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Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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...


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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.


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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.


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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~


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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.


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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


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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


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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.


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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


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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.


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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)


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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.


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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."


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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£"?


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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.


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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~


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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.


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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?


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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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


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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.


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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 ??


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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."


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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~


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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~


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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.


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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


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

No, they're not OK.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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??


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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


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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!


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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


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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.


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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


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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


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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......


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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...


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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?


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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.


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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~


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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


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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


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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.


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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?


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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.


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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~


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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


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

last post was me cookie went awol


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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


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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.


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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...


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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.


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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.


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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)


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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.


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

You're welcome, MtheGM


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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.


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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


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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.


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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.


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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


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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)


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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!!!


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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.


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

I'd do the same.


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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.


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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


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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?


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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


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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.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jeri
Date: 29 May 20 - 08:54 PM

Refresh


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: meself
Date: 29 May 20 - 09:03 PM

Why was this refreshed? Slow day on Mudcat?


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: meself
Date: 29 May 20 - 09:09 PM

Why?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 03:23 AM

Bit more complicated than that Meself, but well worth refreshing (not sure we need two)
Many of the traditional songs containing racist references are not 'racist' by intention, but merely reflect the commonplace of the times they were made
That doesn't make them 'ok' any more than the values they reflect were "ok", but they are interesting views of history
I find the sea song, 'The Flying Cloud' one of the best in the genre as it takes the opposite view to that which was current at the time by expressing pity for the plight of black slaves dying on the voyage from Africa in the vivid way it does
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 May 20 - 03:28 AM

that is the same reason i like the isle de france, it is about someione showing compassion.
there is no need to sing the verse in polly wolly doodle, i jumped on a nigger, cos i thought he was a hoss, if i sang the song i would sing jumped on a ligger[ a long bit of wood]


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Vic Smith
Date: 30 May 20 - 06:41 AM

There is also the problem of the meaning of language changing with time. In the lovely song Gathering Rushes the angry father shouts at his unmarried pregnant daughter:-
Oh! Was it by a black man or was it by a brown?
which in current parlance has a racist bent, but in the Edinburgh of my boyhood a black man, a brown man or a fair or blond man referred to the colour of their hair; in fact in 1950s Edinburgh I don't remember seeing any brown or black skinned people. I am sure that is what this implies.
My wife, Tina sings this song and has altered this line to:-
Oh! Was it by a black-haired man or was it by a brown?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 06:59 AM

The 'Brown Girl' explanation ranges from her being someone 'ungentile' or of the lower classes because she is used to outdoor work or even a Gypsy living the outdoor life
Jim


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:23 AM

Because it's pertinent, always.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:31 AM

Seems a weird time to refresh this (and another thread on a similar topic). It's not like racist songs have anything to do with what's currently happening in the US.

My nomination for something you'd think was offensive but wasn't: the English hornpipe "Black Mary's Hole". She had black hair and her "hole" was a London pub in the late 17th century which was a notorious thieves' hangout.
Jim wanted to talk about racist terms in the "foul-mouthed" thread. I thought one of these would be a more appropriate place.


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:40 AM

"Because it's pertinent, always."
Amen to that
Around the time I joined this forum th British National Party targeted and attempted to infiltrate and use the folk scene for their propaganda
Luckily, the vigilance of the Anti-Nazi League nipped that in the bud
Jim


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:56 AM

Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Jeri - PM
Date: 29 May 20 - 08:54 PM

Refresh

--------"--------

Why?

--------"--------

Because it's pertinent, always.

--------"-------

Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jeri - PM
Date: 29 May 20 - 08:54 PM

Refresh



... but why refresh both threads and split the discussion. A refresh here with a link to the other thread, or vice versa, would have been better.

DC


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:58 AM

I missed this thread first time around. I'm a big fan of Alasdair Roberts and remember being startled when I heard the recorded version of Little Sir Hugh.

I haven't heard him play it live, but I can see why you might choose not to preface it with an apologetic introduction. That would bracket it off as a historical anomaly and rob it of its power by making it more comfortable. Presenting it without introduction perhaps forces the audience to think a bit more. It's a brave thing to do though.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Vic Smith
Date: 30 May 20 - 08:38 AM

I'm a big fan of Alasdair Roberts and remember being startled when I heard the recorded version of Little Sir Hugh.
I remember a long conversation with Alistair over breakfast in a hotel in Brussels in 2009. We were both involved in an 'Alan Lomax' weekend festival. He was asking me my opinion on whether he should record Little Sir Hugh as he knew it would be controversial though he really liked the song. From what I remember, I said that in some versions, there is no mention of a "Jew's Garden" and said that a lot would depend on the way that it was interpreted. That led to a mention of the 2004 film of The Merchant of Venice in which Al Pacino gives a sympathetic portrayal of Shylock. I can't see an objection to 'an apologetic introduction' even if it says that anti-semitism as and has been a problem in Europe over centuries and this song reflects that.

I was put in a difficult position after someone approached me at the end of an evening at our club to complain that one of our floor singers had sung that song. I had to answer that I did not know or censor in advance which songs were going to be sung and that if he wanted to take it up with the singer, I would introduce them and then hang around to make sure that the conversation was polite.


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Jeri
Date: 30 May 20 - 09:16 AM

If people don't wish to discuss "racist songs", just walk away. The politics-only stuff will be deleted.


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Vic Smith
Date: 30 May 20 - 09:50 AM

Around the time I joined this forum th British National Party targeted and attempted to infiltrate and use the folk scene for their propaganda
Luckily, the vigilance of the Anti-Nazi League nipped that in the bud


My memory says that it was Folk Against Fascism that fought this particular battle though the Anti-Nazi League did sterling work on the wider music scene.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Don Meixner
Date: 30 May 20 - 10:15 AM

I did a collection of historical songs about water ways and travel at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY. While we think of the Minstrel Shows travelling the Mississippi River on steam boats The minstrel shows traveled the canal as well. One of the songs I discussed was Buffalo Gals. Buffalo Gals started life as a variety of songs, most notably Lubly Fan. And it lampooned African American life. I did a much more sanitized version.

I also mentioned Kingdom Comin' (The Year of Jubilo) and like Old Black Joe altho' they are usually sung in a presumed slave accent they are not racist in the writing. And while I will not intentionally do a performance that diminishes the life of anyone in the audience I make it clear that as a historian sometimes we have to discuss uncomfortable times in the humane experience.

The best glimpse of our history is in the writings from the era a
into which we are looking.

Don Meixner


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 10:21 AM

"Folk Against Fascism "
You're right Vic - it was
THer goes the blue pencil again - it seems utterly ludicrous that ou discussions are now being channeled to suit the whim of moderators whose only input here is to have reopened this thread and, in her oly earlir posting to make the type of succinctly and inciteful general political point that she is now objecting to
The times certainly have changed in twelve years Jeri
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 10:33 AM

MacColl and Seeger sang fascinating British and American variants of @Sir Hugh' on the 'Long Harvest' and made it clear in the notes the reason why they did so and why they wouldn't sing it elsewhere
I'm in a similar position with my Irish Child Ballad project - I've located several excellent versions that were taken to the US and Canada early in the 20th century from Ireland
I have yet to decide whether to try to find a singer to sing them or to leave them in print
On of the most powerful versions of this Ballad can be heard sung by Cecilia Costello, whose father brought it to England from Ballinasloe, County Galway
I used to shun Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice' until I saw Al Pacino's exelent filmed production of it a few years ago
I came to realise that, presented a certain way, these stories could carry a powerful message for today
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 30 May 20 - 10:57 AM

I wondered if my question about songs using once-normal but now-slur[ish] terms had been inappropriate in the swearing thread.

So do you bowdlerize, explain, or just sing? In the black-or-brown-man song, I would say in my intro, these upcoming color terms refer to hair color. Then I would sing it as normal.

But if the once-normal word were Nigger, I would likely bowdlerize. Or choose another song. And it's that last choice that bothers me. Take the Just So story about the leopard getting spots... There is a line in there that should not make whole that story unreadable-aloud (or allowed, haha). It is a great story.


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Mrrzy
Date: 30 May 20 - 10:59 AM

I am mentioning here that I've asked a question on the other thread I'd like answered, but don't want to duplicate.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: meself
Date: 30 May 20 - 11:07 AM

Have you read through everything that's already been posted on the topic? I think you'll find every possible permutation of every possible argument on the subject already here and on the other related thread; nothing new under the sun here ... But - carry on!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 11:52 AM

A difficult one MrrzY (are you really from Liverpool?)
Personally, I wouldn't sing a song where the racist content is malicious -As a singer - if it just reflected the language of the times I would change it so as to reflect my own language usage and also, so as not to give offence, especially in Britain and America, both of which have acute and accelerating racism problems
My grandfather sailed before sail and remembered a few shanties from those days (his son, my uncle Jerry, once sang them to a crowd of folkies at Whitby)
One of the shanties was 'Johnny Comes Down from Hilo, which had the verse;

"I've never seen the like since I was born
As a big buck n..... with his sea-boots on"

I heard it sung at home like that, yet our family was fanatically anti racict - my grandmother was arrested for hitting Mosly with a stone at a Blackshirt rally in Liverpool
If I'd have uttered a word of racicm like that I heard in school I'd have been flung out on my arse

If you decide to sing blues, any of the black singers used the term unselfconciously - we wouldn't get away with it, nor should we

I have a song we recorded from Irish Travellers which contains the term "nacker" - a deeply offensive racist term when used by buffers such as us
I want to learn it - what do I do ?
I'll almost certainly change the term to 'Traveller' or 'Tinker'
These old songs have survive as long as they have because the singers have constantly adapted them to suit the times
We no longer have an oral tradition but there's no reason not to change the songs
As a researcher the song would remain as we found it - probably with an accompanying note
Jim
Our song, from Mary Delaney, Blid Travelling woman

Mary Delaney sings Donnelly
There was a jolly knacker* and he had a jolly ass,
And he stuffed his box of pepper up the jolly asses arse.
Oh then, “Brave done Donnelly, good enough,” says she,
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, and you're my man,” says she.

There was an old woman in the corner over eighty years or more.
And, “For God Almighty's sake”, she says, “will you solder my old po?”
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, good enough”, says she.
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, and you’re my man”, says she.

I soldered in the kitchen and I soldered in the hall,
And when I finished soldering I done the ladies and all.
Oh then, “Brave ould Donnelly, good enough”, says she.
Oh then, “Brave ould Donnelly, and you’re my man”, says she.

She sent me up the stairs for to dress the tinker’s bed,
The jolly knacker followed after me and tripped me on the leg.
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, good enough”, says she.
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, and you’re my man”, says she.

If you’re an honest woman as I took you for to be,
You’d have a basket on your arm and a kid belonging to me,
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, good enough”, says she.
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, and you’re my man”, says she.

I am a jolly tinker oh, for ninety years or more;
And a divil a finer job, me lad, I never done before.
Oh then, “Brave ould Donnelly, g’out that sir”, said she.
Oh then, “Well done Donnelly, and you’re my man”, said she.

* knacker: originally a horse for slaughter but also used for tinsmith; often now a general word for traveller.


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 30 May 20 - 11:53 AM

The Rock Against Racism youth music culture movement was a defining force
in the formative years of my generation..
We grew up culturally institutionalised racist in the 1960s and early 70s,
but because of Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi Leauge, we had our eyes and minds opened in our later teens..

This politicized a significant number of us for the rest of our lives..

In the early 80s the racists fought back with n@zi skinhead OI bands,
but multi cultural Two Tone Ska bands won over a greater multitude of UK youth...

But our anonymous GUEST demonstrates the right still fester on, and are now thanks to social media, gaining increasing victories...

The popular songs I grew up with 40 years ago are classics of direct confrontation with racist brainwashing...

I'd hope today's young progressive song writers are strong enough to deal with the tidal wave of new Govt approved xenophobia...

UK & USA youth need to retake culture back from Trump and Johnson..

I'm an old bloke now and don't listen to much new music,
so don't know how prevalent openly racist new songs might be...???


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Subject: RE: Racist songs .... arghhhh!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 May 20 - 12:56 PM

The American Civil Right's Movement would not have moved as successful and memorable as it was without the songs, and those songs could never have had the impact they did if it hadn't been for the debate that went along with it
I rermember singing the ballad of Jimmy Wilson at a club in Manchester on night abd being approached by a middle-aged black lady who, rather than talk about the song, immediately lunched into a long description of life in the South pre- sixties
For her, the songs and the politics were inseparable
Similar in Manchester when I took over Mike Yates's flat - when Martin Luther King was assassinated, the father o a black family living in the next house knocked on the door and asked me to come in and 'drink to Martin' - he and his wife had been to the club I sang at with Harry Boardman
Horse and carriage
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 May 20 - 04:00 PM

Jeri and I agreed that it was getting confusing to have two threads open on basically the same subject, so I moved all the posts from the last couple days over to here.

Jim Carroll brings up the verse from "Johnny Come Down to Hilo":
    "I've never seen the like since I was born
    As a big buck n..... with his sea-boots on"

I came across that conundrum when we were doing the Rise Again Songbook in 2014-15. I didn't work on the first volume, Rise Up Singing (RUS), but I sure heard the complaints about how our editors bowdlerized so many songs. RUS was updated by the publisher, Sing Out! Magazine, and most of the worst bowdlerizations were removed. We really wanted to use this song, because it's so much fun to sing and has such a great chorus - but we had to figure out how to deal with the Sea Boots Problem. One suggestion was to change the line to "a big buck farmer with his sea boots on." I think I had to have a minor tantrum to get that one thrown out. I think what I suggested was "a Barbadian sailor with his sea-boots on," but we ended up with "An American sailor with his sea-boots on." I'm not totally happy with any solution, but we had to do something. There was no way we could publish a community songbook with the original lyrics, even though we tried hard to be historically accurate.

One battle I lost big-time was on "Sweet Betsy from Pike." I wanted to include all 11 original verses, but the editor insisted that we had to cut. We ended up with 8, not all original - and he cut out the "Hangtown" verse because he thought people might be offended by the glorification of hanging. This is the most famous song about the area where I lived and I've spent a lot of time researching it, so it was important to me to have all the verses. But I lost that fight. We also cut out most of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" for reasons of space, but that really bothered me. Otherwise, I think we did pretty well.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 30 May 20 - 04:17 PM

Joe - so where's my post...???

Which was entirely relevant to the other thread.

At least put that back in the "Racist songs .... arghhhh!" thread.

Along with Jim's meaningful reply...

    Found it. It's above. -Joe-


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 May 20 - 04:37 PM

well joe, i changed bick buck niiii to an old shell back with his sea boots on


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 30 May 20 - 05:40 PM

There are two threads going, PFR, you may be on the other one?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:26 PM

That's perfect, Sandman. Much better than what we came up with.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:32 PM

Stilly - thanks, we were aware of that overnight anomaly of 2 zombie threads rising from the grave...

My post has now been reinstated in "Racist songs .... arghhhh!",
but not Jim's reply
which refers to the historic vital civil rights movement,
and was also just as relevant to a music thread about racism...

Our jokey references to a shit stirring GUEST's deleted post,
were only minor elements of our posts..

So, I seriously request, Jim's post should also be reinstated...

cheers...

I removed the remark on the top that was addressing the troll who recently opened that thread to post his typical flavor of troll nastiness. That's the only reason it was open, and a couple of "regular" people stumbled into it.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 30 May 20 - 07:39 PM

Joe - I've just noticed your amendment.. thanks

I think my post is more relevant in the other thread than here.
But in both is ok by me...

RAR and ANL were massively important to the UK music scene,
and possibly had great influence in other parts of the music world.

Though I still ask for Jim's post to be put back with mine as well...
cheers...

    I can't find any post from Jim other than the ones just above and below yours in this thread. -Joe-


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 31 May 20 - 01:02 AM

Joe & Stilly - thanks.. well modded...

That's exactly the compromise edit I'd have made to my post if asked to;
if we had that function available...

I make no secret I have much respect for Jim's wisdom and experience,
even though he can be a bit..
errrmm.. well... too difficult for some folks.. some times..

So, thanks also for putting his post back up...

cheers...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 31 May 20 - 03:02 AM

"2errrmm.. well... too difficult for some folks.. some times.."
Can't we all PFR :-)
Some recognise the fact, especially when it is over-emphasised - others never do - only Donald Trump was born perfect
I think it's a great idea to combine the two threads - can think why both were opened
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Thompson
Date: 31 May 20 - 06:00 PM

Nope.

