepertoire
From: GUEST,Paul Seligman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:02 AM

I am sitting in the community hall of a small Oxfordshire village in a state of some shock. Around me, an audience is applauding a singer who has just delivered a song repeating appalling anti-Jewish prejudices from the Middle Ages.

To be more specific, Alasdair Roberts, a Scottish singer and guitarist, has just sung a version of "Little Sir Hugh" in the village hall as part of the Towersey Folk Festival, a festival which supports 'Folk against Fascism'. This "ballad" tells how young, innocent and good Christian Hugh was murdered by the Jews of Lincoln.

Except that he wasn't, because this is one of the notorious mediaeval 'blood libels' against the Jews, alleging ritual murder of Christian children for religious purposes. Of 90 Jews arrested for alleged involvement in the death of 'Hugh of Lincoln' in 1255, 18 were executed (with the King seizing their property). Countless others suffered pogroms as a result of these lies being spread, so it is something more than a harmless ditty. Of course, we don't expect songs, traditional or otherwise, to be historically accurate, but this song is thoroughly unpleasant.

It would be unfair to single out Alasdair Roberts; the song has a long pedigree, being one of the ballads collected in earlier centuries by Bishop Percy and by Child; versions have been performed by many respected singers in the past, although Alasdair's version did seem particularly unambiguous.

For example, Steeleye Span's version of Little Sir Hugh doesn't even mention the Jews, but attributes the murder to a 'lady gay'.

I tell myself that the audience are applauding the musicianship and not the lyrics. Nonetheless, I am unable to sit through any more of this performance and leave, deeply troubled.

In the days and weeks following, I run my feelings over and over in my mind. Am I being unreasonable? I am normally quite critical of Jews who see anti-Semitism where none exists, although I do understand the historical reasons for that anxiety, and my own experience tells me that we must never tolerate discrimination and hatred.

I reason with myself that I sing 'The Greenland Whale Fishery' while being opposed to whaling in the current world. But I think it is different. There are no laws outlawing a vivid description of the hardships of an old industry (when no one was aware of conservation issues), whereas if you repeated the contents of 'Little Sir Hugh' as a public speech, you would arguably be facing prosecution for spreading race hatred. Furthermore, the blood libels are still believed and used to justify hate and persecution of Jews in some overseas countries, if not in Britain.

The song is on Alasdair's latest CD, which has been well reviewed and which features other excellent folk musicians. Emily Portman, a personal favourite among the younger generation, duets with Alasdair on this one. Emily and Alasdair both sing other ballads about murders but in most we do not associate the murderer explicitly with a specific racial group; the archetypal characters are individuals representing general, if undesirable, human traits such as cruelty or revenge.

According to a discussion on the fRoots forum about Folk Music, Racism and Political Correctness, in the booklet accompanying the CD. Alasdair states "my reasons for singing it, are in no way anti-Semitic; I felt it important to mark the fact that such sentiments once existed, and indeed, continue to exist, in the so-called civilised world…". It is reassuring to know that no offence was intended, but this doesn't make it acceptable. You might as well sing Nazi marching songs because they are historical, or 'because such hatred still exists'.

Does anyone in the mainstream folk movement sing songs accusing Black men of raping White women or that rejoice in a lynching? Such songs existed in the Southern States but are nowadays confined to the lunatic fringe of 'White Resistance Music'.

The discussion is not new. For example, the arguments for and against singing the song are well rehearsed in a discussion dating from 2001 on the Mudcat Café forum. However, our social context and understanding changes. I started work in the seventies when racial discrimination was commonplace and often overt; thankfully we've moved on.

Apparently, Alasdair was uncertain about including it on his record; I think he reached the wrong conclusion. This song may have a place in academic treatises about anti-semitism in popular culture, not in being performed for entertainment (and profit).

24 hours after Alasdair's performance, I am in the same venue listening to Klezmer inspired music from Lebedek. This is followed by Coope, Boyes and Simpson, whose set included one of the most moving songs about the holocaust: A Hill of Little Shoes.

The audience applauded both: that's what we do, it's traditional.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Musket
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:21 AM

Folk music as entertainment or folk music as collecting and preserving history in the musical and narrative form.

As the former, racist songs are completely out in my opinion for what its worth. As the latter, you are walking a tightrope, but airbrushing bad bits out of history isn't a good thing either.

I would suggest a concert is entertainment and unless you are using song as part of a history lecture, (I have been to some fascinating concerts where the artiste is doing just that,) I'd question the logic of portraying it as entertainment. Of course, today people are writing and singing songs that portray their political views, and that is part of the folk tradition. Doesn't mean the audience have to agree with you. I rave over listening to Dick Gaughan, but think he is simplistic and misguided in most of his rants. Still love his concerts though.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Bluesman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM

These songs were simply of the time, in saying that, I am not endorsing them. In some way it is like television. Here in the UK, we had programmes such as, "Till Death Us Do Part" and "Love Thy Neighbour." A lot of the lines used in them were racist. I don't know of any current programmes satirising racism.

These programmes were broadcast a long time ago. Yes, with hindsight they are racist but back then they were at the cutting edge of comedy and did get people talking about racism which can't be a bad thing.

Spike Milligan did a show called "The Melting Pot" 6 episodes were made but only 1 was broadcast as it was deemed 'too racist' apparently.


Going back to Love Thy Neighbour it's strange how interviews with the cast show that the leading black actors want to see it repeated but both white actors would prefer it not to be.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Bernard
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:58 AM

I think the question ought to be 'why do people want to learn racist songs?' - after all, they cannot sing a song unless they have made some sort of effort to learn it. Even reading off a page means they have made the effort to find the song lyric and its tune...

It also depends a lot upon whether the racism or racial stereotype is what holds the story together, or if it is merely a throwaway phrase.

For example, the line 'rich as any Jew' (A Mon Like Thee) can easily be changed to something that sounds like it such as 'rich as one of you', which doesn't change the sense of the song at all.

What offends some doesn't offend others...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stower
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:00 AM

No, they're not OK.

I saw the same singer at a festival this summer and walked out after this song for the same reason. He could have spun a tale around it, given it an introdution with the background, explained the power of a story to influence, especially if the story keys into popular sentiment - for good or ill. But he didn't, he just sang it without comment. If I had seen him after the gig I may well have taken it up with him, in the most friendly way, of course, but I didn't so I couldn't. I don't know if AR knows the background to the song. If he doesn't, then he should - it's no excuse.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Bluesman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:15 AM

It is not unknown to revise or change lyrics. For example, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The N.T.S.B. revised its verdict on the cause of the disaster, and Gordon changed a line in the song accordingly.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:38 AM

Re Till Death~~~ Warren Mitchell would tell of frequently meeting those who would thank him for "having a go at the blacks". "But I wasn't," he would protest; "cant you see it wasn't them I was having a go at, it was you!"

But of course they couldn't; it is not altogether right to call it a 'racist' programme: the intention of author & producer was the entire opposite. But such things have a habit of escaping from their creators and becoming subject to Laws of Unintended Consequences.

~Michael~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Tug the Cox
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:48 AM

I'm not in favour of Bowdlerism at all. We need to understand how it was to understand why issues ( including racism)are impoetant now. I would certainly object to a singer endorsing racist views. Why couldn't this singer give some background...and focus our horror at the story, rather than seeming to accept it.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: saulgoldie
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM

Great question! I don't know that I can give a straight up answer. Some songs are profoundly offensive. However, many songs have some sort of historical value that we cannot forget.

There are songs that are still widely sung that express views of women that I wince when I hear. And plenty of overtly racist or anti-Semitic songs. And I don't know how many people know that those formerly known as "Gypsies" feel that that term is offensive, and they prefer to be called "Roma." Yet, the term "Gypsy" is still used even in recent songs (at least in the "country" music genre). "Gypsy Davy" anyone? Still, some of these songs do have historical value in that they reflect the views of people of the eras in which they were written.

This harkens back to the recent discussion about "sanitizing" Mark Twain's work. And a fair amount of movies and radio shows from the earlier (and more recent) 1900s. In all honesty, I cannot give my own "one size fits all" answer. Great question!

Saul


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:23 AM

I have recently altered a word in Waxies Dargle It refers to old jew money lender, ok some moneylenders were jewish, some were not, so it is unnecessary, rich old moneylender is better, the point of the song is that the moneylender would not lend him half a crown , nationailty is irrelevant.little sir hugh is not a song I would ever sing.Dick Miles


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: DMcG
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:25 AM

I admit that it is a difficult decision. There's plenty of songs I wouldn't sing because I disagree with what they say and I'd avoid plenty that I was taught at school as decidedly dubious. And yes, the story of Little Sir Hugh is a nasty story - as are many ballads -but also one closely related to real-world brutality, which is less common. But I still think I'd sing it providing I was able to give the sort of surrounding commentary that I normally do when singing. I'd be inclined to stress, for example, that propaganda demonising the 'other' in society is hardly new: it has gone as far as we can tell for ever, being pretty much the same in the 12th C as the 20th C and you would have to be pretty blind to think it isn't still going on today. The ballad is a salutary reminder not only how manipulable we all are but also how we actually assist that manipulation.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:28 AM

however if it is introduced thus:this is a song that is historicaly inaccurate because etcetcetc, but reflects the anti semitic sentiments of the time, it would be ok


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Tatterfoal
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:33 AM

Will we then start to question Sexist song, ageist song, social injustice song in case we inftinge someones human rights, no, I think we allow traditional song in its origional form.   I can think of songs that denigrate the Portugese, French, Irish etc. but all are sung in clubs regularly.   It is a rocky road you travel if you censor songs, leave em alone is my advice.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Eric the Viking
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:57 AM

Interesting but if this is taken to logical conclusion then Shakespere could be banned. (Merchant of Venice etc). I'm not wishing to insult anybody and have no beef about race, colour, creed or sexuality and over my lifetime have had friends of all religions, colours and sexual identity but historical fact is historical fact (even if the history is a bit doubtful or twisted by time or victor) and to deny it is unjust. I'm not suggesting that we sing songs glorifying rape,murder, racist or religious crime or suchlike but removing songs, theatre and broadcast media that give a historical perspective or slant is to deny the fact. There are people who deny the holocaust, we consider them, rightly, part of the lunatic fringe. If we sanistize history to the point that all events of the past however terrible are removed, then we'll have a rosified view where nothing terrible happened and we as individuals or nations have been guilty of nothing and future generations will not understand where the basis of changing attitudes comes from. In Britain alone we are very guilty of removing and denying our nasty past. Much is written and sung about our glorious empire and those who fought for and founded it, but we never mention the barbaric acts perpetrated in the name of the British Empire. We see the crusades (historically) as much to be admired when in all honesty they were the barbaric and cruel invasion of the middle east in the name of religious persecution. (They also link with the Blood libels)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Lighter
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:21 AM

All this talk about "sanitizing history" (which has been covered before on other threads) suddenly makes me think: what exactly are people referring to?

It's one thing to say that "Little Sir Hugh" is a historical artifact that shouldn't be bowdlerized. That's my position, but my position also is that it shouldn't be sung, except as a classroom illustration of antisemitism. Nor should "Little Mary Phagan."

I get the impression, however, that some of the "sanitizing of history" people may be objecting to may not be in the song itself.

Does anyone who actually *likes* the song believe that medieval Jews killed Christian children for their blood? Maybe no one here, but....

OTOH, knowledge of pogroms and the Holocaust has become so weakened that most singers may just think of it as a fun Halloween song that happens to have a Jew in it.

They're wrong.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Bluesman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:27 AM

Just thinking about Blue Mink's hit "Melting Pot". I doubt it would be allowed today.

"Take a pinch of white man
Wrap him up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy
Oh like a Curly Latin kinkies
Oh Lordy, Lordy, mixed with yellow Chinkees, yeah
You know you lump it all together
And you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know

What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough enough enough to take
The world and all its got And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee coloured people by the score."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:32 AM

"It is reassuring to know that no offence was intended, but this doesn't make it acceptable. You might as well sing Nazi marching songs because they are historical, or 'because such hatred still exists"


Alasdair has stated his position and I completely agree, if we go with your thinking perhaps anyone else who confronts such subject matter shouldnt , so Coope Boyes & Simpson shpuldnt perform "Hills of little shoes£"?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:34 AM

or anyone who performs the bitter withy ? for
instance.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:06 AM

Ah, now ~ yes, The Bitter Withy. As far as I know, Peter Bellamy himself invented the line where the three young lords say "Thou art nothing but a Jew's child": interestingly absurd historical irony, to be sure. But has anyone else come across that particular variant on what is usually, in all othe versions I know, rendered either as "poor man's child", or [as in DT] "maid's child"? And, if I am right, why did my dear friend Peter choose to sing it that way? To add an extra frisson? Or just being a bit perverse as he sometimes delighted in being [see various threads, including the present 'PB 18/20 years dead' one]?

Hugh Of Lincoln is also, of course, a variant of the folktale told on the pilgrimage to Canterbury by the Prioress in Chaucer's The Cantebury Tales; another of the great classics of our literature. As someone remarked above: how are we to look at The Merchant of Venice [which has anyhow Shylock's own cogent anti-antisemitic arguments ~ "Hath not a Jew eyes?..." !!never try to oversimplify the works of Will!!] ~ which in any event pales into insignificance compared to Marlowe's near-contemporary The Jew Of Malta, in which Barabbas is not really a Jew at all so much as just a conventionalised satanic figure. How about Dickens' Oliver Twist, of which he became so ashamed in later life that he invented the super-virtuous Jew Mr Riah in Our Mutual Friend, who unhappily has none of the vitality of Fagin but is a boring old fart? Or Trollope's Melmoth in The Way We Live Now?

'No simple answers', is, I suppose, the non-answer I am somewhat inchoately striving towards...

~Michael~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,SteveG
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:40 AM

I'm in agreement with the majority view expressed here. If we start sensoring songs for whatever reason, we are sensoring history, as those in power have done for so long. We do this at our peril.

However when singing or publishing any song that contains any sort of material that is not deemed to be politically correct, I feel it is important that we explain our own stance and why we are still using the material.

In this specific case, as someone has already suggested, it is useful to present the song as an example of England's historical treatment of Jews, which compares with the 20th century holocaust.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: DrugCrazed
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:51 AM

If it offends you, don't sing it. If you're singing it as a "Yeah, life was good in them days!" then you shouldn't be singing it. If you're singing it because of the lyrics/tune then it's like any depiction in a medium, which is to say it should be used with care and you should be able to explain why you're singing it.

Also, "Lady gay" I thought was a way of getting an extra syllable out of a line when you needed one, and thus didn't mean gay. It's like "He went down the street all fine and gay" isn't it?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Max Johnson
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:42 PM

It is reassuring to know that no offence was intended, but this doesn't make it acceptable. You might as well sing Nazi marching songs because they are historical, or 'because such hatred still exists"

At Ripon folk club in the '60s, Les Pope used to sing 'Fahren Gengen England'. Not because he was a Nazi or a German Nationalist - in fact Les was a very active member of the Communist Party - but because he felt that it was quite a jolly tune, and that for a room full of British kids to look it in the eye and sing along with great gusto completely defused it.

I think it's silly to be afraid of a song, per se. But it's sensible to ask why it's being sung.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:51 PM

But it's sensible to ask why it's being sung.

Absolutely. Motive is everything. I sing Gus Elen's "The Postman's Holiday" - a great song but with the opening line, "I works just like a nigger and I isn't very strong". In a club of like-minded people I suppose it would be OK - with an appropriate introduction - to sing it as is. But I don't - because just such an introduction would draw even more attention to the line.