When race hatred is an amusing memory of a historical oddity, and nobody would dream of thinking less of someone who has a different colour skin from them, or referring to this skin colour as 'race' - then, perhaps, historical re-enactors could clown around singing such songs. Not till then, though.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe G
Date: 31 May 20 - 06:20 PM

I would have thought the simple answer was just 'No'

Citing tradition as an excuse to perform racist material (or 'black up' in a morris team - and I don't want to reopen that can of worms) is not acceptable in my view. Why on earth would anyone want to sing a racist song anyway unless they were racist themselves?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Starship
Date: 31 May 20 - 06:24 PM

Could not agree more, Joe G.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 02:52 AM

"Could not agree more, Joe G."
I think I made it clear tht this is my view too, but I would like to clarify that
The 'language' at the time these songs were made may have been racist but this doesn't automatically mean that the intention of the song was - that was the way things were expressed "in the bad old slavery days"
I've heard good versions of both 'The Flying Cloud' and 'The Banks of the Nile' containing racist language; in the latter it says "To fight the blacks and heathens on the Banks...."
I've adapted it to 'Fight another battle", but somehow, it seems to lose its visual strength - I've learned to live with that
The song was given to us by an old farm-worker, Pat MacNamara, one of the kindest and most tolerant men we met, without a racist bone in his body; he sang it all his long life without having thought about it
We got the same song from a now long-dead lady from this town (about Ten miles south from Pat's home-place), Nora Cleary, she was of similar friendly character to Pat
Nora's version uses the "n" word in the same line)
I'm a singer who also researches - I would edit the songs if I sang them (or not sing them at all), but I would document and archive them as we received them - they are important songs which carry essential parts of our history - part of that history is the vernacular that gives a fuller picture of the people who sang the songs - warts and all

I know there were overtly racist songs made at certain points of our histories, particularly 19th century Anti-Irish ones made in America by organisations set up to oppose the flood of immigrants fleeing the famine, but as far as I know, few survived in the repertoires of singers
I can see no reason do dredge them up from 'the dustbin of history' other than for historical information   

I've always been careful and somewhat reticent in editing the songs I sing, not because of any 'purism' but for fear of losing something, both from the superbly concise language of our folk songs, and from the minute details of information they often carry
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe G
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 05:05 AM

I agree Jim (not often that happens ;-) ). I was going to add to my original comment that any historical record of a song should stand as a reminder of less enlightened times (though seeing what is happening in the US makes me wonder if we are going back there thanks to Trump and his red neck supporters). There is just no reason to sing it


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 05:39 AM

I know Ali, but haven't spoken to him about this - I remember him playing this song at gigs around a decade ago, but I wasn't following the lyrics, and was unaware of the content and connotations at that time. In more recent years, I've actually declined the opportunity to buy traditional records that include 'The Jew's Garden' because I find it so offensive.

For what it's worth, Ali is in no way racist; of course, to me it seems absolutely right that controversial choices like this should provoke debate. Despite the ongoing turbulence of the contemporary political landscape, in general I think the advances we've made as a society in just the last 10 years, in terms of awareness and judgement around these matters, mean that such unexpected and unhappy musical encounters are - thankfully - ever-less likely. But, we shouldn't be complacent, and when they do emerge it's right that they serve cause for challenge and discussion.

I can imagine a situation where a song is heavily caveated with a contextualising and critiquing introduction, such as 'this is a very dark reminder of the deep roots of antisemitism in our social history - the true villains here are not the characters of the song, but those that wrote and sang it in order to reinforce prejudice'.

However, in general, my view is that these songs shouldn't be sung. In some cases, there are obviously racist lyrics or verses that can be tweaked or omitted - Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day is a great example of a number that is regularly performed, and for a long time, thankfully, without the antisemitic verse.

If we take Sharp's 'trinity' of characteristics which underpin the tradition - continuity, variation and selection - songs that are racist in totality should cease to be 'selected' - they'll remain in the historical record, but will hopefully fall out of the repertoire.

Taking the example of TMSBMDD, if songs can be 'varied' in order to remove the taint of racism - enabling continued 'selection' and keeping the songs alive in terms of the bulk of the lyric, and the tune (thus maintaining a 'living' rather than 'inert' continuity), this seems very clearly to be the best option.

This isn't to draw a veil over the history of such songs - keeping them alive in altered form still allows the space to discuss their previous shape, as a cautionary tale and to encourage vigilance against more subtle/covert contemporary forms of prejudice.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 11:15 AM

When I was little, my mum sang Ma Curly-Headed Baby to me. I always remembered the lullaby chorus part, but I was moved to look up the rest of the words when I became a grandad. The song was written by an Aussie over a century ago. The original words contained "nigger" and "coon." The former has typically been replaced by "darkie" and the latter, ridiculously, by "food." To me, it's a song of pleasant sentiment, sung by a plantation mother to her little child. I'm no singer on the whole, but were I to find meself singing it to a bunch of grown-ups I think I'd explain that the words are of their time, and while we wouldn't use those words these days, I'm keeping them in. To a six-month-old, maybe the same but without the wordy justifications. To a four-year-old, I think I'd reconsider, because an explanation would be called for yet difficult to give. The bottom line is whether the song has racist intent and whether it's capable of depraving and corrupting. Personally, I don't feel the need to be sheltered from dated lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 12:02 PM

Funny you should mention that
My family song was 'Lilac Trees' - an extremely patronising 'white' song about being black - I cringe to think of it now
The song was made by an American Jewish writer and I have no doubt its heart was in the right place - as with 'Curly Headed Babby' Paul Robeson sang it
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 12:19 PM

I think anyone attempting to sing those lyrics to other adults would - in most contexts - very rightly meet with surprise and strong disapproval. As you note Steve, it would be especially inappropriate to sing it to children.

It's not just about the power of language to deprave or corrupt - these are words with a great history of violence and systematic oppression attached, towards many of our friends and neighbours. They're words that shouldn't be in use now, and to use them casually in a cultural context normalises their use as a slur.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 03:56 PM

I think that people are far more likely to end up depraved and corrupted by the tripe that they hear/sing in religious hymns and brainlessly-chanted prayers. But we tend to give all that a bye. I like the folk process and I enjoy different takes on songs. But I don't regard sanitisation of words that someone thinks might offend me as part of that process. Number one, I'm a grown up, number two, I don't like being patronised, and number three, I have no right to not be offended. I want to hear what the song was intended to be, otherwise I just might not want to hear it at all. I'm not going to turn into a rabid racist because I hear the wonderful Paul Robeson singing "coon" in a song.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 06:21 PM

It’s not about you or what offends you. It’s about a contemporary social contract that spares fellow members of our community from the pain of the glib, cavalier or even - indeed - purposefully offensive wielding of words that are designed at their core to subjugate, ‘other’, and brutalise them. Even if singing in a context with only white attendees, the casual use of such language gives legitimacy to those that would use it in spite. Thankfully, anyone indulging in that sort of repertoire would be denied the opportunity to finish at literally any singaround that I’ve ever been to.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe G
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 06:37 PM

Totally agree Black Acorn - it is not for white people (like me or i assume) to determine what may or may not be offensive - we need to avoid the use of any such racist language in songs


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 01 Jun 20 - 07:34 PM

Language is racist if it's racist in intent. By all means examine, forensically, the motives of songwriters or singers of controversial songs. If you want to sing the songs, you are free to explain the context before you sing it. You are also free to not sing it, and your audience, given fair warning, are free to not listen.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 03:18 AM

Some words - including those words - are absolutely racist; and should be left to languish in the historical record. I suspect you’re only having this out ‘for the sake of argument’ - I think everyone can understand the extremely short shrift - and, indeed, outright disgust and indignation - you would meet with, if you attempted to ‘explain’ your position outlined above to non-white friends, colleagues or neighbours - not to mention singing the song! On which point, you’ve already noted that you’re ‘not much of a singer’ - I’m glad to hear it, as it means this situation is a purely imaginary one. The moderators quite rightly prefer us to not discuss politics, but this is obviously an especially delicate time to be making a defence of the hypothetical ‘right’ to use racist language.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 04:52 AM

I'm not arguing for the right to use racist language! I've opposed racism all my life. What we're talking about here, primarily, is the use of words that have become something different to what they were when the songs were written. Words that once would scarcely have raised an eyebrow have now attained the huge potential to cause offence. Maybe they should have raised an eyebrow, but the fact that they didn't is why they're in those songs. "Of their time," etc., is a feeble excuse; "should have known better" fits the bill more. You have three choices: don't sing the song; sing the original, unexpurgated version; change the offending words into something more anodyne. The last choice often yields ludicrous results, especially for those who know the original. Paul Robeson sang "coon" whereas many who sang the song later sang "food" instead, which is what you'll find if you look for the lyrics, which I find risible. Paul was a great humanitarian who fought for equal rights and who suffered for his fight. Maybe he was "of his time" and "should have known better". But I won't turn off his version. My Elvis car compilation has a song that characterises his gal as a good luck charm hanging off his arm. There are plenty of sixties pop songs that contain that kind of offensiveness. I suppose we could get RSI of the finger via overuse of the skip button.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 04:56 AM

I hear what you say, by the way.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 01:08 PM

I'm glad that you 'hear what [I] say' - thank you - but I'm still very non-plussed that you're breezily typing these n- and c- words in question; on today of all days, when the music industry has drawn to a temporary halt in international solidarity.

The fact that Paul Robeson sung it? That was very much of its time. It's obviously impossible to know how he would respond in a contemporary context.

The closest figure we have to Robeson now is probably Kendrick Lamar; a Pulitzer Prize-winning musician/rapper/lyricist/poet, and celebrated activist. He's been very clear in his view that that the n-word is one that black people can use legitimately, to reclaim, speak to their collective experience, to draw away its venom. I totally agree with him.

No-one's suggesting you stop listening to Robeson. I listen to Kendrick Lamar, and many other black artists that use the word to scrutinise it from all sorts of angles. But it's obviously not appropriate to contemplate singing those words myself, as a white person living in the 21st Century.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 03:54 PM

I have my point of view on this. My focus in this topic is that I don't like seeing song words messed about with and I've given my reasoning. I have no more to say on this. Cheers.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 04:14 PM

I think that people are far more likely to end up depraved and corrupted by the tripe that they hear/sing in religious hymns and brainlessly-chanted prayers. But we tend to give all that a bye.

Sorry, that is "tu quoque" or "whataboutism," and isn't what is discussed here.

I like the folk process and I enjoy different takes on songs. But I don't regard sanitisation of words that someone thinks might offend me as part of that process. Number one, I'm a grown up, number two, I don't like being patronised, and number three, I have no right to not be offended. I want to hear what the song was intended to be, otherwise I just might not want to hear it at all. I'm not going to turn into a rabid racist because I hear the wonderful Paul Robeson singing "coon" in a song.

Paul Robeson was a black-listed Black man. His experience and his choice to sing that song is perhaps a teachable moment for others, but for white performers to try to do the same thing is a toxic move. These songs are simply no longer performable in any "normal" performance way.

You have three choices: don't sing the song; sing the original, unexpurgated version; change the offending words into something more anodyne.

No, you really only have one choice. Don't sing the song. The song contains the words and changing the words doesn't mean everyone doesn't know what the song is actually about. Just. Don't. Do. It.

The last choice often yields ludicrous results, especially for those who know the original. Paul Robeson sang "coon" whereas many who sang the song later sang "food" instead, which is what you'll find if you look for the lyrics, which I find risible. Paul was a great humanitarian who fought for equal rights and who suffered for his fight. Maybe he was "of his time" and "should have known better".

He was of his time and is of this time. He knew what he was doing, he didn't need to "know better." The code-switching going on when African American or other Black performers sing these songs are like ultrasonic ringtones; European Americans aren't going to hear the meaning intended and understand.

I struggle, we all struggle, to understand how to support others at a time like this with all of the protesting. Shutting up and offering support and not trying to continue to sing racist songs and get away with it would be a great start. Rebecca Solnit coined the term "mansplaining" a couple of decades ago; I've seen that altered in recent days to "whitesplaining." This is not a compliment, yet here I am doing it myself. Singers may be purists and want to go with the oldest or Ur version of a song, but it is time to understand that those songs are off limits, or at best, in quarantine. They don't need to see the light of day right now.

Think of it this way: are you more worried about preserving the words to the song or about triggering events with offensive words? Are you more concerned about the property damage or the death of protesters?

Sorry to pick on Steve's remarks, but his are most current in this old thread.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 05:25 PM

I agree, Stilly River Sage.

On the matter of lyrics being messed about with - as discussed, in a folk idiom, there is seldom - if ever - an authentic version of a song. They are living fragments of a collective culture, and are constantly in gentle - or radical! - flux under the pull and pressure of Sharp's continuity, variation and selection. They're not suddenly *fixed* and immutable at the moment that an 'educated' Victorian or Edwardian scribbled them down in a paddock (indeed, these collectors wrought some of the biggest changes on both tunes and lyrics). In this context, it makes no sense to object to contemporary alterations, especially if they 'keep the song alive.'

On 'My Curly Headed Baby' - it's obviously not a 'folk' song so I'm not really sure why we're now discussing it at length, but... I've done a bit of casual research. Firstly, one of Clutsam's lines of work was for minstrel ensembles, so the song was probably written for that purpose - ie, a white person's mocking caricature of black existence. Presumably not many of us are in the habit of trying to keep the minstrel torch burning in general?

In any case, since we're invoking Robeson, none of the first 3 versions of his that I found on YouTube - seeming to span his whole career - feature the n- or c- words that have been defended on his behalf. They don't feature 'd*rkie', either. So, is Robeson also a transgressor in the face of that preference not to see 'old songs messed with'? Perhaps for those who really like the song, and since such alterations were good enough for Robeson himself, the version without racially offensive words is the one to champion, sing in public or even as a lullaby?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe G
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 05:46 PM

Well said SRS


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 06:29 PM

I think the fact that you feel you have to say "c-word" and "n-word" instead of "coon" and "nigger" says quite a lot about your misplaced sensibilities. As for discussing this in the context of the present climate, well I for one am discussing it in the context of this resurrected thread and nowt else, thanks. We are talking about outmoded and quite likely offensive words in old songs. It doesn't matter whether those of us who wish to discuss same are black, brown, yellow or pink. We are entitled to take a view, though that's best done with a good dash of sensitivity, as ever. And my view is that I don't care much for ridiculous rewordings of songs done largely by white men. The choice is to sing the thing, not sing the thing, change the thing then sing it, to listen or to not listen. Thank God we live in free countries (for now), eh?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 06:35 PM

Talking not of racist songs in general, but of Alasdair Roberts's version of Little Sir Hugh:

What his performance of that song gives us is a shocking illustration of the power that these stories hold.

For the few minutes that he is singing the song, we are horrified by the cruelty of the Jew's daughter, and we feel the pain of Hugh's mother as she searches for her lost child.

And then the spell is broken and we perceive the song for what it is.

But perhaps we've learned something through that experience? Something that we wouldn't have learned if the performance had been hedged around with caveats and apologies and historical context?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 06:39 PM

And as for this:

"Think of it this way: are you more worried about preserving the words to the song or about triggering events with offensive words? Are you more concerned about the property damage or the death of protesters?"

I'm sorry to say that your usual sane common sense took a day off when you typed this. First, I'm not at all worried. Why would I be. I'm passing comment in a thread on a folk music website and I've made it clear that I'm simply expressing an opinion about old songs, songs that have nothing to do with current events in your benighted country. There's no either/or, is there? Second, why would you ask me that final daft question, Maggie?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 06:44 PM

Steve - I thought you'd had your final say? The content of your reply makes you look worse, not better. As has been amply discussed by several posters, those are absolutely not my words to use. Frankly, I would deservedly be disciplined or fined if my employer found me writing them on the (especially if defending their deploymemt!). And that is no privation!

Sad to see you've not engaged with any of the very salient points that SRS makes, nor the point about Robeson apparently not getting your memo about protecting the 'fidelity' of the song's racist language, despite your efforts to use him as some sort of cover.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 06:51 PM

Rugby, I understand this rationale but I think it's misplaced. I also think the artistic effect is of far lesser value than the potential hurt caused to Jewish people in the audience, or non-Jewish people like the OP who still find it very offensive.

Worse still is the cover and even legitimisation that it gives to actual antisemites who actively seek opportunities to seed those views. It's less of an issue in trad folk, in my experience, but the neo-folk scene has also seen a lot of far-right entryism (putting it mildly), including some really virulent antisemitism, and I think there's a duty to deny those ideas or the imagery that can provide cover the space to breed.

As I say, I know Ali reasonably well, and as a promoter I've put him on four or five times, including last year. I don't think he's in any way racist. I also think he probably wouldn't perform this song in the same way, if at all, nearly 10 years on from the encounter that provoked thus thread.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 06:54 PM

'Rigby'. Apologies, autocorrect!

Steve, I see you replied to SRS whilst I was writing my post. She's still right.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jeri
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 07:07 PM

I think we can have records of racist songs, and not sing them. A friend here sang a song for several years, before I found the original, and discovered he'd changed some words. It was a damned fine song, with the changed lyrics.
But we need to have a record of the original lyrics. Otherwise, it's attempting to sanitize history. As in "No, that never happened, and you can't prove it did."
Two different things. Folk songs we sing, and archives of songs we remember.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 07:11 PM

Sorry, mate, but you are attacking me personally. If I see an adverse response to something I've said, I feel the right to respond irrespective of what I might have said in previous posts. It would be really good if you could just discuss the issue to hand. I don't know who you are but you do appear to have an agenda. Nighty night.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 07:19 PM

That's a fair point, Jeri. As I've repeatedly said, we are grown-ups.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 07:26 PM

Jeri, totally agree that it's important to keep EVERYTHING accessible in the historical record. They're important waymarkers, and valuable social history, however uncomfortable. As you say, it doesn't in any way mean they should be sung today.

Steve, my agenda is, feeling the need to speak out against the casual use - or defence of the use - of extremely racially offensive words. F-ing and jeffing aren't acceptable on thus forum - why should it be acceptsble for much more damaging language to be bandied about?

And, *I am* discussing the issue in hand - 1) that those are not 'our' (ie white people's) words to use - far from just my view. Any of my black friends, colleagues, neighbours would say the same. Beyond Kendrick Lamar, loads of the major black figure of the last 50 years has also expressed similar views. I take my lead from that.

2) you insisted that it was all about staying faithful to the song, invoking Paul Robeson to grant credence. I've already cited three recorded versions by him where he omits all of those 'contested terms'. I'd cautiously proffer that perhaps most of his recorded versions don't use such language. This isn't a personal attack. This is carefully examining one of the main points you made.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 07:52 PM

I didn't say anything about staying "faithful" to the song. That's a laughable allusion. And your "extremely racially offensive words" are all down to your own personal predilections. If we can't discuss those words and the context in which we find them, just on your say-so, then we don't live in a free country. We already know of your difficulties: "c-word", "n-word" and "d*rkies." It's very hard to discuss these frank issues with someone who can't even bring him/herself to utter the words. You want us to think you live in the UK. Well take a look at the Guardian style guide. If we mean nigger, coon and darkies, we say nigger, coon and darkies. No mucking about, no asterisks. Same as we do with fuck, cunt and the like (note that I rarely type those words: being pusillanimous says more about you than it does about those ancient and time-honoured words). Consider that you could actually be part of the problem. Last word: there has been, in this thread, the glib use of the expression "racist song." A racist song is a song that promotes racism. A song isn't a racist song because it contains words that white imperialists disapprove of. It might not be a song worth singing, or a song that it would be wise to sing, but there is a distinction. That's what this thread should really be about.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 08:56 PM

In the spirit of avoiding 'flame wars' which the forum guidance calls for, I'm not going to be drawn into returning fire on the personal insults and aspersions that you're casting - but I will extend the courtesy of taking your points one at a time.


1) 'I didn't say anything about staying faithful to the song'.

Your earlier comments tell a different story, Steve:

'I want to hear what the song was intended to be, otherwise I just might not want to hear it at all'

'I don't like seeing song words messed about with'

2) It's not my view that those are racially offensive words. Thankfully, it's the majority of society's view. Most importantly, it is overwhelmingly the view of the black community in general, and every black friend, colleague and neighbour I have now, and have ever had in the past. I have no inclination to break that covenant with the community that gets to determine which words are offensive to them, and which are not (which is a basic principle of standard equalities practice).

3) Curious point re: 'You want us to think you live in the UK' a casual glance at my previous posts would reveal links to my blog and Twitter, the town I live in, my job etc.

4) On the 'Guardian style guide,' good luck finding the use of any of those words that is not entirely framed around their offensiveness; citing their guidance whilst overlooking this key fact appears to be a case of wanting to have cake, and eat it? This inconsistency also seems present in your reluctance to tackle the points about Robeson's own avoidance of the language in question, having previously cited him as a reason to stick with said language.

5) In terms of pusillanimity - I don't find anything 'courageous' in using racial slurs without inhibition. I note that cursewords of the sort you've used tend to be deleted on the forum. I don't think they do anything to raise the tone of discussion. If it really is about 'courage', why not write to black colleagues, or to your council, or to Folk Against Facism, or Love Music Hate Racism, asking them if they'd endorse your wish to sing the song with those words?

6) I think dubbing a song in all liklihood written for minstrelsy 'a racist song' is fairly uncontroversial. As noted by me and any others, a song dormant 'in the record' is a historical artefact. A song performed in the present has the strong potential to be considered racist, especially if it includes the language we've been discussing, or other racial slurs.

7) Unless I'm mistaken, you appear to be calling me a 'white imperialist'? I've occasionally been called an anti-imperialist, but this is a new one, ha ha.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 09:01 PM

You're Pseudonymous, aren't you? :-)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 09:02 PM

A broader point - one of the people that got me involved in folk was a dear friend of Goan/Ugandan heritage. Together, we curated a series of gigs that reactivated Cecil Sharp House as a prominent London concert venue; and also put our savings into making a documentary about Shirley Collins.

One of the most inspirational people I've met in folk this year was folk dance instructor Andrea Queens (at EFDSS's folk educators day in February).

I can confidently assert that both would be not only mortified but really hurt and probably confused/angry about even confidently writing those words, never mind claiming the 'right' to sing them.

These are just two examples of the many non-white people making a considerable contribution to traditional music in the UK. To me, it seems not only inappropriate and unkind to create an environment which makes an important resource like Mudcat unwelcoming; it's self-defeating to any seeking to keep the tradition as vibrant and active as possible.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 09:03 PM

No, I'm not pseudonymous. As I say, anyone looking at my posts for even 2 minutes will be able to find out who I am very readily.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 09:06 PM

Well I can't be arsed.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 02 Jun 20 - 09:14 PM

Your prerogative. Hopefully other forum users might be interested to further engage with the question of what can make for a welcoming culture within our folk community.

At the EFDSS folk educators day, the renewed risk to the loss of folk dance as a living tradition across much of the country seemed very apparent.

Folk music clubs and singarounds on the whole seem in better health, from my experience, but that's no reason to be complacent - especially given the likely profound impact on our venue infrastructure; and also, the fact that without a vaccine, singing itself is seen to be an activity that can project the virus over a wider area.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 03:36 AM

I was associated with EFDSS for a long time not just as a member, but with working with the Librarians and movers and shakers
People like Malcolm Taylor and the Matthews and Barbara Newly became friends - they were very much Internationalists and realised the value of contributions from other nations, but as an organisation, I occasionally found it extremely WASP
It was summed up for me personally on a visit to the Herga Club when we tried to sell copies of our Irish Traveller tape, issued by The VWM Library 'Early in the Month of Spring' (the fore-runner to the present 'From Puck to Appleby' and we were firmly told by an organiser "We're an English Club"
My side of the revival was very much Internationalist, mainly because the clubs were '50 Shades of Left' - the revival owed its existence to Lefties like the WMA, Alan Bush, Bert Lloyd and MacColl and Seeger - multiculturalist all - calypsoist Fitszroy Coleman was a star of one of the first clubs
Bert's magnificent radio programmes, Songs of the People, Voice of the Gods, The Lament, Folk Song Virtuoso... internationalised the understanding of folk song for may of us
He brought The London Bangali singers and musicians 'The Batish Family' to The Singers Club - wonderful South Indian singer, Kali Des Gupta was a regular there
All this and much, much more could have been carried out by EFDSS - it wasn't - it would have been so ***** easy then - London was made up of international communities - West Indian, Greek, Turkish, various European and Asian peoples who had come to Britain and brought their voices and instruments with them
When Pat and I got the collecting bug we approached EFDSS with a proposal to set up a collecting team to comb London for it's music (originally mooted by 'The Critics Group') - we'd even devised a name 'Exiles'
The suggestion fell on deaf ears - they were all too busy waving hankies and shaking bells - they weren't even that interested in song
We approached Topic and they agreed - only if we would plan, organise and lead it
We had just dipped out to into recording Travellers and in Ireland and Norfolk - we didn't have the contacts - it became an opportunity missed
I think now Jean Jenkins at Hornimans or Lucy Duran in the (then) British Institute of Recorded Sound might have gone along but we had never met them and had no track record   
EFDSS could have boosted it's image by taking such a step - an opportunity missed by them too

We noticed on our annual visits to Ireland during 'The Troubles' what a tremendous unifying influence music has on multi-denominational and international groups - something like that is now being cried out for to drag Britain out of the racist shit-hole Britain has become thanks to opportunist politicians
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 04:16 AM

F-ing and jeffing aren't acceptable on thus forum

Whoever I agree with on this, that is wrong. There are plenty of examples of using the word fuck on this forum. Including by the moderators. It is an adult forum and we all enter it willingly. If there is racist or offencive intent I trust the moderators to remove it. If it is a discussion of a folk song that contains racist or offensive language, it should be with warts and all.

As it happens, I will no longer perform pace-egg or mummers play blacked up because of the very sensitivities we are discussing. Nor do I sing "rich as any jew" in "A mon like thee". There are better alternatives to both but that should not prevent the discussion of historic lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 04:18 AM

Little Sir Hugh rubs shoulders on AR's album with a lot of other macabre ballads in which terrible things are done. The album isn't going to turn anyone into an anti-semite, any more than it will make someone burn nurses or murder their daughter's boyfriends. If anything it serves to remind us that anti-semitism is equally barbaric.

Compare that with Captain Beefheart's 'Dachau Blues' from Trout Mask Replica. There is no racist intent there either, but I find it much more disturbing. The idea of writing a blues song about the Holocaust seems to me intrinsically offensive and staggeringly insensitive.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:08 AM

Thanks all -

Jim - I agree that there's an opportunity there for EFDSS, and the appetite of the organisation has waxed and waned over the years. over the last 10 years or so they've done more of this sort of thing, with Sam Lee's 'Magpie's Nest/Nest Collective' efforts as a promoter standing at the centre of this.

Dave - fair enough - as you can see from my forum history, I'm a fairly new user. I ran several searches for racial slurs - which returned quite a few lyric and post results - and the 'Anglo Saxon' words above, which returned lyric results only. I don't know whether search is disabled for certain profanities, or if (perhaps more likely) I haven't got to grips with the multiple search window options. I applaud your choice not to black up, or to sing such lyrics.

Rigby - yep, I've got Too Long in this Condition, and actually organised this gig for Ali in 2010 where he probably performed the song; though as a promoter, you're scuttling around too much to soak in the lyrics, and - despite having lived with a trainee Rabbi for 4 years previously - I simply didn't have the same appreciation then of the sensitivities around the words in question. As I say above, despite the cesspit of social media, I think many people are more alert to antisemitism now than was the case before. I'd be surprised if Ali chose to sing the song uncaveated now, and I think that voluble audience objection would be far more likely. Having said that, I think most people engage more with the 'textures' of live music rather than the fine grain of the lyrical experience, so many audience members would often be oblivious to such things.

Though these days I find the opening lines of Dachau Blues pretty crass, it is a direct engagement with, and condemnation of, the horrors of the holocaust; and a reminder to heed the lessons. Little Sir Hugh/The Jew's Garden, without caveats, context or explication, just keeps alive the 'blood libel' against Jewish people that - despite the aforementioned heightened awareness mentioned above - a disturbing number of people still seem to subscribe to (I've lost many painful hours arguing with open antisemites on the internet).

Further to my point above - I think about the shock, anger and bewildered disappointment that my Jewish friends would experience if unsuspectingly exposed to the song - how they might feel, to hear that in a room full of non-Jews, and nobody objecting - and I find that prospect troubling.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:21 AM

"Little Sir Hugh rubs shoulders on AR's album with a lot of other macabre ballads in which terrible things are done. The album isn't going to turn anyone into an anti-semite, any more than it will make someone burn nurses or murder their daughter's boyfriends. If anything it serves to remind us that anti-semitism is equally barbaric."

I agree with this (and with Dave's sentiments too). We should remember that a song exists only when it's sung. We can choose to sing it or not. We can choose to listen to it or not (unless it's foisted on us without warning, as Vin Garbutt once did at our folk club with his anti-abortion song, but even then we can reject it without getting horribly offended). I'm not in any way trying to champion songs which have racist intent. That goes against the limits of the kind of free speech that I recognise. I hear a lot of the ould "of their time" songs as having racist content without a hint of conscious racist intent. That isn't to say that they can't still perpetuate racist stereotypes. But I return to my point that we're grown ups. As such, I don't really appreciate another grown up policing the words for me. I'd rather contemplate the original and squirm as required. Or not contemplate it at all if singers choose to not sing it. That's all.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:29 AM

i believe Vin had the right to sing his song,if one dosna agree one dosna have to clap.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:32 AM

What hasn't been mentioned, so far as I can see, is the issue of context. By and large, these songs are performed to self-selecting audiences with a particular interest in folk song, most of whom have some understanding of the origins and the contexts in which these songs were created. In my experience, most songs (and not just those which could be offensive) are usually introduced in a way which explains this. These are not songs which the general public is likely to come across without explanation or preparation (unlike performances of morris or mumming plays). By and large, this is a specialist audience of grown-ups who understand the context in which these songs arose and in which they are now being performed.

Furthermore, one of the attractions of folk music is the insight it gives us into the lives of previous generations. It should also be thought-provoking, which means it might sometimes offend some people. So I don't agree with those who say racist songs should never be performed. However they should not be performed casually and without thought to how an audience might react.

The use of outdated language does not in itself make a song racist. Again, it is a question of cotext. As Hugill pointed out somewhere, "nigger" as used in shanties was simply the commonplace term among sailors (he also points out that many crews were multiracial and generally got along well). It is hardly ever, if at all, used offensively. I would see no problem at all in using it in a specialised shanty session, but wouldn't use it in a general folk club without a word of explanation. The seaside shanty choirs who perform mainly to visiting holiday makers should probably avoid it


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:45 AM

Agree fully with both those posts.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 07:03 AM

'I would see no problem at all in using it in a specialised shanty session'

I can't think of any night I've ever been to, or any venue, where this would be acceptable.

In terms of, 'It is hardly ever, if at all, used offensively.' In this sentence you pivot from a historical framing ('many crews were multiracial') to assert that 'it *is* hardly ever' offensively used *now*.

If that's your intent, it's palpably and demonstrably incorrect. Everyone is aware of how loaded, how offensive this word is not only to black people, not only to non-white people in general, but to the vast majority of the British public whatever their racial heritage. And, in my experience, it is only used without strong declamatory framing by people who take either overt or inner delight at flouting these vital contemporary social norms.

People can furtively 'enjoy' whatever words they want in the privacy of their own homes, however revolting. People using them in public should brace for challenge. But, this sort of usage that seem seek to reserve the right to is clearly racist, whether or not there are others there to hear and object.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 08:27 AM

"The album isn't going to turn anyone into an anti-semite, any more than it will make someone burn nurses or murder their daughter's boyfriends."
True enough, but that's an apples/cabbages comparison - the two are very different
Racism is not only ever-present, but it is on the rise, and in many ways, being encouraged
Worldwide Antisemitism is the oldest form of cultural hatred there is - some of us are old enough to have been alive when it reached its height - in a civilised (supposedly) world
Ther problem with our folksongs is that by and large, they are treated, even emphasised as 'entertainment' - some we are being asked to be entertained by the idea that Jews indulged in ritual child-murder
I can think of political groups who would fill pubs drinking the health to that idea
When/if our clubs become places to go to be educated as well as entertained, such songs may be acceptable - not yet, I'm afraid
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 09:00 AM

We know that many shanties (and quite probably the song form itself) came from African-American and Caribbean tradition, but that doesn't make it OK to sing offensive verses in a modern context. I remember being appalled by 'Hog's Eye Man' when I first heard it sung in a folk club forty years ago and, even though I understand its origins better now, I certainly wouldn't be any more comfortable hearing an unexpurgated version today. I agree with posters who have suggested we consider how a person of colour in our audience might respond to this kind of language and, if we conclude that it would be offensive in that situation, consider again whether it's acceptable in any context.

As a performer I see no problem in changing the words of old songs for all kinds of aesthetic reasons. Research is another matter, of course. As for Sir Hugh, although I remember once hearing it performed together with a very powerful contextual introduction, it's still one of the Child Ballads I've chosen to avoid.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 09:40 AM

Er, I'm not aware that anyone is "reserving the right" to use particular words. This thread is about words or groupings of words that are already there in (mostly) old songs. We are talking about whether we should keep those words, change them or just ditch the song. There is some scope for discussion of the matter without assuming things about those of us who are posting. You are getting way too carried away. When I post above the line I like to think I'm mostly going to be posting about issues in folk music, not in some wider context. I can make that distinction. See if you can. There's always the downstairs bit...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 09:43 AM

Context dependence. Consider "Bonnie Susie Cleland". Scots noblewoman is burnt on a pyre by her own brothers because she wants to marry an Englishman. Horrific honour killing story with added nationalism.

But it never happened. Nor did any incident remotely like it. As performed to a Scottish audience, the only way to read it is as a tragic warning against that sort of bigotry.

Now imagine it taken up by an English nationalist and presented as historically factual. It then becomes a story about how bigoted, misogynistic and violent the Scots are. I would hope any performance that presented it that way would be interrupted.

Same words, two very different intentions.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:28 AM

What I meant was that the word was seldom, if ever, used in shanties in a way which was demeaning or insulting to black people. Usually it was simply a description. At that time, the word didn't seem to carry the overtones that it undoubtedly does now, at least among sailors. Of course, those were less sensitive times and terms were also used about other races which would probably not be acceptable now, and I also recognise that black sailors were probably in no position to object to its usage - but that assumes they saw anything offensive in the word itself (rather than in the way they might be addressed).