So I sing, "I works just like a navvy..." - same effect and no-one's offended. The song works just as well, it won't wither and die in any way because of my editing, and the original words are preserved in sheet music and on record for those who want a snapshot of a typical commonplace view in Gus Elen's day.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Greg B
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:55 PM

I think there's a "temporal proximity effect" that breaks some comparisons. Singing the antisemitism of "Little Sir Hugh" feels different than reviving some antisemitic Nazi anthem. Perhaps because the latter are part and parcel of horrific events of recent memory. Things evolve. 50 years ago, absolutely no cultural relic of the 3rd Reich would have found much acceptance among "right thinking" people. But, in recent memory I have heard a WW2 U-Boat sailor's song, one that made no antisemitic references, but rather was about the service itself, revived.

I'd wager that Confederate Army civil war songs didn't find many sympathetic hearings north of the Mason-Dixon circa 1900. Now, they're a sub-specialty.

There's 'history' and there's 'recent memory.' The two are distinct.

Then there's words that aren't worth bothering with, because they've changed their meaning, and their very utterance by (certain) performers will shut down many listeners. I mean, white shanty singers can't sing "Hogeye Man" in the original. Though African American hip-hop artists can use the n-word in every other line.

Even "gay" is becoming a problem. I mean, how much time do you want to spend explaining the etymology of a given song to all of the under-30's in an audience?

The value in the historical is understanding how people thought, talked, felt, and reasoned.

And the fact is, that historically there was a good deal of unintended or even well-intentioned racism, sexism, and what-have-you-ism. The fact is, that until several decades ago, who you were in the eyes of others, even of yourself, and your place in society was highly determined by accidents of race, gender, culture, religion, and so on.

If you're nor prepared to deal with that, well maybe traditional music isn't the place for you.

Perhaps you should stick with sensitive new-age urban singer-songwriters.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Richard from Liverpool
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 03:33 PM

I think singing is a form of storytelling, and I'm happy to tell stories where things happen that I don't approve of, but it's a different question if the story is clearly pushing an agenda that I can't hold to. For the same reason, I don't feel I can sing Irish rebel songs, etc.

I wanted to post because I'm surprised The Bitter Withy has been brought up here; a) I learned it as "you are but some poor maid's child born in an oxen's stall", not "poor Jew's child", and b) it's clear that the sympathies of the song are with Jesus who's being picked on by three snotty kids. If they did call him a "poor Jew's child", then that's a part of their being snotty and offensive, and they promptly get drowned by Jesus for it. Hardly a ringing endorsement of anti-semitism!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stower
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 03:48 PM

Doesn't this all boil down to one simple question of motive and context?

Racist words in a song don't necessarily make the song racist - ask Randy Newman (Sail Away, Rednecks) or Jake Thackray (One Of Them). Their intentions were to reveal and ridicule racism.

Hugh of Lincoln contains no racist words but it is a racist song, as its intention is to promote racism.

So if we're sitting in a room with someone who sings Hugh of Lincoln, we want to know his intention: is the singer a racist, because the song certainly is? The way the singer introduces the song gives it its meaning in that context. When the singer sings the song without comment, then we are entitled to ask questions of motivation and judgement.

I, for one, am uncomfortable being sung to by someone whose motives may be dishonourable. I feel that remaining in that audience gives my tacit acceptance of the unacceptable. From the info our originator, Paul Seligman, has given us, it seems Alasdair Roberts is not singing the song for racist reasons. But he doesn't help himself, or us, when he sings the song without giving any introduction or context, as he did on both ocassions.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:34 PM

Well, my two cents- I'm Chinese Australian, 18 now, with an interest in becoming a calypsonian, and there are a number of Calypsos that have racist language in them, like "Chinese Children" by the Mighty Terror, which I would only sing very cautiously


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe_F
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:43 PM

Child 155. Child's notes on the song are well worth reading. He traces the blood libel all over Europe (Britain got a fairly mild case of it, as such things go) and is very far from concealing his moral judgement of Jew-baiting in general and this piece of propaganda in particular.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:00 PM

So we all stop singing 'The Bantam Cock' from the late Jake Thackery
because it "Glorifies" rape ??


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:56 PM

I like to take beautiful music with beautiful-sounding-lyrics-till-you-actually-understand-them and rewrite the lyrics, as slightly as possible.

If it isn't beautiful, I don't sing it.

If the lyrics offend me in meaning only, I can cast them out and make new ones.

And it can be fun, especially trying to keep as much of the old song as possible.

I've rewritten The Magi that way, for example. Not racist, but dehumanizing IMH.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: beeliner
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 12:23 AM

This was discussed here recently before.

By the time Nelstone's Hawaiians recorded "Sir Hugh" (as "Fatal Flower Garden", included in the Harry Smith anthology), The Jewess had become a gypsy. Of course, that group, in fact, had no such ritual either.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stower
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:00 AM

Leadfingers, Jake himself changed the odd word in his songs as public awareness - and his, too - developed over time. Specifically, the "rape" songs. There are two. Family Tree is a song about his disreputable lineage, with the line that a relative "had no nobility" except that "he once raped a duchess". In his later years, Jake changed this to "once shagged a duchess". Much better. Jake realised that rape isn't funny. I cannot imagine rape ever being funny. In Bantam Cock, the singer expresses admiration for the "champion brute". Presumably the line, "He gave me a grin and a terrible wink, the way that rapists do" is there for laughs? Why else? Nothing much admirable or funny in a rapist. That's why I heard it sung the other night with the singer changing the word to "perverts", which does improve it, though I'm not sure it saves the song.

Now Jake's song, One Of Them, is pure genius, in my opinion, using lines from tired old racist jokes to show them for the divisive, insensitive claptrap they are.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Musket
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:40 AM

Jake never missed an opportunity to remind his audience, presumably trying to get an entry in The Book of Quotes... "I cannot tolerate intolerance."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:16 AM

""I wanted to post because I'm surprised The Bitter Withy has been brought up here; a) I learned it as "you are but some poor maid's child born in an oxen's stall", not "poor Jew's child", and b) it's clear that the sympathies of the song are with Jesus who's being picked on by three snotty kids. "

Not "poor Jew's child", Richard from Liverpool; just Jew's child: & I made it clear that we all learned it as you did, not as Peter Bellamy, who was a great man but could be a perverse showoff when he liked, was the ONLY one to sing it thus. & if the sympathies are with Jesus, why did his Holy Mother punish him with a birching, then? Why, to teach him [& us] not to overreact or misuse our powers. I think it a far more interesting and edifying ballad than you seem to give it credit for.

~Michael~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:42 AM

As Lighter wrote above:

"It's one thing to say that "Little Sir Hugh" is a historical artifact that shouldn't be bowdlerized. That's my position, but my position also is that it shouldn't be sung, except as a classroom illustration of antisemitism."

My sentiments entirely.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 05:18 AM

Who would it have been that I heard on Folk on 2 several years ago singing a lovely slow version of The Butter Withy in session and introducing it as a socialist song or somesuch notion? MtheGM has it exactly right there - at least that's how I see it myself; Christ getting thrashed for abusing his powers. But even then he can't turn the other cheek and must curse the withy... I remember first singing this (along with the Cherry Tree Catol etc.) in school when I was ten (1971) under the direction of a very Folky teacher who had precisely the same take on it as MtheGM. Christ the Socialist? I think not somehow; this was a petulant brat lashing out to murderous effect. Beats me how he only got away with slapped arse from his mother - I blame those absentee fathers myself.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 06:40 AM

basically the problem arises from the star system in our folk clubs. Its difficult - you sing folksong to satisfy yourself, when you perform its difficult - but you can't presume the sophistication of your audience - unless they know you intimately, and you play there every week.

If you're a star going round to strange audiences, not really that well known but enough of a name to be a star - well you have a mountain to climb and you ignore it at your peril. There are a number of questions raised by this - one is, why do traddies suspect the skills of minstrelsy and preasentation so much, and just heave their goods in front of the audience as though emptying a sack of potatoes. you are left to guess at their motives and mindset. let the music speak for itself?.....tricky one!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM

Alasdair Roberts singing Little Sir Hugh surprised me too, when I first heard it.

I was glad to hear that he prefaces it on his recording with some context - that he in no way condones the sentiments.