Since then of course the word has become much more loaded and it is difficult to use it without appearing offensive. But context is everything. It is acceptable (or should be) in a discussion such as this, which is about the word itself. My point is that there may be contexts where its use in performance can be justified, just as there may be situations where unbowdlerised versions of shanties could be sung. Of course considerable caution is needed.

Incidentally, why do people get so agitated about the n-word but have no qualms about singing "hog-eye"? Is it because they don't know what it means? Hugill dismisses other collectors' claims it was obscene, saying they had misunderstood (although he doesn't say what he thinks it means). However according to several authorities, by at least the mid-20th century it had become a term for the vagina. Even if it didn't have this meaning for the sailors, shouldn't we now be equally sensitive to the modern meaning as we are with racial words?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:35 AM

"But it never happened. Nor did any incident remotely like it."
Moot point

I've just come across a bit of racism which I find quite interesting
It's from the magnificent 'Poetry and Song series done by Argo for teachers teaching pre-teenagers so the albums, while readily avaliable, wouldn't have been aimed at the general public
Bert Lloyd , at his best, sings ' Travelling Down to Castlereigh' which has the two verses:

I asked a feller for shearin' once along the Marthaguy.
“We shear non-union here,” says he. “I call it scab,” says I.
I took a look along the board before I turned to go:
There was twenty flamin' china-men shearin'in a row.

So shift, boys, shift, for there ain't the slightest doubt:
It's time to make a move with the leprosy about.
So I'll saddle up my pack-horse and I whistle to me dog;
I left his scabby station at the old jig-jog.

The 'leprosy' term is racially abusive to the Chinese who, out of poverty, were forced to take shearing jobs at lower wages, which helped the landowners drive the wages of the indigeanous shearers down - causing racial friction
The same happened in Wales aand Nothern England with Irish labour at the time of the famine
While it's not a song I'd sing, I find it a fascinating history lesson
Would welcome comments
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:40 AM

Steve, sorry to keep pulling you up on your own previous postings, but hopefully it's clear why others may have interpreted quotes such as these as 'reserving the right' to use such language?

'Were I to find meself singing it to a bunch of grown-ups I think I'd explain that the words are of their time, and while we wouldn't use those words these days, I'm keeping them in'

'I want to hear what the song was intended to be, otherwise I just might not want to hear it at all'

'my view is that I don't care much for ridiculous rewordings of songs done largely by white men. The choice is to sing the thing, not sing the thing, change the thing then sing it, to listen or to not listen. Thank God we live in free countries (for now), eh?'


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:41 AM

Brian, I totally agree with your post.

Jack, I fully agree with/share your hope that that sort of use would be challenged. My personal view is that some of the racial slurs discussed above, and the faultlines of competing nationalisms, are of different degrees of severity - though others may well feel differently.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:50 AM

Howard, I think Brian has already mentioned his unease with 'hog-eye', but as you say I think the more esoteric nature of the profanity means that most people aren't familiar.

'My point is that there may be contexts where its use in performance can be justified, just as there may be situations where unbowdlerised versions of shanties could be sung. Of course considerable caution is needed.'

Personally, without a heavily caveated intro, I can't imagine those contexts where it could be justified;

Even in a dramatic context for historical verite, unless for purposes of revealing and exploring prejudice, it would seem highly gratuitous; and there are just so many other songs that could be used.

The idea of it being struck up 'un-cordoned', in the general course of a shanty session, whatever the demographic of those participating, seems quite far beyond the pale.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:59 AM

'qualms about singing "hog-eye"?'

Fair point, Howard. I had no idea what the expression meant when I first heard the song, but I do now. However I suspect that a lot of people don't, hence the lack of general outrage.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 11:04 AM

Just to be clear, it was description of the fellow with his sea boots on, who'd apparently been visiting the narrator's girlfriend, that I found offensive about 'Hog-eye'. Even though I accept it might have been regarded as innocuous in its original context.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 11:14 AM

The question is then, what would you do with such songs? Ban them from being performed in public? If so, where do you draw then line? What about songs that are offensive to the English? What about songs that praise alcohol? What about songs of domestic abuse? And who decides where to draw that line? Once you start to censor lyrics you are on a slippery slope.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 11:32 AM

Agreed, Dave. As for you, Black Acorn, none of those quotes of mine have anything to do with my wanting to "reserve the right" to use words in a racist manner. You are a bit too enthusiastic, if you don't mind my saying so, about defining offensiveness for all the rest of us and prescribing for us which words we should never use. Read what others have said about context. Adopt a more rounded view. No-one is going to be condemned as racist for not objecting to Paul Robeson singing "coon" instead of "food" in an old song. If you want to go larger on that, go below the line.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: leeneia
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 11:49 AM

Are rascist songs ok?

When you learn and sing a song, you are spending time and perhaps money on it. Ask yourself if you want to spend your time and money promulgating something you hate.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Derrick
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 12:03 PM

Funny things words,the same word can have totally different meanings depending on where and how it is used.
I only learnt today that Hogs eye could be used as a term for female genitalia.A hogs eye man could refer to a crew man on a river barge that was refered to as a hogs eye.
See here https://mainlynorfolk.info/watersons/songs/hogeyeman.html
Bugger is another such word as any Englishman knows,it can be a sexual act or a term of affection given the context in which it is used.
The word negro to designate a dark skinned person came from Spanish and Portuguese where it means the colour black,which in turn comes from the Latin word niger.
An innocent word in one language can be offensive in another as some car makers have found when naming a particular model of car only to find it has to renamed to sell in a paricular country.
Offence can be caused deliberatly or accidently, you can usually work out the way the speaker meant it to be understood.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 12:05 PM

Meanwhile, we have trump fanning flames and using racism for his own end.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 12:18 PM

If folk clubs were expected to post "trigger warnings" the list would be a long one - murder, rape, incest, domestic and other forms of violence, racism, sexism, celebration of tobacco and alcohol, hunting, shooting and fishing, and of course whaling. Not to mention a wide range of political opinions.

There is much to be offended by, and from time to time I hear things which make me uncomfortable. However we don't have a right not to be offended. I don't set out deliberately to offend anyone myself, and I hope my previous posts haven't given the impression that I don't think carefully about what I sing.

My point is that songs with outdated language are not necessarily racist in intent, and we should be careful not to jump to conclusions just because modern sensibilities are different. Of course we cannot ignore those sensibilities either. I would be very cautious about singing songs with such language, but I would not go so far as to say they should not be sung.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 12:25 PM

tavelling down the castlereagh is not trad, however would itbe acceptable to sing
I asked a feller for shearin' once along the Marthaguy.
“We shear non-union here,” says he. “I call it scab,” says I.
I took a look along the board before I turned to go:
There was twenty flamin' black legs shearin'in a row.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 12:28 PM

All "rights of free speech" have to be balanced by other peoples' rights to go about their business without being insulted or denigrated
The "slippery slope" idea is far too often uses to have the unacceptable accepted
We have a troll wandering around here at present putting forward the same argument
If people demand the right to behave inappropriately, they must to accept the right of others to ask them to stop or at least, make their feelings obvious - I've seen that happen more than once and enjoyed it

I was both alarmed and amused by the story of Eric Bogle singing his bitterly anti-racist, 'I Hate Wogs' when a member of the audience climbed onto the stage and punched him - critical acclaim in the extreme
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 12:46 PM

Agree Jim. In general, I feel the slippery slope argument is used as a blanket pass. The two main things that are being discussed boil down to (1) songs about the Jewish 'blood libel', which started the thread; and (2) songs using a handful of specified racial slurs that are widely avoided.

Steve - "none of those quotes of mine have anything to do with my wanting to "reserve the right" to use words in a racist manner."

...Frankly, this is denying it's raining when it is. Your words are as plain as day, however much you might insist otherwise.

"You are a bit too enthusiastic, if you don't mind my saying so, about defining offensiveness for all the rest of us and prescribing for us which words we should never use... No-one is going to be condemned as racist for not objecting to Paul Robeson singing.." etc and so on

Steve, I sense your frustration at tying yourself in knots; I strongly suspect you've accidentally fallen into a position which you don't even believe in yourself.

However - I didn't raise that song or those words - YOU DID - with a really peculiar set of musings about YOUR OWN WILLINGNESS TO SING THE SONG, including - even - pondering (before discounting) purring it as a lullaby to a four-year-old!

It was *never* about criticising you or anyone else for listening to Paul Robeson. That is plain as day, across all of the posts above.

It was questioning your claim to be able to publicly sing those same words *because Robeson also sang them*.

You still seem highly averse to tackling the question of why - given Robeson's own jettisoning of those words - you seem more wedded to them than him...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 02:17 PM

That post is full of complete nonsense which utterly and deliberately mischaracterises everything I've said. You are painting me as someone I am not. You are a troll and I'm blanking you from this point on.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 02:21 PM

"what would you do with such songs? Ban them from being performed in public?"

I'm not into banning stuff, just suggesting that singers might want to think about their repertoire. There are, as Howard said, many songs that are potentially or actually offensive, and I remember ferocious debates about hunting and whaling songs in the 1980s. I used at that time to sing 'The Weary Whaling Ground', justifying it to myself as a song about the exploitation of the crew, which also included a graphic description of the kill that served as a reminder of the horrors of the trade. Others wanted such songs banned altogether. People will draw lines in different places. I can see a justification for singing 'Sir Hugh' with an appropriate introduction, but I still choose not to. I love the Copper Family and wouldn't condemn them for singing 'Sportsmen Arouse', but that doesn't mean I'd want it in my repertoire. I prefer to sing songs I feel positive about in some way, rather than make the excuse (and you did use to hear this in the old days), 'I don't approve of the sentiments of this song, but it has a great chorus / tune etc.'

In the world we inhabit at the moment, the topic of race is extremely sensitive for very obvious reasons. Personally I think a sensitivity to that should over-ride historical accuracy which, to be honest, the folk revival has never cared too much about anyway.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 03:02 PM

I seem to remember good old Colin Irwin excoriating Nic Jones for using that whaling song on Penguin Eggs when it was rereleased. In turn, Colin himself was excoriated in the pages of Folk Roots... :-)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 03:31 PM

So, those of you who believe the slippery slope is a poor excuse, where do you think the line should be drawn and who should draw it?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 04:13 PM

To BlackAcornUK and others who advocate censoring the lyrics to folk songs: presumably you also feel that Sharp and Baring-Gould acted entirely correctly when they bowdlerised the songs they collected in order to make them acceptable to contemporary mores?

If not, what's the difference?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: peteglasgow
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 04:46 PM

there are many thousands of songs we could sing - why would anyone want to choose some old bigotted shite?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 05:38 PM

They're bigoted if they mischievously and intentionally promote racism or other forms of discrimination. If the intention wasn't there, they might still promote prejudice via the words they contain and via the mischief that people of ill will can perpetrate. But such are the risks of life. The flip side is to agree to censorship. This is no easy matter, nor is there an easy answer. And that's because we live in relatively free societies in which we can exercise personal choices. Just beware of self-appointed censors, that's all.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 05:55 PM

Circus, vaudeville and minstrelsy were not commercially viable for 100+ years without Afro-American/Caribbean patronage. Carnival was never a safe space, still ain't. Some folks go for that, others don't.

The product itself has no intrinsic quality or value. These attributes are perceived one producer & consumer at a time down through the generations.

If one sings shanties to go shopping; play dress up and talk like a pirate for a day, history has nothing to do with it and race is reduced to one (1) of a long list of taboos. Amplified, plastic fiddles are perfectly okay.

If, oth, one studies, recreates & reenacts shanties with the specific intent of period accurate authenticity, one is ethically bound to period accurate moralities… plural. Leave the mobile phone ashore.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:27 PM

Steve, I've patiently taken your posts point by point, carefully considered them and responded. If that's somehow trolling, what am I to make of your approach - which seems to have been to pretend you didn't say things that are reflected back to you verbatim; to ignore inconvenient points that totally erode your arguments; and to go on strange rants whilst accusing others of being misguided, pusillanimous, 'white imperialists'(!), and of not living in the country?!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:43 PM

Really good post Brian - I totally agree.

Interesting point on Sportsmen Arouse - I enjoy that song to sing, but personally abhor bloodsports. The one time I've sang any of those songs in public (The Innocent Hare), I denounced the practice, and pledged a donation to the League Against Cruel Sports, ha ha. On the wider Copper repertoire, I certainly wouldn't sing Good Ale, for obvious reasons - when I've seen the Coppers do so, they've made a show of apologetically disapproving of the domestic violence lines, in mid-flow, but that still feels a bit far for me.

Dave - in terms of the slippery slope - I think content that could realistically pass the threshold to see people disciplined from work, or kicked out of a political party (eg racial curse words, antisemitic blood libel) that's not a bad place to draw the line?

Rigby - the difference with Sharp, Baring Gould and some peers - as I understand it! - is that their approach (lyrically and melodically, in Sharp's case) flew close to censoring/doctoring the historical record itself. I think there's a strong consensus above that the material shouldn't be doctored at source/in the archives. It's about making conscious, practical choices about what we perform today. And also, to repeat - going through the same evolutionary process of 'variation and selection' which the songs have always gone through.

Although as I keep noting, My Curly Headed Baby isn't a folk song - to take that example, Robeson himself appears to have sung it without racial slurs multiple times on record, later in his career.

To repeat a better example - perhaps you've seen my point about the universal omission these days of the antisemitic verse from 'Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.'


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:46 PM

Phil, as discussed by many above - if driven by historical accuracy, with such an immense store of songs to choose from, what is the reasonable excuse for actively choosing to perform the songs that are likely to be considered racist by many (most?) contemporary audiences?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:49 PM

(Workingtonman also made that last point very well and much more pithily above...)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:49 PM

Dave' persistent question as to who should draw the line is very apposite. In democracies where freedom of choice is paramount, if not totally untrammelled freedom of speech (I've never accepted that), policing of the "of-its-time" stuff that we're discussing sits very uncomfortably with the freedoms we enjoy. The policemen are invariably self-appointed, as we see on this thread. Which is not to say that we have freedom without responsibility. But, in order to restrain ourselves as to what this thread should be about, let's just say that those words and those songs are out there, we didn't invent them, and that it's up to us in our modern times to decide what we do with them. That largely has to be on a personal level. Lots of good points have been made here (plus some rubbish ones, but hey, that's debate...). Thank goodness that I play tunes and don't sing songs. But I still won't play Lillibullero, that Orangeman's tune... :-)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 06:53 PM

Steve, if trying to have a sensible debate about why racial slurs aren't suitable content for performance by a bunch of mainly white people in a pub is being a 'self-appointed policeman', I'll still gladly choose that role over the alternative one of the non-singer/non-musician who demands the hypothetical right to sing racist lyrics in public.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 10:15 PM

"Liliburlero" is surely all right: the BBC World Service wouldn't use an air which could reasonably be seen as insulting or demeaning to a defined minority in Britain, would it? Or is it not problematic because so few people know the words, let alone their historical referents? Just as a reminder, the first line contains what might be termed "the 'T' word".
Not "racism", admittedly, but still the perpetuation of prejudice.
Memorable air, nonetheless, whether or no the words are known. Just like many composed by SCFoster.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Jun 20 - 11:23 PM

No. Not right now. I wouldn't sing anything that might be construed as racist, why fan the flames? There are plenty of other songs. I'd stay away from Stephen Foster. Now is not the right time to be exploring that "nostalgia for the good old slavery days" esthetic.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 12:24 AM

Surely you can dream of joys gone by, or even the fond hopes that cheer us and die, without e'er a "Massa" &c to be heard (if you're sufficiently familiar with Foster's work, that is). Is it all right to whistle the tunes? I await your guidance.
Note that I'm not going so far as to suggest that a State broadcasting service should employ as a "signature tune" a melody the words of which could reasonably be seen as racist, anti-semitic, demeaning to women, &c &c &c. That's my objection to "Liliburlero", though I anticipate that this objection won't be quite as fashionable as similar ones.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 12:36 AM

(Just to be clear: Steve Shaw's accurate characterisation of "Liliburlero" as an Orangeman's song indicates that a certain anti-Catholicism is inevitably associated with it. Or, is it all right to use the air just as long as few people know this? I had thought the distinction lucid enough already).