It did make me wonder why he chose not to introduce it that way when I heard him singing it live.


Roberts is deeply into his musty antiquarianism. Like Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Julian Cope (and psychegeographers and conspiracy theorists the world over), Roberts loves his old tomes, lore and esoteric societies and cults.

I imagine he felt he could sing this song because he assumed he was amongst like-minded people, who would simply presume that he couldn't possibly be condoning the sentiments, who already knew of his politics and who would treat the performance of the song as a piece of dredged-up scholarship, from a time when a Jew was presented as a bogeyman like "Long Lankin" (another song also in Roberts repertoire).

I imagine Roberts thought he was presenting hate as nothing but hate, and crediting his audience with the maturity to understand that. (After all, his lyrics are generally anti-war, anti-patriarchy, and, in their oblique and abstract way, on the Left.)

Having said all that, I don't think you can automatically credit the audience that way - and vice versa, you can't assume the audience is au fait with where you're coming from.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Lighter
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:02 AM

Actually I'm a little surprised that there's been no fundamentalist objections to "The Bitter Withy," which could be interpreted as disrespectful of Jesus and denying his innate moral perfection.

On the other hand, that kind of rigid literalism may be more typical of some American denominations, and the song here is hardly known at all.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:03 AM

If I sing "in the pines", I don't sing it as "black girl, black girl, where have you been?", I sing it as "little girl, little girl, where have you been?" for the obvious reason that I'm white in a still-racist society. It helps that lots of bluegrass (rather than blues) versions of the song sing this anyway.

To my mind, any white person who considered using the word "black" (pace Leadbelly's "Black Girl") on the basis that they were "telling a story" or "playing a part" is socially and politically naive, living in a bubble.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Midchuck
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:14 AM

If you eliminate all racism from folk music, you essentially eliminate folk music. If you edit and revise folk music to clean out all the racist references music, it's still music, but it isn't folk any more.

Racism, in the sense of being angered by and/or afraid of people who "aren't like us," is pretty much natural to a species that evolved as pack hunters. That's not to defend it, or imply we can't choose to intentionally override it, but it's still part of history if we do.

Or so it's always seemed to me.

P.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Working Radish
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:43 AM

If you eliminate all racism from folk music, you essentially eliminate folk music.

I'm not aware of any racist content in Young Hunting, Musgrave, Sir Patrick Spens, Young Waters, A Week Before Easter, Searching for Lambs, the Blacksmith, Pleasant and Delightful, Gilderoy, Just as the tide was flowing, Lemady, The cruel mother, Over the hills and far away, McCaffery, Van Diemen's Land, Goodnight Irene, When Jones's Ale Was New, Who's the Fool Now?, Arthur McBride, The Unfortunate Lass, The Trees They Do Grow High, Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy, Haul Away John, The Plains of Waterloo, The Bonny Bunch of Roses, Poor Old Horse (either version), Blood Red Roses, Come Write Me Down, Thousands or More or Ranzo. So I think we'll manage!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,raymond .greenoaken
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:31 PM

Bitter Withy –

if that soupçon of anti-Jewish sentiment was inserted by Peter Bellamy, I'd say his instincts were sound. Now the rich young lords are not just snotty young snobs but snotty young racist snobs to boot. Drown 'em all!

Interestingly, I've always heard it as "a Jewess' son" and always sung it that way. Makes even more sense theologically.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: BTNG
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:37 PM

Little Sir Hugh is indeed anti-semitic, and I for one will continue to sing it,as an illustration of such. I do cater to our politically correct crowd by explaining that this is the way the song was written and this is the way I will sing it. What they do after that is entirely up to them.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM

Yeh and read the comments on Youtube following Paul Brady's Arthur MacBride. lots of people don't like anti- English sentiment or the child murder of the wee little drummer.

You can't say much without upsetting some folk.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM

Never come across that, Raymond ~~ interesting. But, of course, bringing any commonsense to the matter, they were ALL Jews, weren't they?

~M~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Richard from Liverpool
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:43 PM

"I think it a far more interesting and edifying ballad than you seem to give it credit for."

I think it's a fascinating ballad, one I sing often and enjoy the meaning of (one that hints at apocryphal texts of the Bible, to boot). Can't imagine how I gave the impression that I somehow didn't find it of interest - it just seems clear I have a somewhat different interpretation of it to you.

My only point was bemusement that it could be considered anti-semitic.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:20 PM

(one that hints at apocryphal texts of the Bible, to boot)
and how many trad songs can you say that about?

a fascinating and interesting song, for sure


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Vic Smith
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:13 PM

No, they're not OK.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,raymond greenoaken
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:33 PM

> bringing any commonsense to the matter, they were ALL Jews, weren't they?>

Ah, fair point – but it depends on one's perspective. As with many other trad songs featuring JC, I've always visualised Bitter Withy as being set in the English countryside, with the rich young lords as solid native stock. And the "small hail" sounds more like the English climate than the Levantine.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: DMcG
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 06:37 PM

bringing any commonsense to the matter, they were ALL Jews [in the Bitter Withy], weren't they?

Well, even it were a historical account, which of course it isn't: not necessarily.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: olddude
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 07:09 PM

They are part of history, if someone wants to play them go ahead. But for me, I don't have to listen as I think they should remain part of history myself ... I however, have no objections to anyone .. just please don't be offended if i leave while it is being played. I just would not wish to learn or play any.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: olddude
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 07:11 PM

Some of the most hate filled racist songs ever recorded are being played on the radio as gangsta rap.   I don't listen to that either. However, I don't tell them they can't play it ... I just don't need to listen to it.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Buddhuu sans cookie
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 09:02 AM

Short answer: no. Not ok. There are plenty of other songs to sing.

Longer answer: can depend on motive and context as well as content. Songs using racist language in the course of mocking/satirising/ridiculing racism can be powerful. I would consider singing such songs - cautiously.

I can't imagine ever singing a song with racist content for any reason without making my position on the matter very clear before doing the song.

Possibly singing something traditional but nasty to illustrate conditions and attitudes of the past. That could work, but would need careful handling.

To sing racist songs for amusement, or to pander to a racist audience, is in no measure excused by saying "but they're traditional songs".

I would also do the word-change thing if it seemed appropriate. In that case I may well tell the audience about the change and my reason for making it.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 09:06 AM

Oh for heavens sake, a song is a song is a song. People with nothing else better to do getting offended on behalf of others.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Lighter
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 10:13 AM

> "However, I don't tell them they can't play it."

Why not, exactly?

Unless you own a radio station or something, maybe "shouldn't" is a better word than "can't." But racists have a right to know the rest of us disapprove.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Jim Knowledge
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 11:11 AM

I `ad "oldude" off that MudCat in my cab the other day. `e wanted to go to the Social Sec.office.
I said, "Morning O.D. I read your bit on that MUDCAT the other day about songs with offensive and racist contents and I reckon you`re spot on."
`e said, "Well thanks Jim, but what are we gonna do about it?"
I said, "It`s easy. All we gotta do is `ave something like we `ave on our telly. We gotta get a law passed that requires all public performances MUST display a big notice outside that says "WARNING. This public performance may contain material referring to..blah...blah...blah." Then there`s no excuse for people being offended"

Whaddam I Like??


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 11:17 AM

I think material of a racist sort should be tested properly. Suppose you have a racist song that denigrates Jews, for example. Would you sing that song to a Jewish audience in Tel Aviv? Suppose it denigrate Blacks. Would you sing that song to a Black audience in Harlem? Ditto various other peoples, cultures, etc. If you wouldn't, then you've answered your own question, traditional or not.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 11:26 AM

Times, mores and attitudes change with time. If you're looking for modern sensibilities, maybe you should restrict yourself to modern
music.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 12:24 PM

I sing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" as "Black Girl" which sometimes gets me stares when I'm busking but i don't see it as that bad. I will not perform Peg Leg Howell's "Skin Game" which sounds to me to have a lyric that goes, "They handcuffed the niggers to me, lovin' babe, they handcuffed the niggers to me." I'm just not going to sing anything like that.

Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd do a sea song that contains the lyric, "And who do you think was the skipper of her, Row Boys Row, Why Bully Hayes the nigger-lover, Row Me Bully Boys Row." Recording it is one thing but singing in front of people--no.

I heard an old cylinder with a song about "Mr. Jappy Jap Jappy" who filled in the gappy gap gappy in the west of the mappy map mappy. Again, I don't consider this terribly racist--it's not meant as an attack on Japanese people--but I sure wouldn't sing it in public.

Zip Coon I wouldn't sing but to play it as "Turkey in the Straw" is perfectly fine by me.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: olddude
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 12:40 PM

On the news not long ago, they talked about this company that edited Mark Twain's Huck Finn to make it more politically correct. I think history is history and one should not try to rewrite it either in books or in song. Like I said I just don't want to listen to those songs but I don't think political correctness is the answer either. I just don't want to learn or listen to them but stopping others .. no way


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,AlanG at work
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 12:50 PM

I sing "The Flying Cloud" which has the line "we had the niggers up on deck and we hauled them in the tide". I've thought long and hard about whether I should replace "the niggers" with "their bodies" or whether they would prefer me to refer to them by the nword to hauling them in the tide.
Yes, it could be considered offensive, but slavery was offensive and to it sanitize it would make it appear more acceptable. At least in the end Edward Hollander repents of his wrongdoing - before he is hanged!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: olddude
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 12:53 PM

If there is one good thing out of such songs, it is that it tells us how far we have come as a society ... Like I said, I play songs that I like and I don't like those songs so I don't and would not play them. But for those who do, it does remind us that we came a long way since then and still have a ways to go to accept people as people and not based on color or nationality.

I was looking at an old farm magazine from 1890's. The help wanted ads in the back .." looking for experienced farm hands, Irish need not apply"

all part of history and all teaching us that we came a long way since then


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Morris-ey
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 01:24 PM

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: see short answer.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 02:12 PM

Please save that magazine and scan it if you can and pass it on. There are people who claim those signs etc. never existed. Fat chance. mg


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 03:17 PM

Hey Pip - Nice list but I can find offence in quite a few of them if you like. Our 'hero' in 'Pleasant and Delightful; is off to India for seven long years - Presumably to subdue the natives ;-) You've never heard our version of Blood Red Roses if you can't find offence in that and what did that wee little drummer do to deserve such actions from a pair of pair of grown men? Bloody perverts...

Offence can be found in anything if you look close enough!

:D tG


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: BTNG
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 03:41 PM

As has been stated befire, some people will find offense in just about anything, sad really......


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 03:48 PM

"I sing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" as "Black Girl" which sometimes gets me stares when I'm busking but i don't see it as that bad. "

"I sing "The Flying Cloud" which has the line "we had the niggers up on deck and we hauled them in the tide". I've thought long and hard about whether I should replace "the niggers" with "their bodies" or whether they would prefer me to refer to them by the nword to hauling them in the tide."

Thing is, would either of you sing those words to a room with black audience members inches away from you in the front row? Would you not feel a tiny bit self-concious singing "black girl, black girl, don' lie to me" to a black girl? (You should!) I'd put money on you either not singing those particular songs or changing a lyric. Even if you thought it was fine in principal, I bet you'd wimp out in practice.

I play more open-mic nights and singer-songwriter nights than I do folk nights. At the folk nights the audience is almost always entirely white people. At the open-mic/singer-songwriter nights it's a lot more mixed, especially in the South London pubs I frequent (I live in Brixton).

When I introduce "In The Pines" I sometimes talk about how Leadbelly's song is "black girl" but how people might just think I'm a little bit racialist to sing it that way. The anachronistic use of the archaic term "racialist" usually gets a laugh from the older ladies and gents in the audience - black or white - who remember the term from the Alf Garnett bad old days.

I've played some calypso and mento songs in a few Brixton pubs and it's actually really liberating. Doing stuff like "Iron Bar" or "Monkey's Wedding" , singing in a straightforward English London accent, not attempting any West Indian twang or anything, you get a massively warm response from the older guys there.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 04:00 PM

Matt: I should sing
"The plague it came and fever too
It killed them off like flies
We piled their bodies on the deck
And hove them o'er the side
For sure the dead were lucky then
They'd have to weep no more
Or drag the chain or a perfectly traditional version)

This is about the most shocking verse in folk song that I know,in the context of the rest of the song, and I dont see the point of diverting people's attention from the shocking nature of what is happening in the course of the voyage. Singing "niggers" will just make people think instantly of the appropriateness or not of using that word, and divert from consideration of the power and impact of the song as a whole.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jeri
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 04:43 PM

I think it comes down to:
1) Singing songs as they were, in context. For example, in an historical program about previously accepted racism. Explaining the terms were common and acceptable will leave people asking why you didn't just change them to something relevant today in a typical concert,
2) Changing the offensive words so the words don't wind up being the audience's focus instead of the whole song.
3 Not singing the songs.

The people listening gets to make up their minds about how they feel about the songs, no matter whether the performer thinks they should or shouldn't be offended. You're probably going to piss somebody off -- just make sure it's worth it.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 08:55 PM

////Thing is, would either of you sing those words to a room with black audience members inches away from you in the front row? Would you not feel a tiny bit self-concious singing "black girl, black girl, don' lie to me" to a black girl? (You should!) I'd put money on you either not singing those particular songs or changing a lyric. Even if you thought it was fine in principal, I bet you'd wimp out in practice.////

Don't put money on it or you've lost it already. I don't sing any other version but "Black Girl" and, yes, I have sang it that way in front of black people and, no, I don't feel self-conscious about it. I also sing "Black Betty" which I use as an a capella interlude for Hooker's "Roll and Roll" and, again, have done this many times in front of black patrons and listeners. One time I broke into "Black Betty" and a young black woman standing on the corner with her daughter began to bob up and down to it in a way that told me she knew the song well.

Also my version of "Black Girl" does not turn her into a whore as some versions do--she sleeps around and men give her new clothes. I have the narrator asking where she gets the new clothes and she replies that her husband left them for her in the pines overnight. Then the narrator tells us that her husband had been dead a year. Then he demands one last time, "Where did you last night??" but she just gives the same answer: "In the pines where I shivered the whole night through" then I end it with a poignant guitar solo so there is no doubt that she is telling the truth. In other words, I turn the song into a ghost story.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 09:23 PM

Many good points made. However, I have to confess that a lot of this sounds so white, liberal middle class...the sort of people who love to hear nice, safe "folk music" but would die if they had to actually live it.

Each singer sings a song because they empathise with it it some way. Either for a story, a message or simply the beauty of tune or lyrics. Once you decide to sing a song you have to be true to it. There are plenty of traditional songs that I wouldn't sing because I just think they are crap, or I can't relate to the story within...Scarborough Fair, Outlandish Night, Matt Hyland, to name a few. Same attitude with modern songs.

But someone else will see something in them that I don't and therefore should sing them with all their heart. So what if it is perceived in a different age as racist? And, as has been pointed out, the context and motive of the singer is more important. I would say it is more important than the perceived "feelings" of the audience. What do we make of the local Tory councillor who likes to pop down his local club and sing the Gresford Disaster?

The audience is there to hear you. They take a chance.
To change words because they don't fit our western, liberal, middle class sense of contrived morals is ridiculous. I don't agree with incest, but the Sheath and Knife is a cracking story...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 05:13 AM

off-topic,but- MtheGM's post about "Oliver Twist" reminded me that the one time I read Oliver Twist, (after I'd visited the Jewish Museum in Sydney for a history unit on Genocide in Year 10) I couldn't get past all the references to "the Jew". Why did Dickens do that?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 05:28 AM

"There are plenty of traditional songs that I wouldn't sing because I just think they are crap, or I can't relate to the story within... Outlandish Night..."

A song about a resourceful young woman who turns the tables on the serial killer who has designs on her. Plenty to relate to there, I think. But, each to their own.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 05:39 AM

Morwen ~~ Why, because Dickens was a man of his time ~ which is, after all, the subtext, if not the main text, of this thread. It was OK then...