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 01:11 AM

The Stephen Foster issue is one of association. Not all the songs he wrote were racist, but many were - with images of "old folks at home", "Way down upon the Swannee River" etc. The strange thing is that he was not a Southerner, I'm not sure he'd ever even been to the south. But those songs were co-opted and loved by antebellum southerners. There are many wonderful songs amongst them. But now is not the time to sing them. When we sing songs about the good old slavery days (even if that's not explicitly stated), we remind others of the bad old slavery days. It's not a good idea to put those bad old days on a nostalgia pedestal. Is this making sense? the songs are good, now's not the time to sing them and I'm not sure when will be, I guess it would have to be some future time when racism isn't an issue. I doubt that we'll get there in my lifetime unfortunately.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 01:15 AM

nottingham ale uses the air and the song has no connection with racism neither does the air when used in that context.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 02:48 AM

My notes on Lillibulero from a talk Pat and I once gave to our local History Group on songs and History
Jim

Probably the most spectacular example of a ballad influencing the course of history is to be found in the song Lillibulero,
The song is said to have first appeared in Ulster in 1641. Richard Talbot, a Catholic and Royalist, had been made Earl of Tyrconnel after the Restoration, and King James II later appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland where he pursued strong pro-Catholic policies. Even after James was deposed in England, Tyrconnel governed Ireland in James' name. The Irish Catholic forces were eventually defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne.
The song represents two Irish Catholics gloating over Tyrconnell’s appointment as Lord Lieutenant and goes;

Ho brother Teague, come hear the decree
Lilli burlero, bullen a la;
Ireland’s to have a new deputie,
Lilli burlero, bullen a la.

Ho, by my soul, it is a Talbot;
Lilli burlero, bullen a la
And he will cut every Protestant throat
Lilli burlero, bullen a la

Jonathan Swift, in 1712, named the Whig leader Thomas Wharton as the author, quoting him as claiming to have “whistled a king out of three kingdoms”.

Bishop Burnet’s History of His Own Time, 1724 - 1734, gives a contemporary account of public response to the original song:

A foolish ballad was made at that time, treating the papists, and chiefly the Irish, in a very ridiculous manner, which had a burden, said to be Irish words, lero, lero, lilibulero, that made an impression on the army that cannot be well imagined by those who saw it not. The whole army, and at last all people both in city and country, were singing it perpetually. And perhaps never had so slight a thing so great an effect.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 03:05 AM

I think content that could realistically pass the threshold to see people disciplined from work, or kicked out of a political party

No. Sorry. Pure cop out. All you have done is passed the responsibility elsewhere. I shall rephrase the question. What lyrics should cross the line to get you disciplined at work, kicked out of a political party or censured at a music venue? There are the obvious ones that have been mentioned. There are lyrics that are offensive to many other people. Should they all be banned or censored? And, yet again, who decides?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 03:24 AM

"And, yet again, who decides?"
Common sense and humanity - surely
I think it has already been said that nobody is suggesting "banning" anything, though even the rightest of Governments have been forced to recognise that there is line not to be crossed and have introduced 'anti-hate laws to protect the most vulnerable.
It isn't what should be banned but what audiences in out multi-racial, multi-cultural society should have to tolerate
Sre - people don't have to turn up to venues where this shit takes place - on the other hand, there are places like notrious East London pub, 'The Blade Bone' where people who wish to indulge can strut their stuff in the privacy of their own kind
In the light o what' is now taking place on the streets of the world following the US murder, should there be any doubt on this matter?
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 03:36 AM

I'm reading the thread title as the song's racism is a foregone conclusion.

Acorn: as discussed by many above - if driven by historical accuracy, with such an immense store of songs to choose from, what is the reasonable excuse for actively choosing to perform the songs that are likely to be considered racist by many (most?) contemporary audiences?

I've not seen any evidence shanties and naval science were ever in the same room, alone or together. Ergo, I would introduce your predetermined 'scientific' findings and facts as pirate opera. ie: Not science.

The most blatantly racist (by any metric) maritime work song sub-genre also being far-and-away the most African/African-American/Caribbean sourced & influenced; used primarily to enhort and exhort exceptionally diverse cohorts whilst being deliberately/ignorantly hurtful & offensive to its own creators & practitioners. Oy.

You also have never used “celeusma” in a sentence, have you?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 03:37 AM

Stephen Foster , he associated with a Pittsburgh-area abolitionist leader named Charles Shiras, and wrote an abolitionist play himself. Many of his songs had Southern themes, yet Foster never lived in the South and visited it only once, during his 1852 honeymoon. NOTHING RACIST IN THIS ONE
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sign of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
Oh hard times, come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay
There are frail forms fainting at the door
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sign of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
Oh hard times, come again no more.
There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away
With a worn heart, whose better days are o'er
Though her voice it would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sign of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
Oh hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sign of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
Oh hard times, come again no more.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:09 AM

What about football chants? Irish rebel songs? Christian hymns? Left wing songs?

They will all offend someone. So where is the line drawn and who draws it?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe G
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:42 AM

Well said Jim!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:03 AM

WE are talking about somethins that has put many thousands on the street as I write Dave
How man "Irish rebel songs? Christian hymns? Left wing songs get petrol poured through letter boxes in your experience ?
Try asking the ethinaclly cleaned Travellers who are fighting for their existence - the communities that gave us Jeannie Robertson, The Stewarts, The Dorans (to keep this in a musical context
Are you for real ?
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:33 AM

Er, I don't think that the singing of "racist folk songs" or plantation songs, undesirable though they be, gets petrol poured through letter boxes either...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 06:32 AM

For consistency, and equality, should someone not insist we have,

"Ho, brother T----, dost hear de decree..."?

And someone else decry the stylised "dialectal" spelling, in some ways of the song (certainly the way I encountered it first)?   
But then, there are plenty of songs with phonetic approximations to Irish, and Scottish, pronunciation and with a "humorous" intention behind them; better turn some attention to that, as well (in the interests of genuine equality, of course). After all, if GUEST instructs me so confidently not to sing anything by Foster because of "association", these examples of direct mockery must be even worse; ain't dat de troof? And is it all right to whistle the airs of these songs, though sedulously avoiding anything at all associated with Slavery (at least, as practised in the Americas during a couple of centuries)?I'd appreciate an answer, preferably one which includes some attention to a State Broadcaster using the air of the song cited, given its explicit mockery.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 06:40 AM

"racist folk songs"
The rcism it promotes or makes acceptable can Steve
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 06:47 AM

In the not-too-distant past we thought we had the major problems solved - I used to sing a song called 'Te Colout-Bar Strike, by a Lono Railwayman who wrote it about the time the Kings Crosss Railway workers went on strike to prevent the employment of West Indian Labour
I was told quite firmly that there was no need for such songs any more because that type of "prejudice and ignorance" was "a thing of the past"
I doubt if that advice would be given today (just as well I haven't forgotten the song)
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 07:15 AM

The whole point of this angst-ridden discussion is to discern whether or not songs containing certain words or sentiments can be used to promote racism. A song exists only when it's sung. A song in itself, written on a sheet of paper or existing only in the head of a folk singer, can't be racist until the middle man (or woman) makes it racist. Equally, the middle man can make that same song anti-racist by the wise drawing of context. It's what we do with what we've got. We are all free to ignore songs that make us uncomfortable. We don't have to sing them or hear them. We can even muck about with the words (thereby risking shattering our credibility). But as soon as someone tells you that you mustn't/shouldn't sing them/they should be banned, etc., then you are entitled to ask that person Dave's persistent but as yet unanswered question, who's going to do the policing? Shall we hold an election?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 08:28 AM

I think that's a little simplistic Steve
When these songs were made the terms used were commonplace - the language of the day and not necessarily meant to give offence
Words like n***** were telling it as it was than - now it is a term regularly used as abuse - by people on the street, by the police, bt openly racist scumbags like Jim Davidson who one boasted publicly, "I'm not prejudices I hate all the fuckers"
Bernard Manning made Britain roll in the aisles with his contempt for The Irish
That has been stopped elsewhere because it has been deemed offensive - why not in folk clubs
I was a bit taken aback that I had not notice the Chinese People working in the sheep-sheds being compared to a deforming disease in a song I have been listening to over half my life
For me, the last week has underlined the fact that it's time we were moving on
It's not a bad litmus test for a singer to put themselves in the place of the people being sung about when deciding wht that should do with these songs - let's face it - there aren't that may of them, but that tends to make them stick out

I don't believe showing your disapproval of them is 'the thin end of the wedge' but I do belive that letting them through on the nod might wall be
I've answered Dave's scattergun question - this is not about offending people - it's about allowing people to go through life uninsulted or unpesecuted because oif their colour, or place of origin or religion
I am a white male born in Britain yet I have been referred to as a "bogtrotter" and more recently "a supporter of the IRA" because I choose to live in The West of Ireland
Ah sure - oi don't loik that one bit
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 08:44 AM

I was a bit taken aback that I had not notice the Chinese People working in the sheep-sheds being compared to a deforming disease in a song I have been listening to over half my lif,
Why not just sing blacklegs for that line


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 09:32 AM

I wouldn't sing it anyway Dick
Years ago I had noproblems with songs about Blacklegs like Blackleg Miner, but resrearches into the experiences of many of the Irish who took these jobs after The Famine to feed their starving families back home has made me realise that things are nt as simple as they appeared to be and, in many cases they were as much victims as were those whose jobs they were taking
That's the problem wen you lift the corner to see what's underneath
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 09:48 AM

"Words like n***** were telling it as it was than - now it is a term regularly used as abuse - by people on the street, by the police, bt openly racist scumbags like Jim Davidson who one boasted publicly, "I'm not prejudices I hate all the fuckers"
Bernard Manning made Britain roll in the aisles with his contempt for The Irish
That has been stopped elsewhere because it has been deemed offensive - why not in folk clubs"

Well you've just made the point for us, Jim. Manning and Davidson deliberately set out to be openly racist. Context is everything (you're beginning to sound like a parrot, Steve...) It entirely depends on how stuff is put across in folk clubs. In my experience, I'm supposing that putting forth an "iffy" song by someone with racist intent would be instantly shatupon by any folk club audience I've seen. In fact, the ethos of folk clubs wouldn't permit stuff to be put across that way in any case. Maybe somebody here knows of a different type of folk club...

And has it really been stopped elsewhere? And if you really want to tell it like it is, it's nigger, not n*****. Guardian style guide: no asterisks in naughty words. Type the word in full or don't use it at all.

I think I might be calling for self-policing, which is the democratic way forward. Unless someone has the answer to Dave's much-asked but still-unanswered question...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 10:32 AM

this is not about offending people

Of course it's about offending people. If no one was offended by the songs in question we would not be having this discussion.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 11:50 AM

I suppose if I sing a song about you being a kiddie fiddler, its ok, so long as I use a traditional tune? Or if a song points out how your granddad fixed bayonets on Indians to bring them into line and how you should be ashamed? Funnily enough, there are such songs and they are traditional. Ask yourself if your prime objective is racism or traditional music.

If you think it will make some people feel dismay, if you feel it might be offensive to people and put them down because of their race, creed etc, rather than their actions and opinions then it possibly isn't a good idea to be a twat.

Bad enough the Queen smiling at Edinburgh tattoo whilst the bagpipes play Siege of Delhi.. At least Carthy points out the disgusting origins of the tune..

Reminds me of a folk club organiser who, when paying us afterwards told us to watch our van if we are going for a curry afterwards as "darkies" hang around near here. He had been applauding whilst his mate sang Beko Drum as well.. Ignorance is ignorant.

No. Racism isn't acceptable. Never was, it's just that ignorance and bigotry is still popular amongst grunts.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 11:51 AM

"Of course it's about offending people."
The term is offensive is now racially itself - if you refuse to recognise that we have nothing to say to each other Dave (if we ever had)
We have no right to use these terms and claim we don't mean to give offence while refusing Davidsion and Manniing to do the same
It really isn't "the way I tell 'em" - it is what is being told that is the problem
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 12:39 PM

The whole point of this angst-ridden discussion is to discern whether or not songs containing certain words or sentiments can be used to promote racism.

No, I think this thread is about whether traditional songs with racist meanings should be sung at all, especially by performers who are not African American (or other dark races represented in the songs, depending on where the colonizers are from). If a song has been appropriated by the race that was the subject of the song, they have a particular platform from which to sing (and certainly alter the meaning). This is what Derrida said was "writing back to the center," the colonized speaking back to the empire. What Spivak means when she asks "can the subaltern speak?"

A song exists only when it's sung. A song in itself, written on a sheet of paper or existing only in the head of a folk singer, can't be racist until the middle man (or woman) makes it racist.

In our post-modern world the theory of the meaning of a word depends upon the reader and or listener. If you write or sing "tree" you may be thinking of the stately oaks near your home (or whatever trees you imprinted on as you grew up). I instead see a tall huge Douglas fir, based upon my world view and experience of trees.

But when you start singing, especially a familiar tune, there is an entire package of information that comes through to the listener, and it is clear long before you get to that troublesome word. Depending on the song, sometimes the first few notes are all that are needed for the entire song's meaning to wash over you if you know it well. Think of how radio works - you hear a distinctive cow bell or guitar or drum riff and you know exactly what song is starting to play. Individual performers may not have such a distinctive beginnings to the folk songs they sing, but the same effect happens, just a little slower than when a standard recording is played, as a knowing audience recognizes the tune and the opening words.

I didn't come back to flog this topic, and I'm sorry to keep picking Steve's words to illustrate my points. He at least gives me a point to pull in some graduate school literary theory that is useful to help position the singer, the song, the words, and the listener.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 12:40 PM

The term is offensive is now racially itself

I have no idea what that is even supposed to mean.

As to the rest. Absolutely, we should not give offence intentionally. But it happens. Black people, quite rightly, take offence at white people calling them niggers. Jews take offence at anyone calling them Yids. I take offence at being called a bastard Brit. Others take offence at absolutely anything.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 01:02 PM

Thinking, then, of how Radio works, and how the opening notes of a familiar melody, it seems, are sufficient to cause the song's entire meaning to "wash over" a listener, is it only because so few people know the words to "Liliburlero" (let alone its historical context) that the BBC can get away with using a specifically anti-Catholic song as a signature tune? Now that the nature of this song, and therefore its "associations" to those who know of it, has been made explicit, I trust there will be as powerful and persistent publicity against this use as there has been about all those other songs which are derogatory towards other defined groups.
I'm still waiting to know if I have permission to whistle any of Stephen C Foster's many elegant melodies.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 01:31 PM

You triggered a memory, ABCD, of Whitby many years ago when the Plough, a Sam Smith's pub, still allowed music. One of the regular sets of the session was a medley of American South music. It included Dixie to which the Yorkshire contingent always sang "I wish I were in Dewsbury, pronounced jowsbry, followed by "On them golden slippers". Would that be crowned upon nowadays?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 03:31 PM

"But it happens. "
Tough if you can't get work becaiuseof your colout ot your home is targetted by graffiti or yuor kids ket the shit kicked out of them at school
Worth more than a shrug of the shoulders to the human beings I prefer to associate with Dave
Mask slipping time down South - to borrow from an old 'darkie' song
Finished , I think
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 03:50 PM

False equivalence, Jim. We are talking about singing minority interest songs in limited venues to a tiny audience. Not major race related hate crimes.

Finished , I think

No you don't. You are not getting away with that "mask slipping" comment that easily. Just what are you implying?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:00 PM

"No, I think this thread is about whether traditional songs with racist meanings should be sung at all,"

Pick out my words as much as you like, Maggie. No sweat. But I don't agree with this. To couch it in different terms, you appear to be saying that there's a choice between banning the songs or not. That "no" sounds rather authoritarian to me. Well that's a bad choice. It's been well said by a number of posters here that there are many subjects in songs that could offend someone or other. Rebel Irish songs could whip up enough hate to threaten people, for example. But I'm a very simple man. So all I want to know is (a) who decides what songs shouldn't be sung at all, or (b) why we can't, in civilised and democratic countries, simply and tacitly police ourselves? See my earlier remark about the ethos of folk clubs...So, really, what's the issue? Much more to say but I'm getting fed up of repeating myself...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:20 PM

Never heard about Golden Slippers (whether "on them" or "Oh, dem") except on the soundtracks of Westerns, but I'm certain to hear "Dixie" at least once each Summer, followed by "Battle-Hymn of the Republic", since this particular medley is part of the repertoire of a regular at a pub in a village in Ireland. Probably many people sing this pairing, and no doubt there was some thought of "reconciliation" when Elvis put them together, but it's unlikely that a Civil War in another country would be foremost among listeners' thoughts when hearing songs more than a century and a half old. I can't sing the first easily, but from memory supplied the singer with a verse printed in a song-book of the late nineteenth century but never heard, as far as I'm aware:

"[two-syllable female name] married Will the weaver,
Will had a face like a butcher's cleaver, Look away! Look away...&c.

No doubt this particular combination of old songs will indeed come under scrutiny in these interesting times. I think it was one of the Adams politicians in America who considered the Slavery issue to be, as it were, "unfinished business" from their War of Independence. Sometimes, issues are not fully settled the first time round; 1789, 1830, 1848, 1870 is an interesting sequence from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:28 PM

Just catching up. It'll be no surprise that I tend to agree with Jim on the points covered above.

Jumping back to my own last interactions - this strikes me as a fairly contradictory comment, Dave:

'No. Sorry. Pure cop out. All you have done is passed the responsibility elsewhere. I shall rephrase the question. What lyrics should cross the line to get you disciplined at work, kicked out of a political party or censured at a music venue? There are the obvious ones that have been mentioned. There are lyrics that are offensive to many other people. Should they all be banned or censored? And, yet again, who decides?'