These days we have gone to the other extreme. My wife gets distressed when football commentators will refer to players by their nationality: e.g. if Tevez does something spectacular, they might say, "That was a fine run by the Argentinian". I think that they only do it to introduce a bit of variety into the commentary, and that Emma is being a bit fastidious; but I think I see where she is coming from.

Regards

~Michael~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:08 AM

MacColl was required by the producers to include 'Sir Hugh' on The Long Harvest series of Ballads - I know he had qualms about it, but treated it as an eucational exercise and produced the following note for the ballad:

"The Story
Some little (school) hoys are playing ball, usually in the rain. One boy tosses his ball into a garden, or through the window, of a forbidden house. Out comes, usually, the Jew's daughter, (the Jew, a jeweller's daughter, King's daughter. Duke's daughter, aunt and sometimes even the child's mother!) to entice die child in with a scries of desirable objects. She takes him to a remote part of trie house where ins murder, almost ritual in character, takes place. Great emphasis is laid upon the bleeding of the child and the exit of his heart's blood. The child requests the placing of the Bible and Testament at his head and feet and/or is entombed in a sheet or cake of lead and thrown into a well. In the more complete versions, the mother comes looking for her child and holds a conversation with him from the top of the well (as in version A). The child instructs her where and when to meet him, to bring his winding-sheet and to bury him decently.
Child gives eighteen versions, seven Scots, eight English and three North American. Bronson gives sixty-six versions, sixty of which were collected during the present century. Of this number, two are Scots, six are English, one Irish and fifty-one North American. The oldest of Child's texts would seem to be dial from Percy's Reliques (BIB 56, 1-32), in 1765. Child gives excellent notes on the 'historical ' background, but very little about the modernisation or transmission of the ballad. It is generally held to be the ' folk form ' of an old European tale, die ' artistic form ' finding its highest expression the * Prioiesse's Tale ' of Chaucer. E. K. Wells (BIB 61, p. 309) suggests that if the two forms are nut related they at least stem from a common source.
The universally accepted location of the event in this ballad is nearly always Lincoln, although it is frequently referred to as Mirryland, Merry Land Town, Merry Scotland, etc. Even in a related piece which turned up in 1459 among Spanish Franciscans was entitled * Alfonsus of Lincoln'. The ballad is supposed to be founded on the following incident which may have occurred in 1255, which was documented in the Annab of Waverley by a contemporay writer ;
' A boy in Lincoln, named Hugh, was crucified by the Jews in contempt of Christ, with various preliminary tortures. To conceal the act from the Christians, the body, when taken from the cross, was thrown into a running stream; but the water would not endure the wrong done its maker and immediately ejected it upon dry land. The body was then buried in the earth but was found above dry ground the next day. The guilty parties were now very much frightened and quite at their wits end; as a last resort they threw the corpse into a drinking well. The body was seen floating on the water, and, upon its being drawn up, tiic hands and feet were found to be pierced, the head had, as it were, a crown of bloody points and there were various other wounds; from all which it was plain that this was the work of the abominable Jews. A blind woman, touching the bier on which the blessed martyr's corpse was carrying to the church, received her sight, and many other miracles follow. Eighteen Jews, convicted of the crime, and confessing it with their own mouth, were hanged .
Another chronicle of the time actually named the murderer, one Copin, who (it is said) confessed that the Jews crucified one boy each year. The child was interred in Lincoln Cathedral as a martyr and was entered in Christian hagiology as 'Little Saint Hugh' on the tablet above his tomb and the registers of the Cathedral. The tablet was strongly anti-Semitic and has recently been taken down due to public protest, being replaced by the following inscription:

THE SHRINE OF LITTLE SAINT HUGH
Trumped-up stories of "Ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in die Cathedral. . . . Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom and so we pray,
REMEMBER NOT LORD OUR OFFENCES NOR THE OFFENCES OF OUR FOREFATHERS'
Child has an excellent passage in which he virtually dismisses the ballad as a piece of religious witch-hunting:

'. . . murders like that of Hugh of Lincoln have been imputed to the Jews for at least 750 years and the charge, which there is reason to suppose may still from time to time be renewed, has brought upon the accused every calamity that the hand of man can inflict: pillage, confiscation, banishment, torture and death, and this in huge proportions. The process of these murders has often been described as a parody of the crucifixion of Jesus. The motive . . . the obtaining of blood for use in the Pasehai rites—a most unhappily devised slander, in stark contradiction with Jewish precept and practice. . . . And these pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of a persecution which, with all moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race '.

Indeed, the chronicling of the Hugh of Lincoln murder suggests considerable confusion. There are so many similar events, many of which have the same name for the little victim, taking place in cities all over the Christian world, and happening from the early 1200's up until the present century, that one can only regard the theme of the ballad as a kind of recurring social and economic (rather than religious} catharsis. This century, in 1928, a charge of ritual murder was brought against the Jews of Massena, New York; and the unbelievable atrocities of World War II, to which whole populations in Europe were eye-witness and hence in part responsible, were only logical accumulation of the centuries and centuries of the type of superstition and panic behind the story of little Sir Hugh. It is significant that in several American versions the Jew has become a gypsy, a people also regarded with fear, superstition and ignorance by the settled populations: a people also often accused of child-stealing and persecuted up to modern times in much the same manner as the Jews.
In the mid-1300's, there was a 92-verse Anglo-French ballad, laying heavy emphasis on the role of the Virgin in the song. A miracle versified from an earlier source by Gautier de Coincy some thirty or forty years BEFORE the death of little Hugh, would suggest that parts of the ballad are pure Christian myth. Several scholars make the point that the ballad is an excellent vehicle for the miracle of Our Lady and that the essential religious character of the Jew or Jewess has gradually been excised oul, The boy is often found, in the older version, with the wounds of Christ upon him and he triumphantly cheats death, is raised from the well. Very rarely is the murderer ever punished in the ballad—the ballad ends usually with the boy's instructions to lay him out with the Bible adjacent, or with the miracle of his resurrection.
In the most common American versions, even though the Jew's daughter is the murderess, there are no religious overtones. After all, in the early years of settlement in America Jewry was not persecuted— at least no more than the Indians or the Mormons, and other minorities. In some areas, Appalachia, most parts of New England, Jewry was not even represented in noticeable numbers. New social scapegoats or aristocratic substitutions, such as the * gypsy lady,' or the * Duke's daughter,' took the place of the Jewess. Or else the murder became surely a family affair, or a fragment of a song, as in our versions C and '. In that wonderful ' re-creation ' of the ballad, entitled ' Water Birch,' the murderess is the child's mother. Or just ' they,' as in a Missouri text.
Bclden believes that 'what has kept the ballad alive in America is probably not, however, racial or religious animosity but the simple pathos of the little schoolboy's death '. The religious significance both of the Jewish murderess and the Christian miracle! have both been played down. James Wooddal, on the other hand, suggests (Southern Folklore Quarterly, 1955, pp. 77-84) that sex and mystery, not anti-Semitism, make the ballad and allow it to survive.
Mystery there certainly is—and many superstitions which have dominated European balladry and mythology for centuries before little Sir Hugh met his unfortunate end. For instance, the ritual nature of the murder, the laying of the boy on a table, ' sticking him like a sheep ' and catching his blood in a basin; the ritual of rolling the child in lead and throwing him down a well; the 'ritual' of the conversation between the corpse and its loving mother—these are all variations on stock-in-trade features that so characterise violence in our balladry."

I never once heard him sing the ballad again, despite its superb tune (which he used for one of his own songs 'The Dead Men'
It's difficult to treat songs with offensive themes in this way as many people resent the idea that a folk club should be 'educational' - I once heard Bob Davenport talk loudly through the introductions y a wonderful Irish language singer who felt it necessary to give thumbnail explanations of Irish language songs; Davenport gave the reason for his behaviour as "We came here to listen to singing not f****** talking - I thought we' left this sh*** behind in the 60s" - how can you go against such articulate argument!!!!!
As for altering the texts - bizzarly, an American version of the ballad transforms the killer from a Jew into a Gypsy!
A similar problem emerged in the late 70s with sexist songs; the result being we lost many of our great songs.
On the whole I agree with Vic Smith
No, they're not OK.
unless you can fit them into a context
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:11 AM

Should be "educational" of course,
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:23 AM

Singing about medieval incest as an interesting tragedy is one thing. Singing about Jews murdering innocent babes for their blood is another.

Particularly since, as Steeleye showed, you can change it to "lady gay" (or "fair" if you prefer) and lose absolutely nothing except the antisemitism.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:31 AM

The context is essentially academic & historical, and very cautious at that, BUT once you put them into the realms of public entertainment (recordings & performances) then they can no longer be guaranteed to have that context. What is MacColl's performance of Sir Hugh without the sleevenote - i.e. outside of that context?

Or is 'Folk' context enough? For some it obviously is, a search on YouTube reveals. I'm not so sure. How much of a 'Horrible Histories' approach can one take to such issues when they remain so very vivid today?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:31 AM

I don't know if you know this or have heard it before, MtheGM, but the character of Fagin is said to have been inspired by a real-life fence and gangmaster of child thieves,(at least that was apparently a rumour about him) called Ikey Solomon. He died in 1850 and was famous for his prison breaks.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:45 AM

Thank you for that reminder, Morwen; I had heard of it, but long ago, so I am grateful to you. I found an informative article in Wikipedia on Isaac ['Ikey'] Solomon.

~Michael~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 08:38 AM

I notice that there is a version of Little Sir Hugh in the mudcat database. If it is not to be sung then removing it to prevent people reading it would be the obvious next step.
I guess it won't be removed as collectors and academics would no doubt object, pointing out the historical importance of the material; well they have to make a living.
john


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: johncharles
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 08:54 AM

last post was me cookie went awol


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 08:54 AM

"What is MacColl's performance of Sir Hugh without the sleevenote "
Which is why it never appeared without the sleeve note
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt m
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 10:15 AM

"I don't sing any other version but "Black Girl" and, yes, I have sang it that way in front of black people and, no, I don't feel self-conscious about it. I also sing "Black Betty" which I use as an a capella interlude for Hooker's "Roll and Roll" and, again, have done this many times in front of black patrons and listeners. One time I broke into "Black Betty" and a young black woman standing on the corner with her daughter began to bob up and down to it in a way that told me she knew the song well."


Well there's a big difference between the lyrics of "Black Betty" and "Black Girl"!!

I guess I should be glad that there are places where you live where racism is such a thing of the past that a white singer can sing the words of a black man menacingly interrogating a black woman about her faithfulness without it making the atmosphere remotely uneasy.

I guess the America I read about and hear about is very different from the truth. There isn't anywhere like that here in London.

The places where I play, I'd get heckled ("white boy, white boy..." perhaps!) By my friends, at the very least!

Actually, uneasiness of atmosphere aside, I would just think it a bit naff. The fact that when I introduce the song (describing the prospect of me, a white middle-class bloke, singing the black working-class Leadbelly's sinister inquisition as "black girl") and get *laughs* from black (and white) members of the audience tells me absolutely everything I need to know.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 11:02 AM

Which is why it never appeared without the sleeve note

I bet it has, Jim. A recorded performance and its sleevenote gang aft agley...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 12:22 PM

matt m,

I didn't say a white singer could necessarily sing "Black Girl" in front of black patrons. I've never seen that happen.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Morris-ey
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 01:52 PM

A song is a song; no one has ethnic rights to the performance of it.

Stevie Wonder can sing White Christmas as far as I am concerned.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 04:21 PM

Comparative Anti-Semitism in medieval folk legend (strictly academic):

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/antisemitic.html

(found via links in Bonnie's Folklore & Mythology Electronic Texts thread)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:27 PM

If any of us are lucky enough to have someone sing one of our songs in 100 years would you be happy that they changed your lyrics - not in order to make better linguistic sense with the change of time, but because they had decided that your morals were somehow deficient?

The songs mentioned above are not racist songs. They have words and language that some people consider today to BE racist, and they cannot hear the song as a whole because of their unease with certain words.

If a song can be shown to be written purely as a taunt against certain people, then that would be a different matter. Think of all the Irish Orange and Fenian songs around....irrelevant today unless you want to continue the bigotry. You also get Irish songs written about events from the point of view of each side of the fence...they aren't written to generate hostility, just songs.

I just think most people can see the difference between a song that has language that is (temporarily and subjectively) out of kilter with the current time, and songs that are really written to target certain groups.

Part of the trouble of course is that as soon as one person objects to something, English culture in particular seems to bend over backwards to accommodate that one view, and before you know it, what was one individual view has somehow transformed into accepted wisdom.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 12:00 AM

You're welcome, MtheGM


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Guest-AVFS
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 01:01 AM

Aah, are racist, but traditional jokes OK?
Is racist, but traditional slang OK?
Are racist, but traditional bedtime stories OK?
Are racist, but traditional secret society pledges OK?

Except in the special case--which may be what this question is referring to-- of singing the song as a critique to demonstrate the harmfulness or the subtle persuaciveness of the racism in the song--I don't see how this is really a question.

Repeating racist content is sharing racist ideas. Having a nice softening traditional patina on it doesn't change that.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 02:59 AM

"I bet it has, Jim. A recorded performance and its sleevenote gang aft agley."
I'm sure you're right Sub, but then you're presenting us wih a scenario where we are unable to deal in any way with past attitudes.
I have no doubt of MacColl's uneasiness in putting the ballad on The Long Harvest and I am not sure it would have been my decision to do so, but we're then left with the decision of what to do with material that gives offence - not only racist attitudes.
Do we ban all performances of The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew or Othello; do we not book singers who sing The Gentleman Soldier, The Wedensbury Cocking (or all those incredibly dirge-like 'killing-for-pleasure' hunting songs)?
Do we demand the removal of Sir Hugh from the newly published Child collection because somebody might ignore the notes and learn the songs?
Do we face up to past practices by presenting them in a context in which they can be examined or do we pretend they never happened?
Jim Carroll


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 04:40 AM

Increasingly I think it's bit of red herring to talk about what "gives offence", what's "offensive".

I'm not "offended" by racists; that's not the right word to sum up how they make me feel. I think they're stupid. They make me angry.

That notion of racism being bad because it "causes offence" seems a bit "BBC TV schedules from the 1970s" me. Racism is bad because it's prejudicial and violent. In institutional form it denies social and legal rights to people; in brute form it means GBH and murder.

Also, there's a big difference between what's written down and what's sung. Old canonical works of literature, such as novels that feature anachronistic racist caricatures/descriptions/speech differ from songs in that the text is *inherently* up for discussion.

You read it. You analyse it. It's a document. Is a song a document? Not when it's sung. A written text (or document) becomes a little bit closer to a song when it is read aloud or dramatised. As has been already pointed out several times in this thread, if someone performs a song live, it doesn't come with the explanatory notes that are in the songbook or the history book. The closest you get is a prefatory speech from the performer.

But plays are different again. It's a bad analogy to cite the Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew or Othello. As plays they can - and routinely are - performed in ways that can make a character (or even just a line of dialogue) mean the opposite of what the words superficially may seem to me. Plays are subject to interpretation in performance, not just in the readings of literary critics.

There are anti-racist readings of Merchant of Venice and Othello. There are feminist readings of Taming of the Shrew. That's the great thing about drama, two versions of the same play can have entirely different meanings.

It's very, very hard indeed to try to say the same thing of the songs we're talking about. Take these lines by Big Bill Broonzy: "Lookin' for a woman that ain't never been kissed
We can get along and I won't have to use my fist"

That is a very ugly line, its casual violence is truly breathtaking. In theory, I can just about imagine there's a way in which somebody, somewhere, might conceivably be able to find a context for singing that, in a way that made it "just a song", or a "piece of history". But in practice... not in a million years.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 04:57 AM

I don't have any trouble changing sex for the duration of a song, because I know and my audience knows that I'm not doing it to imitate a woman - I'm just doing the song. Changing race is much more fraught, and I think it's best avoided - do the song, but do it as yourself, using the accent that's as natural to you as the original would be to the original singer. And that may mean changing the words. I've sung "In the Pines"/WDYSLN, and I sang the line as "Young girl" because that was how I'd learnt it. For me, it worked better that way. At the risk of stating the obvious, addressing someone as "Black girl, black girl" sounds very different if the singer's White himself (or indeed herself).