Surely the 'cop-out' is to reject the challenge of trying to locate the line at all?

The 'lines' I refer to above aren't accidental or arbitrary. On the issue of racial hatred, we're fortunate to have laws that are broadly in alignment with prevailing public opinion and which offer a degree of protection to those most likely to be harmed - either directly by hate speech consciously targeted at them, or by the pernicious environment that casual racism allows to flourish.

Feeding into the law - but going further - are a set of social norms that form a part of the same consensus. Of course, we use these to relate to each other (but they can slip their moorings on the internet between strangers; though of course I can't be certain, I'm cautiously confident that Steve *wouldn't* be boldly writing the n-word in letters to his doctor or dentist). Basically, they help to establish what sort of speech is unacceptable or unreasonable in our interactions, beyond what is not actually illegal.

It's also according to these norms that things like the disciplinary processes of the workplace and mainstream membership bodies are oriented.

These norms undergo a certain degree of flux, but over time (and barring major sudden realignments in either direction) they tend to incrementally shift towards greater protections for groups that might be subject to prejudice. Likewise, this social contract often shifts towards increasing empathy for those same groups, and appreciation of the reasons to not flaunt words that - whatever the intention - can cause real hurt.

So - when tackling the vexed question of, 'where is the line to be drawn?' - pointing to these sorts of procedures isn't 'copping out', it's navigating by way-markers established by a social consensus that we all play a part in.

Some may wish to go further (and may get there over time, as sensibilities are continuously recalibrated); some may reject this line. But, in the absence of universal agreement between individuals (which, as we see here, is difficult!), the social consensus in as far as it can be discerned - ie, in the policies of the organisations that we all help to shape the culture of - seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable guide.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:48 PM

Good Grief, will the Ligger catch the Pike


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 04:51 PM

Just a long winded way of saying that someone else draws the line. Copping out is the shortened version.

I will try again. Why do you rail at someone wanting to perform an historically accurate song yet you are quite happy to inflict your nonsensical Christmas carols on innocent atheists like me that have gone to the pub for a quiet pint?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:02 PM

innocent atheist,is that not an oxymoron?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:08 PM

No.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:10 PM

No, I'm not saying to ban anything, Steve, I'm pointing out why singers should have the common sense to simply stop singing those songs in public gatherings, and offering rationale why.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:10 PM

Hi Dave, it's not someone else choosing. It's the choice that the collective makes, to do the least harm and the least offence, in the face of the inevitability of assorted individuals all having different views.

As I say, the 'cop-out' is to insist the line can't be drawn.

I'm an atheist too as it happens. Presumably you've prowled my timeline to see that I started a thread about pub carolling. Presumably as a denizen of this forum, you know enough about said traditions to know that a big chunk have little discernible Christian content, or else muddles of the Christian and the secular or even the pagan/profane.

And, it does seem disingenuous to try and present this whole discussion as being about singing historically accurate songs.

It isn't - it's about, what are the parameters - if any - within which those songs can be sung, weighing up contemporary morality and sensibilities; and, more importantly, whether casual usage of certain vocabulary or material can create a substrate for genuine hatred to flourish.

But in any case, as you know - in its narrative, 'Little Sir Hugh' isn't a 'historically accurate song'. It's a medieval piece of propaganda and religious incitement (shouldn't that affront your atheism?).

'Historical accuracy' - if that's your aim - would require that contextualisation. Which I think I and many others above have hinted at...?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:11 PM

Totally agree, Stilly River Sage.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:36 PM

"though of course I can't be certain, I'm cautiously confident that Steve *wouldn't* be boldly writing the n-word in letters to his doctor or dentist"

Just about the stupidest remark I've read on this board for many a long year.

So you're agreeing at last, Maggie. It's down to us reasonable people to decide what and how we put things out to our audiences. Let's not allow external authoritarian policing to prevail. We don't need it, do we?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 05:48 PM

Why do you rail at someone wanting to perform an historically accurate song yet you are quite happy to inflict your nonsensical Christmas carols on innocent atheists like me that have gone to the pub for a quiet pint?
Codswallop. Dave, Church of England is the established christian church in England if you do not like someone singing christmas carols in a particular pub,go to a different pub., you live in a Christian Country in it is customary for people to sing christmas carols in pubs at christmas time in England, you remind me of Scrooge.Humbug
    If you lived in some Muslim countries you would not be allowed to drink alcohol it would be against the law of the land.
Consider yourself lucky


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 06:01 PM

Er, Dick, not really a Christian country, is it? Have you seen the latest pathetic church attendance figures? :-)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 06:29 PM

Just to enlarge on that a bit, Dick, the singing of carols at Christmas and hymns at other times, as well as Songs Of Praise on the telly and Choral Evensong every day on the wireless, not to speak of the Sunday Service as I'm having my Sunday morning cup o'char in bed, are all accepted as rather benign impositions on us, whether we're Muslims, Hindus, Christians, atheists or none of the above. But just because we all shrug and smile indulgently at these things doesn't mean that they are actually benign. They are not. Historically, religion has been hand in glove with bigotry from all sides and has excused antisemitism, the Ayatollah, the Jewish State, Naziism, repression of minorities, Franco (hey, a daily communicant), imperialism, warmongering and the slave trade. "It's all right to take pubs over with carol-singing cos it's traditional" is not an argument for saying that it's the right thing to happen. Sure, the landlord must decide and devil take the naysayers, etc. That's democracy. But that doesn't justify it. Personally, even though I'm an unreconstructed atheist of the worst Dawkinsesque kind, I'm not going to take offence over the baby Jaysus nonsense. We've had too much officious taking of offence in this thread and not enough acceptance of the fact that we can take things in our stride and, as decent human beings, can work through good ways of tackling relatively minor issues such as naughty words in a small minority of folk songs. Hey, we folkies aren't as important as we think we are, by the way!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jeri
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 09:44 PM

I don't have the time, but will ONE of you (at least) be an intelligent adult and try to walk away from the personal fighting? Please?
Gonna be a lot more stuff deleted. Let it be the other guy's stuff.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Starship
Date: 04 Jun 20 - 09:49 PM

I figure you find out how your black or brown friends think about the song you sing. Have a good talk next time they come over for dinner. It would be interesting to see what you discover.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 02:28 AM

"but will ONE of you (at least) be an intelligent adult and try to walk away from the personal fighting? Please"
Sory Jeri - you are mistaking argument on what some of us consider important as "personal fighting" - it isn't
Your power to close down threads gives you an unfair advantage
Pat and I worked with Travellers for over thirty years and saw the effects racism had on probably the most persecuted ethnic group close up - from notices in pub and shop windows saying the wouldn't serve Travellers to dawn raids on halting sights to 'fishing trips' by groups of police looking se if they could find stolen goods
Physical assaults, even fire bombings were not uncommon in urban settings
If you think wanting to talk about our singers and the songs songs they gave us "personal", we're working from different dictionaries
If you want an anodyne thread where the objective is to be nice to each other, I've got far more important things to be getting on with
Stay safe
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 02:44 AM

people travel great distances to hear sheffield carols and jesus songs and we have some lancastrian objecting to a good old yorkshire tradition, what next wlll he be objecting to,Dave find a sam smiths pub and enjoy winnie the pooh eeyore and 100 acre wood


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 02:48 AM

So, Dick. You say that if I do find something offensive, I should go somewhere else. Thanks for making that point for me. I disagree as I believe anyone should be able to go where they want without being offended but it is a valid argument.

Black Acorn. The fact that it is a bit of medieval propaganda makes it an historic work and unless you can tell me otherwise, accurately portrays attitudes at the time. As to It's the choice that the collective makes. We both know that that is wrong. It is not the voice of the collective that decides these things but the voice of the loudest and the most outspoken.

Jim, once again, this is not about firebombing travellers. It is about offensive songs. Do you really believe that calling Gypsies "Raggle Taggle" in a folk song makes people hate them?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 02:52 AM

Back to the dicussion
It seems some people think it fine to sing racist songs as long as we sing it in the privacy of our own clubs and only sing to the minority who tolerate that sort of thing - what a strange outlook on our folk scene - a place where we can sing whatever we please as long as our aim is to keep it W.A.S.P.
The scene I belonged to was one constantly looking for new people, particularly from the immediate areas
Mine were in the cities, Liverpool, Manchester, London - multicultural conurbations, all of which could be massivly improved by an intake of some of the Muslim or West Indian or Irish or Greek People living in the immediate areas
That was going to happen by singing songs uning archaic racist terms - I don't think
I find some of the arguments being put forward her as offensive as that to the lurking troll who occasionally bursts in with his (I presume it is male) accusations that British society has become unfair because he can no longer talk about "nig-nogs" or "Yids" or "towel heads"
Perhaps some people here need to bell the cat and state exactly what they believe what should be acceptable
Personally I would err on the side of caution - I go along with Starship's last postings - pretend your club is half full of the people this language is aimed at (can't wait till the next lot come to dinner - none of us know when that's going to be)
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:04 AM

Hi Jeri, fair enough, I understand your concern. I’ve tried to focus on the substance, and as Jim says they’re issues that I consider important but I recognise that the intractability of such extended exchanges is unedifying for all, and can end up obscuring said substance.

Also, as I reflect further - these are extremely strange and stressful times - none of us can know what is being experienced in terms of loss or uncertainty by others - and it’s good to remember to be kind and patient where possible.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:08 AM

no i am saying and being very specific that if you object to jesus songs or christmas carols go somewhere else ,i am not saying anything else
i mean would you seriously go to dungworth and object to the sheffield carols , if you did the people in the pub would not be so polite , its possible they might say to you, gnome, go forth and multiply. yorkshire is a christian country.and we enjoy singing these carols
if you went to haxie and objected to their hood game they might confiscate your fishing rod , if you went to padstow and objected to their hooby hoss tradtion, cos you wanted to be miserable over your pint they might stuff a cornish pastie somewhere not too politely
consider it a privilege that you can go into a pub and hear sheffield carols ,and enjoy a fine old yorkshire tradtion, alternatively find a sam smiths pub,


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:33 AM

Hi Dave, as mentioned, it’s historicity requires contextualisation.

On your second point - ‘if I knew it to be wrong’ I wouldn’t be writing it. Is your point that hate crime legislation, as well as the procedures of organisations, are determined by the loudest and most outspoken?

Are you also suggesting that ‘the collective’ in a folk context is keen to hear raciallised language, or at least apathetic about it? I think we might both be from Lancashire. I’ve been to singarounds and sessions all over the county, in cities, towns and villages. I don’t recall any where the use of the n-word would not be likely to be declaimed and rejected by the majority.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:43 AM

"is unedifying for all, and can end up obscuring said substance."
It can also get us thrown out of the pub
Jeri's right up to a point, but there has to be a degree of allowance of how serious some of us see the problem
TRY THIS
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:55 AM

Ha, Jim, I think we're in broad agreement on these matters, with a number of other posters above. Personally I was (am) regretful of getting locked into an unnecessarily terse exchange with another user.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 04:03 AM

Dick. if you object to jesus songs or christmas carols go somewhere else

There is no chance of that. To avoid Christmas carols at Christmas I would have to self isolate and switch off the TV.

Black Acorn. Is your point that hate crime legislation, as well as the procedures of organisations, are determined by the loudest and most outspoken?

No. As far as I am aware singing Little Sir Hugh is not a hate crime yet. It is you and Jim that are equating singing folk songs with hate crimes. Not me.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 04:28 AM

"No. As far as I am aware singing Little Sir Hugh is not a hate crime yet. "
So you don't mind antisemitic songs if they are legal - hm
Nobody is associating these songs with anything other than making racist language acceptable - as you are doing
Would you frisk audiences for a Torah before you sang Sir Hugh or would you just plough on and tell the Jews in your audience that their people went in for blood sacrifice ?
I was reminded how acceptable racism was in Britain on the way back from the paper shop this morning by a news item reporting how an Irish woman in Coventry was instructed to remove her newly buried mother's tombstone because it was in Irish
She appealed to the law courts and her appeal was turned down on the grounds that an untranslated Irish inscription might be considered inflammatory
Our country has a major race problem - I'm sorry you wish to be part of it - I thought more of you
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 04:42 AM

I have give up with you, Jim. Equating folk music to racist hate crimes is just silly.

Dick, You set me off thinking.

Would I go to Dungworth and object to carols. No.
Would I go to Haxey and object to the hood game. No.
Would I go to Padstow and object to the hobby horse. No.

Let me ask you a question now. Would you go to a folk club or concert and object to traditional folk songs being sung?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 04:45 AM

The big problem here is the glib way that some of us are using the expression "racist song." So some fellow comes to your club with the intention of singing one of these "objectionable" songs. Well that song is only in his head. He hasn't passed a song sheet round. What happens next is the vital bit. If the chap's demeanour is clearly racist, you'll probably know this already and he won't get very far. At our club in Bude we knew nearly all the twats who were likely to turn up every now and then and they wouldn't get a look in. We had a good few stompers-out. A bit like when a bodhran owner turns up to the session and, within seconds, all the spaces in the seating miraculously close up before he can sit down. If he sings the thing in such a way as to make the members think he's propagating a racist message, he'll get short shrift, and he won't get a spot next Friday night. If he gives a bit of context before he sings it and does a bit of dissociating from the potential message, we might not like it much but at least we'll respect the approach.

Guess what. That's self-policing in action. We don't need any banning. We don't need any censorship. We are talking here about whether we sing certain songs or not in folk clubs or singarounds, not taking them out to mass marches in the street to incite violence. We know what to do and we don't need telling. You don't hear the contentious songs very often. That tells us that we are doing it right. No self-appointed arbiters, thanks. We can manage well without them. Hebden Bridge Is full of weirdos but it's still quite a nice place, by the way.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 04:59 AM

Did you ever see the episode of Pheonix Nights (may have been the first one) where a folk band, led by actor Tim Healy sing Send the buggers back?

Would anyone care to compare it with Maid of Australia and tell us that they cannot see the diffence between racist intent in the first and the historical racist/sexist attitude of the narator in the second?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 05:54 AM

Would I go to Dungworth and object to carols. No... quote dave the gnome
Why do you rail at someone wanting to perform an historically accurate song yet you are quite happy to inflict your nonsensical Christmas carols on innocent atheists like me that have gone to the pub for a quiet pint? quote... dave the gnome
Dave contradicts himself,


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 06:14 AM

For Christ's sake, the word is nigger. And a jibe is far friendlier than a lying slur.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 06:17 AM

i would not sing little sir hugh.
i also object
to shakespeares merchant of venice however well written it is


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 07:08 AM

Wishing you well, Steve.

Thanks Rigby, that's useful. I agree that these are important issues. If we ever meet, I'd be really happy to have a more detailed conversation about them; this forum probably isn't the place for that.

It's an interesting scenario that you raise, and I'm actually an admin in a Facebook group where I sometimes have to delete pending posts that are staunchly pro-Palestinian but which could be offensive to others. Over time, what we've found to be most effective to a harmonious and solidaristic environment is to clearly lay out the ground rules at the top of the page. On the occasions when we've queried people's judgement in sharing a certain thing, 9 times out of 10 they've taken that on board. On the now very rare occasions that flare-ups occur, we speak to people, and further refine the guidance.

Of course, most folk-clubs don't have written rules. We can establish norms and conventions in our interactions, programming choices, articles and online discussions. It's a constant evolution.

I've not encountered the scenario you describe, despite Hebden Bridge's strong leftwards tilt. People just don't bring those songs to the session. If it did happen, my default is to support the perspective of the person who feels racially offended. If a 'healing' conversation is possible, ideally one that builds mutual understanding, great.

Of course, the most challenging situation to navigate would be a disagreement on such grounds between a Palestinian and a Jewish attendee. Very difficult to say, hypothetically. Again, what you want to try and create are conversations and mutual understanding. Sometimes easier said than done.

Thankfully, as we seem to have broadly established, it's slightly easier - though still sometimes difficult! To try to find the correct balance on racialised language or material with a potentially racist message, even if no-one in attendance is from the groups pertained to.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 07:54 AM

Dave contradicts himself

No I don't, Dick. If I went specifically to Dungworth for a carol session I would not complain when they sang them. If I went to my local for a quiet pint and a group of carolers started singing the praises of a "miracle baby" I would object. No contradiction there at all.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 08:01 AM

Yes, Black Acorn, shorter would be better :-) But I think there is little point continuing. I have made my point and given the reasons why. We are grown ups. We understand the difference between racism and songs that some would see as offensive. You have made your point that, even without racist intent, you do not believe these songs should be performed. Let people now make up their own minds.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 08:12 AM

"We are grown ups. "
That is incredibly arrogant Dave - we can be racist because we understand it
Hvae yuo really given up on attracting youngsters onto the scene - it would appear so
I've just twalked away from a screen full of examples of the result of long-term toleration of racism
Hopefully youngsters have learned more than some of my generation have - is this really happening ?
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 08:21 AM

Jim, as someone on the cusp between generations myself (30s), I can assure you that youngsters overwhelmingly are cogniscent of these factors. I'm increasingly finding myself at sessions led by people under 35.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 08:30 AM

For the festival I had most input to I booked London/Guyanan story teller, Tuup alongside local Lancashire tale spinner Derek Stanton. That worked a treat. Derek named it "Tu-up, one down" :-)

Go for any inter-racial partnerships you can. It will all go toward a better understanding of other cultures.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 08:35 AM

...and send me a link to any of your work so I can put it in the Mudcat YouTube channel. Seeing as you can't PM me look for the Mudcat YouTube channel thread and put the link there.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 09:17 AM

so dave, if the sheffield carollers turned up at your pub you would object?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 09:29 AM

Depends if it was announced or not. Then I would have the choice to either go or stay at home. It is not being given a choice that I am objecting to, Dick. Nothing else. Like the songs we are discussing people should have the choice to sing them as they are, change them or not sing them. Just like people should have the choice to listen to them or not.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Vic Smith
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 09:45 AM

Dave -
London/Guyanan story teller, Tuup

What a lovely man he is! I met him in 2007 at Whitby MusicPort Festival when we were travelling around Britain with the great kora player/singer Jali Sherrifo Conteh. He saw Sherrifo play in the opening concert and asked him to play a sort of background to his storytelling spots. The blended together instantly. After that they were together all the weekend in workshops, informal performances and backstage as well as in concerts with Tuup playing his djembe behind the kora. There was also a great multi-cultural session with these two and members of the Warsaw Village Band.
Guyana and The Gambia melding together for the benefit and enjoyment of English audiences. Of course, this was 2007 and before we had a racist government.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 10:11 AM

Dave it is not your pub what happens is up to the landlord ,if it happens go somewhere else, personally i reckon you would stay if the sheffield carollers turned up. it is the same as people turning up and singing anything unannounced, it is up to the land lord if he decides yes, you dont have a choice, what youare saying has no relevance it aint your pub its the publicans pub ,if you dont like it tough


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 10:19 AM

You seem to be arguing for arguments sake, Dick. Of course it is the landlords choice. Just as it is the customers choice to go there or not.

Yes, Vic. He is great. He was due at the informal session at the Whitle Lion, Swinton in the afternoon. He arrived an hour or so late because he went to the White Lion at Little Hulton - About 5 miles down the same road. A very rough area and a bit of a dodgy pub but he enjoyed his visit there all the same :-) On the same bill but a different venue I had booked Roy Bailey and the Orlyk Ukrainian Dancers. Not performing together I hasten to add. Although it may have been interesting :-) It was one hell of a good international festival!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 11:07 AM

Oh, and I would have given my right arm to see Walter performing "Maid of Australia" but if nasty Nick tried it I would have thrown eggs before walking out. It's all about intent.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 12:27 PM

This thread is about racist traditional songs. It isn't about Jews in Israel versus Palestine, nor is it about the BNP. Those topics have been discussed, ad nauseum, elsewhere. A mention is one thing, dragging the entire thread down one of those paths is unacceptable.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 12:46 PM

I have no idea what you are on about, Jim. I am not claiming the right to do anything nor denying anyone else. I am saying people can sing songs with offensive lyrics, change the lyrics or simply not sing them. People can also listen to these songs or not as they do choose. Nothing more or less. It is you that is equating them with race hate crime, the BNP and, quite possibly, the rising price of fish. Enough of the straw man arguments.already!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 01:08 PM

Alleluia, Maggie. Not only that, the attempts to broaden the discussion in those directions in a music thread threaten to delude us into thinking that our little folk bubble is more important to the outside world than it is. As I said, the worst that can happen is discontented rumblings in folk clubs and singarounds that probably wouldn't happen anyway because we know how to police ourselves. We don't exactly take our dodgily-worded folk songs out on the streets to rouse the masses to violence...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 01:32 PM

Dave, far from it .
I have just illustrated that your example about singing carols in pubs is irrelevant because the Landlord of the pub decides whether carols are allowed, it is his decision that you have to listen to baby jesus songs NOBODYELSE it is not the fault of christians or carol singers.
It is the publicans decision you do not have the power to stop it, all you can do is vote with your feet, so you provided a very poor example to try and make your point


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 02:00 PM

so you provided a very poor example to try and make your point

Maybe, but there was still no contradiction.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:05 PM

" I am not claiming the right to do anything nor denying anyone else. "
You are claiming the right to offend races and ethnic groups by singing songs that give offence becao=ause of ther origins or their colour
That is what racist songs, or even songs containing racist language do
You object when it is suggested for reasons that can now be seen on television
I thought you better than that
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:10 PM

Thanks Maggie, totally recognise the point about tangents -

I do also understand Rigby's desire to highlight the challenges around competing sensitivities - and I think a couple of valid points/some useful consensus arose on part of that.

Given the core discussion of songs based around antisemitic tropes + language generally understood to be highly racially offensive, then at least making reference to past questions of attempted entryism and infiltration in the folk world and other sub-cultures hopefully is also relevant.

But I fully agree it's not necessary for this conversation to spin off too far in those directions, especially if they're previously very well trodden.

Overall, reasonably broad consensus seems to have been reached on a number of the substantive issues, so that's something to welcome.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:16 PM

You are claiming the right to offend races and ethnic groups by singing songs that give offence

No I'm not. I don't sing them. I will no longer black up for a play. I have changed words to songs that I am uncomfortable with. I am saying that people should have a choice what they sing and listen too. I do not subscribe to your view that songs that a handful of people sing and listen to influence anyone to any great extent at all. How many straw man do you think you can set up before everyone gets tired of it!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:37 PM

This conversation, as it progressed through yesterday, was not only on topic but it covered a lot of good points. To let the politics slip in and turn it into a slug fest does a disservice to all of the thoughtful posts so far.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,BlackAcornUK
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:40 PM

I'm glad you wouldn't sing them yourself, Dave, and likewise it was welcome to read your comments about mumming and 'a mon like thee' the other day.

By talking of 'minority interest', I do think you're playing down the cumulative 'scale of the scene' - definitely, far more people in the UK, probably hundreds of thousands, take part in folk music and dance (on a continuum from grass roots, to paying gigs, to festivals) than in far-right politics; that's partly why the BNP tried so hard to get a foot in the door previously, and I share Jim's eagerness for us to not inadvertently give their successors false encouragement to return.

Very sadly, I have been noticing more of this sort of thing again recently, tbh. One of the main Youtube accounts that has shared Peter Bellamy tracks - including all of The Transports and When I Die - also actively uploads videos of Oswald Moseley and Enoch Powell.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jeri
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 03:51 PM

" I am not claiming the right to do anything nor denying anyone else. "
You are claiming the right to offend races and ethnic groups by singing songs that give offence becao=ause of ther origins or their colour

Well, of course. Everone has the right to offend.
After which people may learn something about them.
And sometimes, people already know something significant about the person singing.

But I don't know if this is the case in the UK.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Starship
Date: 05 Jun 20 - 09:19 PM

Pardon me for being repetitive, but have any of you considered asking your friends of various skin colours and ethnicities how they feel when you sing those songs to them. ??


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 06 Jun 20 - 01:16 AM

very good point Starship.context,for example a husband singing to his wife in private is very different from a song sung in a public place to strangers


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jun 20 - 02:53 AM

"Well, of course. Everone has the right to offend."
Individuals maybe - that comes with having controversial ideas (which ened to offend nearly everybody)
Nobody should have the right to offend entire ethnic groups - nobody
The worst of that is now illegal in Britain - it should be everywhere
The last ten years have impacted on all our lives because the race vard has been bought into politics again and re-awoken the dormant Xenophobia those of us brought up in post Empire Britain took in with our school milk
I'm afraid you can't separate racism from either its politics or its social implications - it has been part of British life since 2016 and it gave the world an insane US President
It shouldn't be a long-running detailed issue here, but it's very much a part of why racism should be a thing of the past forever - in all forms
If you need evidence of this, I can think of six million witnesses immediately from my lifetime
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 04:14 AM

Are any traditional songs NOT racist?

On one side: The architects of the "folk music" concept that held sway through the 20th c. conceived of folk as racial. "Folk" is not "Volk" as "people" as "the majority of ordinary people" but rather as "the people of the ethnic nation, who we deem most purely bred to reflect these (imagined) people." This is why they rejected so-called "popular" music. (And I think we see this rejection, in a form, by the repeated suggestion in this thread that Robeson's song is irrelevant in not being folk song.)

On another side: Other/later contributors to traditional "folk" songs, though they would disavow the racial zealousness of the architects (especially if they are White Anglophone and with respect to White Anglophone ["their own"] stuff) would still fetishize the racial otherness of folk musics, which are consistently attached to ethnic groups as a matter or procedure and, presumable, of importance. They might try to trick you by using the word "culture," but make no mistake that "culture" here is all or entirely contiguous with "ethnic group", which is in turn 1 or 0 degrees of separation from "race"—an essentialized category.

The racism is in one sense entirely "systematic." To tear it from the system is to tear down the very system. And few want that. They enjoy the system. Others don't enjoy the system. The reason why you don't find so many Black people at your English folk club nights is not because somebody once sang "nigger." (*In fact, I believe I could make the argument that if people sang "n-" more, you'd get more Black people there. "N-" is a word of African American "authentic" musical expression far more than it is a word of White English "meta" musical expression.)

My point is, most people who are happy with folk music are happy with its systematic racist nature. You'll get no judgement from me on that, but be honest. I mean, I can say I support the elimination of gender roles -- by which I really mean I am significantly liberal when it comes to gender roles. If gender roles *completely didn't exist* tomorrow though, I'd be lost. There is racism in the system of folk music and you would be lost without it. This is hard to accept.

You may disagree with this entirely. The song is just the song, a neutral thing... until such time a racially derogatory word or idea presents in the lyrics. OK. I'm not interested in going in arguing the systematic racism. I don't hope to convince anyone of this.

I'm more interested in continuing, if you do agree there is some truth in what I'm saying, to see what to do about the "bad words."

I think people who think they have eliminated racism by omitting bad words really don't know folk music. Bless their hearts. I sense a bit of BlackAcornUK's comments in this.

Even if we accept the music is systematically racist -- thus it's not possible to eliminate racism without eliminating folk music -- I don't think it is hypocritical to call for the omission of bad words. Racism is not an all or nothing thing. It makes sense to minimize it. I suspect this is the place of most of us.

Yet if that is the case, if we are in the world of "minimizing" (more or less, while always there) instead of in the world of all/nothing (that which I believe is idealistic and incorrect), we are in an uncomfortable position indeed. We can't decisively scorn the user of bad words if we know the music is racist (to some degree) even *without* those bad words. And we might legitimately wonder whether we might *sometimes* use those bad words since, after all, there are grey areas and the system is already contaminated and the degree of minimizing achieved by omission is pretty intangible. And we don't like that we're even going down these roads but can't help going down them for the sake of intellectual honesty. I think I sense some Steve Shaw in this.

It would be easier if someone could just enforce an ideological code of conduct, right? Ideologues don't have to think so much.

In the meantime, we have songs. We don't have to form them into the molded contructs of "folk" and "traditional." We *can* minimize racism. We *can* query, too, what is the smartest way to combat racism—including questioning a simplistic ideological position that more bad words always means more racism and less bad words always means less racism.

As a case in point, I am confident in saying that the vast majority of chanty genre songs that have been documented with the word "n-" contained that word precisely because they were songs sung by Black people of the Americas. "N-" in song was "Black language." If a non-Black sang it, he was singing Black language, as any White teen mouthing the words to countless current rap songs. In historically surveying chanties, in fact, the presence of the word "n-" -- considered degrading to the *speaker* through its use in the mouth of a white person -- fairly positively identifies the song in question as a song sung by a Black person. To replace that word with "farmer" is to erase the Black voice. And when a non-Black person sang "n-", this was some indication of that person's acculturation to the [conveniently, not exclusively labeled] Black voice -- as in today's hip hop there is a vision (see for example KRS-ONE's articulations) that hip hop is the culture and the voice, and that that culture is potentially muti-racial. Those outside of the hip hop culture will clutch their pearls and attempt to overlay their outsider ideology of whom may say what, but those in the culture have a different view. This is not to say it's not risky though. You'll be outnumbered by outsiders who can't "think" with the logic of your culture, on one hand, while those who share the culture will get great satisfaction from participation.

Has anyone seen the interview between the news agency and (Black American rapper) Lil Wayne? The news interviewers tried to force Lil Wayne into their pedestrian version of Black Lives Matter and he rejected it. They tried to shame him for his bad words. (Echoes of Joe Biden trying to tell his Black interlocutor that he wasn't Black if he didn't vote for Biden!) Lil Wayne is no "Uncle Tom," and I think it's dishonorable to try to dismiss Lil Wayne as ignorant, as a commercial sell out, etc. If we respect Black lives including Lil Wayne's, we have to acknowledge that his position is one engaged with an alternative way of thinking.
https://youtu.be/L6mBZSQdGCE

The question of using bad words in a folk club seems, I think, a simple matter. Don't do it if you value you status in that community. Yet isn't the folk club a bourgeois institution, engaged in much artifice? I think it's rich to say the word "n-" doesn't belong to the White folk song singer in the club, not because I think it does belong to him/her, but because it implies that the song otherwise (with the word omitted) belongs to him/her. I'd question that.
I'm reminded of another interview with film director Tarantino, where the interviewer asked Tarantino, chidingly, why he feels it necessary to put so much violence in his films. Tarantino answered something like, "Because it's so much fun!"
https://youtu.be/7EEpTrPb0-c
The interviewer cannot be expected to understand, and Tarantino concludes by saying he didn't make his movies for her. Likewise the folk club audience cannot be expected to understand, much less accept, bad words in songs. There are others, however, who will, and those people are not more racist than the folk club audience. Quite possibly, those people are even making music in a more exciting space.

Fredrick Douglass hated minstrel music. He thought it was trash. W.E.B. Du Bois, on the other hand, suggested seeing minstrel music as a triumph of African American culture. Douglass' view, I imagine, is easy to understand according to conventional thought, whereas Du Bois' is challenging. Do we dismiss Du Bois as an ignoramus or take up the challenge of understanding his position?—an anti-racism that, paradoxically, embraces something that conventional wisdom sees as plainly racist.

The question of racist-word songs in an English (predominantly White) folk club context, I think, is not very challenging. But an intellectually honest query of racist-word songs *not limited to that assume context* is something I think requires hearing multiple valid perspectives.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 04:34 AM

Well said, Gibb Sahib. An interesting and sound argument. I am not sure if I fully agree with or even follow some bits. I will have to give it a re-read and some thought. In the meanwhile thank you for a new and interesting perspective.

I can fully appreciate the idea that restricting folk music to being that of your own culture could be racist and this is why we must diversify. I would not see it as inherently wrong for me, for instance, to sing an African folk song or an American shanty at the folk club. I do the latter BTW but not the former as yet. We are after all a global village now :-)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 04:44 AM

"Pardon me for being repetitive, but have any of you considered asking your friends of various skin colours and ethnicities how they feel when you sing those songs to them. ??"

Yep. Simple. 99.999% of people wouldn't do it. Pardon me for being repetitive, but decent folkies, which is nearly all of us, can police ourselves very nicely.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 06:01 AM

And that, to me, is the practicality of it, stated in my last post. I should like to thank Gibb for his thoughtful post which must have taken a good while to put together. Almost my favourite sentence from it, and one which addresses the crux of the thread matter, is the second-last one, where he says "The question of racist-word songs in an English (predominantly White) folk club context, I think, is not very challenging." I went to our folk club just about every Friday for the six or seven years from my discovery of it to its demise, and I can't remember a single moment of overt racial discomfort (we were all white, of course). And, as I've said in other below-the-line contexts, in many years of teaching in multi-ethnic East London I kept my antennae tuned for racist comments in my classrooms, which I would never let pass, so I wouldn't have missed much in the calmer air of the folk club...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 06:18 AM

"we were all white, of course"
A telling phrase - surely
Like Mudcat, recently, I wouldn't invite my Irish friends to join us
Is this really taking place on the same forum as the reports of world-wide demonstrations over racism ?
Where's VICTOR MELDREW whwn you need him ?
Jim


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 06:25 AM

Thing is, Jim, those of us who are trying to confine this to talking about songs in folk clubs, and those of us who are itching to bring wider world issues into it, are talking past each other. There's a thread on the racial killing below the line.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 07:02 AM

Thank you Gibb Sahib, that was one of the best posts I've ever read on this forum, and has helped me to articulate why I feel uneasy about the focus on 'bad words' or 'bad songs'.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 07 Jun 20 - 08:31 AM

Yes indeed, a very interesting and well-argued post from Gibb.

'I am confident in saying that the vast majority of chanty genre songs that have been documented with the word "n-" contained that word precisely because they were songs sung by Black people of the Americas. "N-" in song was "Black language."'