Apart from that, we've been talking about two different types of song here. One is songs with offensive language: songs about whatever subject - love, war, being a postman - which incorporate attitudes that we now have a problem with, e.g. by using the N-word. I've got a certain sympathy with people who insist on singing "Railroad nigger with his hog-eye" (or "as rich as any Jew") on the grounds of authenticity, but ultimately I think they're mistaken. I think Will nailed this one upthread: leaving it as it is would attract too much attention, even if you explained what you were doing, so it's better - and ultimately more faithful to the song - to use a different word.

The other is the songs which have offensive topics or express offensive attitudes, like the one in the OP. I veer the other way on this one - I don't like the idea that there are any songs we should stop singing. Contrary to the OP, I think Hugh of Lincoln was a highly appropriate choice for an event supporting "Folk Against Fascism", precisely because it's a song of traditional English anti-semitism; if Alasdair Roberts did anything wrong it was by not introducing the song properly.

The exception to all of this is when you have new or contemporary songs with offensive topics, e.g. praising the glories of life in the Old South or lamenting the hardships of white settlers in Africa. As far as I'm concerned there's no need for them to be written, let alone sung.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 05:36 AM

So,
If I decide to sing Paddy's Lament/The Sick Note/The Bricks, do I have to preface it with a disclaimer that I don't actually believe that the Irish are all thick navvies?


And, just in case, I hasten to add that that is not what I believe.

Cheers
Nigel


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 06:42 AM

I just looked up the lyrics to the songs you sang. There's nothing in them to suggest that "the Irish are all thick navvies".

Whereas it's impossible to claim that, in the case of the "Sir Hugh" song, the "Jewishness" of the bloodthirsty character is circumstantial.

if you want to compare the two, well in the first instance it's dealing with a situation of emigrant manual labour rooted in fact - a significant part of Ireland's *actual history*.

Whereas the other just repeats an old myth about Jews being unnatural bloodthirsty monsters. Buried in Sir Hugh (Jew murders little boy; the truth posthumously comes out via supernatural means) is the "Christ Killer" idea (Jews responsible for the death of Jesus; Jesus rises from the dead via divine power)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 06:58 AM

"lamenting the hardships of white settlers in Africa" - I should think that is a very good thing to sing about, especially in Rhodesia!!!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 03:56 PM

I should think that is a very good thing to sing about

It's not a hypothetical example, and I walked out.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 10:47 PM

I'd do the same.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Paul Seligman
Date: 14 Oct 11 - 04:43 AM

Thanks to all for contributing to the debate I started.

I am heartened that I was not alone in my reaction to this event, and I am glad that folkies are interested to discuss the principles, in many cases very thoughtfully.

A few other thoughts:

•        I'm surprised at the many fundamentalists who say you mustn't change a word of a folk song – I thought that was the 'folk process' and not the preservation of sacred texts, except for academic or historical purposes. And there are usually many versions of any truly traditional song, as has been pointed out in the thread, so it happens all the time.

•        Child was an academic (a professor at Harvard). A commemorative article in the 2006 edition of the Harvard Magazine states:

<<< He made no attempt to conceal or apologize for the sexuality, theatrical violence, and ill-concealed paganism of many ballads, but it is characteristic of the man that in his introduction to "Hugh of Lincoln," an ancient work about the purported murder of a Christian child by a Jew, he wrote, "And these pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of the persecution which, with all moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race" >>> (quoted from Wikipedia)

•         I am generally against censorship, book burning etc. However, society collectively accepts certain restrictions on liberty and free speech, such as (in the UK) laws against speech likely to incite race hatred or violence. Before these laws were introduced, discrimination in employment, sales and services was commonplace and it was still possible to see notices for accommodation stating things like 'no blacks, no Irish, no dogs'. The restrictions on speech were bitterly resented but the changes in law did help lead society to a more tolerant place.

•        I didn't think it necessary to explain that when Steeleye Span sang of a 'lady gay' they were not using the word in its modern meaning of homosexual; I was wrong.

•        'Merchant of Venice' is one of the greatest works in English. Aware that his audience would harbour anti-Semitic stereotypes and initially jeer the Jew, Shakespeare first explains the extreme pressure on Shylock resulting in his deranged demand, and then shows us the essential humanity he shares with all people ('if you prick us, do we not bleed?' etc). Hugh of Lincoln has no such nuances.

•        I hadn't thought of 'Black Girl/In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep Last Night' as racist ('black' is not generally considered offensive per se in the UK, we have just had Black History Week, for example). I sometimes sing it to myself when walking though pine woods. I don't think I'll stop now.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: Alisdair Robert's response
From: GUEST,Paul Seligman
Date: 14 Oct 11 - 09:13 AM

I sent Alasdair Robert's contact address (fromhis web site) and email I'll reproduce the entire email exchange unedited [except as indicated in brackets].

I think the best you can say, from my perspective, is that Alasdair just doesn't get it. I could say something even less complementary. But as he doesn't seem to think it worth reading a thread commenting on his music, he won't see that comment!

Me:
If Alasdair hasn't seen this thread, he may find it of interest - I'd be interested to hear his response [followed by link to this thread and my full name and contact details]

Alasdair Roberts: Thanks for sending the link. Somebody else already drew my attention to the thread. I haven't read it in its entirety- only the first message.

It's regrettable to have caused offence; however, I think it's healthy that the song, whether in performance or on record, should provoke thought in this individual (the first poster), thereby resulting in the ensuing discussion around this sensitive subject matter.

Best wishes,

Alasdair


Me:
I am the originator of the thread (pretty obvious as my full name is there, I don't hide behind nicknames etc).

I walked out of your performance and was upset for hours and to some extent it was on my mind for days.

Glad you think that's healthy.

Paul

Alasdair Roberts:
Hello Paul,

I am sorry to have caused you any upset.

Perhaps I should have phrased it differently. Despite the obvious upset, I find it encouraging that the situation has provoked some discussion around matters arising from your reaction to the performance.

All the best, and perhaps I'll see you at a gig in Cardiff or nearby some day.

Alasdair


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Keith A of Hertford
Date: 14 Oct 11 - 09:24 AM

Would it be ok to write a song about the hardships of settlers anywhere?
Say, N.America or Australia?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 11 - 08:40 AM

I think it is perfectly ok to sing about white people having their farms burned in Zimbabwe, Ithink it is perfectly ok to sing songs about black people in zimbabwe being killed by fellow africans, I think it is ok to sing songs about africans being mistreated by whites.
regardless of peoples clour if people suffer injustice there should be no reason why people shoiuld not sing songs about that injustice, whether the vitims are pink black brown yellow or whatever


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,blogward
Date: 25 Oct 11 - 05:11 AM

'Provoke' is an apt word. A performer should recognise that a particular lyric is provocative, and either find an alternative or give a caveat before performing it. It's not as though there is any shortage of material. Not to accept the responsibility for what even one of your audience might feel is at best ignorant, at worst cynical. Saying 'sorry' afterwards doesn't cut it.

I saw Eric Clapton and his pals a year or two ago doing 'Old Black Joe', and wondered about the spectacle of several very comfortably wealthy middle-aged white men choosing to play a song (and I love Jerry Lee Lewis' version) which while not explicitly racist, is the sentimentalisation of the death of a slave. There are thousands of other great songs they could have played without that sour note, of which they appeared ignorant. Would they have played it in front of Barack Obama?

Find an alternative or write your own; if you think dropping 'politically incorrect' material results in folk music becoming bland, find a contemporary political issue to sing about, or just write better.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 15 July 2:59 PM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.