This is exactly what I was trying to hint at in my post of 03 June, though - lacking the confidence of Gibb's knowledge of the genre - I confined myself to a hint. However, I'm less sure about Gibb's follow-up:

'If a non-Black sang it, he was singing Black language... this was some indication of that person's acculturation to the [conveniently, not exclusively labeled] Black voice...'

The problem with that is that the word in question has long been used by white communities as a disrespectful term, and now carries all that baggage when articulated by a white person. There are not a great number people of colour in attendance at English folk clubs (the idea that they might be attracted by white singers using 'N--' is bizarre!), but neither are there zero - and of course there are many white people who object to the word too, 'bourgeois' or not. So we're back with contextualization, since no audience, in an English folk club or elsewhere, is going to possess Gibb's depth of knowledge: is the shanty singer then to preface 'Hog-eye Man' with an explanation of the black heritage of the song, and does that then make it OK to sing unexpurgated? Or is it being suggested that the white singer should avoid shanties altogether, on grounds of cultural appropriation (except that this musical form was appropriated by English shantymen 150 years ago)?

Gibb led off with:
'Are any traditional songs NOT racist? The architects of the "folk music" concept that held sway through the 20th c. conceived of folk as racial.'

I detect a swipe at Cecil Sharp here, and there is indeed some truth in the statement - although it should be pointed out that Sharp used 'racial' interchangeably with 'national', which in a modern context is not quite the same thing. Folk club traditional repertoire still owes a lot to Sharp and to the MacColl-Seeger 'sing from your own culture' policy - which could be viewed as 'racist', but alternatively as a counter to cultural appropriation. But if English folk revivals are to be considered racist for prioritizing a particular musical culture, should not the same apply to singers and musicians performing 'Irish', 'Scottish' or 'French-Canadian' music, never mind bluegrass and a hundred other genres born in relatively homogeneous and static populations. Even the racially-mixed Louisiana bayous maintained separate white and black musical traditions for generations.

The world is changing all the time, as communications become easier, populations less static and musicians more inclined to experiment. However, as Gibb points out, we are where we are, and need to take decisions based on the performance contexts we inhabit now.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 10:21 AM

Today on Weekend Edition Saturday (National Public Radio) there was a discussion that contributes to this discussion:

Breaking Down The Legacy Of Race In Traditional Music In America

The audio of the story isn't up until probably Sunday, but there is a substantial story posted on the link (it may be the transcribed story).

The symbols of America's racist past have been under intense scrutiny since the protests against police brutality erupted nationwide. The confederate flag and other monuments from that era have been disappearing from public spaces — both by force and legislation.

But what about the stereotypes and racist imagery in America's musical legacy? The traditional music community is reckoning with some of the songs from its past that are kept alive today through festivals and concerts. For Jake Blount, one musician leading that effort, his love for traditional music started with the banjo.

"The banjo is descended from a number of different African instruments, but when it came to the United States, the first place it found a real home was [among] the slaves in the Chesapeake Bay region, who were my ancestors," he says.

The link between his ancestral past and music just kept unfolding along with the events he saw happening in real time.

"When the Black Lives Matter movement started kicking into full force, particularly right after Trayvon Martin was killed, I remember going upstairs into the attic of my grandparents house in Maine and reading through these books of old spirituals and songs, kind of trying to figure out what my ancestors were thinking and feeling and how they would have coped with this sort of violence," Blount says.

link The Angels Done Bowed Down - Jake Blount - Spider Tales

Spirituals like "The Angels Done Bowed Down" became his outlet. Blount is 24 years old and a full-time musician skilled in playing the banjo and the fiddle. On his first full-length album released earlier this year, Spider Tales, he included the same spiritual that comforted him back in 2012.

"I've been involved in Black Lives Matter and in that work for as long as I've been involved in traditional music," he says, "and often have felt that my friends who are also working on that and I were sort of outliers."

Traditional music is a broad term for songs that were passed down. The most popular ones like sea shanties and folk songs date back to the 19th century. And festivals have been a way to keep them alive.

But some of the songs made Blount feel uncomfortable, like "Turkey In the Straw." White fiddlers in blackface used to play the tune in minstrel shows, and it's been recorded with racist lyrics.

"I know what it makes me feel when I'm at a fiddle festival and I hear someone play 'Turkey in the Straw,' " Blount says. "When I hear that, I will go up to the person and say, 'You should stop,' but I didn't feel empowered to do that for a very long time."

Other songs contain racial slurs, or demeaning stereotypes. Some musicians have argued to revise these songs; others want to stop singing them altogether, and that has been an emerging debate over the last couple of years, especially at the Youth Traditional Song Weekend that happens at the beginning of each year. It's an event that started seven years ago as a space for younger fans of traditional music. 2020 was Blount's first year, and he was leading three workshops focused on music from the Black community. But he told me that when he was first asked to do this, he was hesitant.

"I've always been leery of being like the tour guide to Black culture," Blount says. "There are two Black people here, I think, and that to me has just always been a difficult thing to think about."

Blount is right. Out of almost 200 attendees, there were only two Black people at the festival and only around five people of color total. But there is a clear commitment to be inclusive. Signs are posted in the dining hall of the festival grounds stating: "Consider modifying lyrics, be aware of sensitive and offensive content." But there are still slip ups.

link Rolling Down to Old Maui

In one room, people are singing so loudly it can be heard outside. And when someone introduces the beloved sea shanty, "Rolling Down to Old Maui," the room electrifies even more.

But when the song is over, 13-year-old Nadia Tell interjects:

"Can I make a note?" she asks. " 'Kanakas' is a racial slur."

"Whoa, it is?" someone asks.

"Yes, it is," Tell says. "And if it's possible, it scans perfectly fine to say 'Hawaiians' instead."

The line she's referencing in the song is: "And now we're anchoured in the bay / With the Kanakas all around." The word falls into a grey area. Kanakas does mean "person" in Hawaiian, but white people have used it in the past to insult and demean Pacific Islanders. And so in this case it's best not to sing that line.

"Many of the people who I sing with, I suspect they haven't really thought about this before," says Amanda Witman of Brattleboro, Vt.

Whitman is white, as is the group she leads back home that sings mostly in pubs. She tells me that her experience discussing race has been limited, but that's why she attended the Youth Traditional Song Weekend.

"Racism comes up in songs that have been sung for years and years," she says, "And trying to figure out how to have those conversations is really challenging."

Jake Blount's approach to this debate isn't about revising the songs. Instead, he sees a larger need to expand the cannon of traditional music and teach people about how deep the roots of this music are.

"So the topic of this workshop," he tells the group gathered, "is sort of the underlying threads that run through much of the Black folk song from the South and elsewhere that describes pieces of our lives that maybe we were not empowered to share openly in regular discussion."

photo

Each workshop is full. People are sitting on the ground and filling each corner of the room. Blount is quiet but commanding. He is, after all, teaching songs about some of the most painful parts of Black history to a room of mostly white people.

The first song Blount introduces is called "Dead And Gone." Others call it "Dear and Gone." It's about the grief and loss of slaves and other Black people who were killed and never found.

"These songs speak to this thing that happened a long time ago, and I think we need to understand them in the context of slavery, in the context of Jim Crow," Blount says. "We also need to understand that there's a reason they still resonate and why there are still Black people out there singing them today."

For each song, Blount explains the context and plays a recorded version then invites the room to learn how to sing it with him. He also leads a conversation on when it's appropriate to sing these songs, and when it's not. And this particular song has a powerful effect on the room:

"It was just silent. You could hear a pin drop and you know, we're loud people here," he says. "I really felt that people understood the intensity of what it was about."

Six months after the festival and with the conversation around race intensifying, Blount says people are starting to give credit to the contributions of the Black community, and that includes traditional music and instruments, like the banjo. But looking back, Blount says he still wouldn't have changed anything about those workshops.

"I think they almost became more relevant in that I was trying to capture these narratives of desperation and anger, the darker sides of the African American musical tradition," he says. "Right now, it's more important than ever that people recognize this didn't come from out of nowhere. This has been something that's been building up over the course of centuries.

"I know that some of the folks who were at those workshops have told me they've been thinking back really hard on those songs ," he continues. "And I think, were I to write up new course descriptions today, I might write up the same ones."

Even though festivals have been put on pause due to the pandemic, Blount says he's hopeful that when they do come back, they'll look a lot and sound a lot different to reflect the contributions of Black Americans on our musical traditions.


I don't usually post the entire story, and the NPR stories are usually searchable and durable, but sometimes the links are buried over time.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 12:30 PM

Beat me to it, Stilly!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Gilly
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 01:31 PM

No they are not. End of.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 02:53 PM

Ok, a poster above said:

I'm not aware of any racist content in ... Van Diemen's Land...

Van Dieman's land being the name given to what is now called Tasmania by white colonials who considered it uninhabited? Really? Nothing racist?

This is the problem. The lack of awareness, I mean.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 03:10 PM

Why should the racists have all the best tunes?

As opposed to The Devil.

"Turkey in the straw" has been mentioned and the melodies of many of the offending songs are also very good tunes.
So, what's wrong with playing these in appropriate circumstances? The titles could even be changed, if necessary.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 05:04 PM

Are racist traditional songs "OK"? Of course not.

But does that mean they must be erased from history, never to be reprinted, spoken of, or sung again? I certainly hope not.

Well, we're tearing down all those historic statues of racists. What's the difference. Those statues were erected as part of a concerted campaign by the KKK and others to rewrite history, to depict the Confederacy and slavery as something benign or even heroic. They are boldfaced lies cast in bronze, and they must be removed from places of honor.

Racist songs shouldn't be in places of honor, either. They must be seen for what they are, not as something cute or quaint - but people need to know the reality of these songs, in a way that does not applaud them.

So, what do we do with them? Is bowdlerizing permitted? Well, much as I hate to admit it, some bowdlerizing is necessary. There were lots of good songs written in the past that just sound racist nowadays, and we just can't teach them to kids or play them on the radio the way they are.

On the Facebook page of the San Francisco Folk Music Club, a 30-yr-old friend of mine has been waging a campaign to suppress all songs with racist roots, especially songs that were sung in minstrel shows. That would wipe out almost all American music from the 19th century, because blackface performers were very common in U.S. music halls and vaudeville shows, and they sang everything, even non-racist songs, in blackface. On the top of my friend's list is "I've Been Working on the Railroad," which I think of as one of the most innocuous songs in the world. I suppose at least part of the song had been sung in so-called "negro dialect," but all traces of racism had been removed from that song by the time I learned it in the mid-1950s.

And then there are Stephen C. Foster songs, which are admittedly a problem. Foster wrote a lot of good songs, and I love to sing a number of them. Most of them really aren't objectionable, but I do like to sing "Old Black Joe," which I've sung since I was a kid. I sing it less often now, because I know many people might object - but I still do sing it when I'm with people I don't think will be offended. It's mostly a song about a man growing old and missing happier times. But I don't think it's awful to think that old black men had some good memories of their younger days and their loved ones from those days.

A book club I belong to, just finished reading Ghosts of Gold Mountain, a book about the Chinese laborers who built the Transcontinental Railroad across the Sierra in California. We were talking about anti-Chinese racism that still exists in California, and I pulled out my copy of Lingenfelter-Dwyer's Songs of the American West and read a few verses from a couple "John Chinaman" songs to illustrate this racism. I explained how people continually come to Mudcat and say how cute these racist songs are. The next day, a member of the group emailed me to say that it was inappropriate for me to read verses from those songs. even though I expressed disapproval of the songs and used them to illustrate racism, he still insisted that he was offended by my reading of those songs and was insulted that I had not considered the feelings of others when I read the songs. After an exchange of several emails that didn't bring any resolution to the disagreement, I ended by saying that although I had no intention to offend anyone, I acknowledged that he was offended. And if he chose to be offended by what I felt I had reason to day, so be it. I wonder if he'll ever speak to me again. People don't handle disagreement very well nowadays.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 05:48 PM

van diemans land , what is the content of the song, let us have a look.
    Come all you gallant poachers that ramble void of care
    That walk out on a moonlight night with your dog, your gun and snare
    The harmless hare and pheasant you have at your command
    Not thinking of your last career out on Van Diemen's Land

    rest of lyrics here (click)


    We had no shoes nor stockings on,
    Nor scarce any clothes to wear;
    Only lindsey drawers and leather [clogs?]
    And our head and feet went bare.

I would have no problem singing this song, it is not in my opinion racist it is a song about being transported for poaching.
van diemens land was the name it was called at that time.
a song i would alter would be polly wolly doodle, which has a line[ i jumped on a nigger cos i thpught he was a hoss]
Who in an audience am i going to upset by using the term, van diemans land?
I am not going to upset, Black Brown or mixed race people.
but singing that line in polly wolly doodle is offensive.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 08:59 PM

"Van Dieman's land being the name given to what is now called Tasmania by white colonials who considered it uninhabited?"

vna Diemen's Land was the name given by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who, so far as I can tell, did not set up a colony there. Whether he considered it uninhabited, whether he even met any of its inhabitants, is not clear to me from a quick scan of readily available materials.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 25 Jul 20 - 09:25 PM

Mrrzy's point, Sandman, is about the name Van Diemen's Land, not about the entire 10-verse song. Can't say I agree with Mrrzy's point of view. The song is set at a particular time, and the place was called "Van Diemen's Land" at the time. That's reality, not racism.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 01:23 AM

yes , joe, that is exactly the point i am trying to make.
An intersting song in the context of this discussion is Bourgpise Blues, written by a Black man Leadbelly.
Lyrics
Lord, in a bourgeois town
It's a bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
Home of the brave, land of the free
I don't wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie
Lord, in a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
Well, me and my wife we were standing upstairs
We heard the white man say "I don't want no niggers up there"
Lord, in a bourgeois town
Uhm, bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
Well, them white folks in Washington they know how
To call a colored man a nigger just to see him bow
Lord, it's a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
I tell all the colored folks to listen to me
Don't try to find you no home in Washington, DC
'Cause it's a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
This is a song specifically about racism, and uses the word NIGGER, TO MAKE A POINT AGAINST RACISM


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 06:29 AM

Joe, your adversary is effectively trying to 'whitewash' history if you cannot have the discussion in public. You were clearly using the songs as examples of racism. I cannot see a problem with that.

Also if you can't even mention what a place was named at some point in history then you are whitewashing history, regardless of who gave it that name.

The authorities have it right in my opinion. Don't destroy the statues, put them in a museum and explain why this happened. Not rocket science.

Likewise the use of the N word. To ban it completely is ridiculous. If it is used in the way Leadbetter sang it then it is completely acceptable. The usage is completely clear in the song and needs no explanation.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 07:17 AM

"Van Dieman's land being the name given to what is now called Tasmania by white colonials who considered it uninhabited? Really? Nothing racist?"

That's a dangerous argument coming from someone who lives in a country also named by white colonialists. However there can be very few countries which are still known by the names their original settlers gave them - most have been occupied and re-occupied many times over. It's stretching the idea of racism to apply it to using the generally accepted name for a place. Then there's the added complication that places have different names in different languages. Is it racist to refer to "Egypt" instead of "Misr"? Is it racist to write that in the Latin alphabet rather than in Arabic script? Where does it stop?

It also seems to me to be excessively zealous to start excluding tunes simply because they were once performed by minstrels. Where they have racist titles then those should be changed, but many do not, and are not associated in modern minds with minstrelsy.

I cannot accept the modern idea that the slightest possibility of giving offence must be avoided, no matter how remote or irrational. Someone can be found to take offence at almost anything. If it is necessary to research the history of a tune in order to decide whether to be offended by it, if someone goes out of their way to find offence, then that should be acknowledged but not necessarily acted on.

I feel there is a danger here that we risk dancing on the head of a pin trying to find every possible taint of racism, rather than focus on dealing with real issues that actually affect people's lives.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 08:00 AM

I feel there is a danger here that we risk dancing on the head of a pin trying to find every possible taint of racism, rather than focus on dealing with real issues that actually affect people's lives.
very good... for example institutionalised racism in the police force
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000kgtl


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 08:02 AM

My point was that much of the problem is folks, especially white folks, not *noticing* racism.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 08:11 AM

I meant to say, when saying Well that's what it was called, it should be made clear that it's *not* what it was called by its actual inhabitants, but by its white invaders, whether you want to quibble about whether establishing a penal *colony* counts as colonizing or not.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 09:14 AM

Mrrzy, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who gave the island the name "van Diemen's Land", did not invade it, nor did he establish a penal colony, nor any other kind of colony. Moreover, as I wrote earlier, it's not even clear to me that he met any of its inhabitants, or even knew there were any.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Observer
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 09:21 AM

What was it called by it's original inhabitants Mrrzy? Where was it recorded?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 10:10 AM

We're getting into really barking mad territory here. What shall we henceforth call North America? And if the original inhabitants didn't have a collective name for it should we just not give it a name at all?

I think M and all those who want to go in that direction should be given the impossible job of naming every name on the planet according to the preferences of the original inhabitants. Now then, what did the cave men call it?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 11:43 AM

This is what I meant earlier by "dancing on the head of a pin".


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 01:54 PM

Howard, do you remember the guy who sang nicotine girl at blackmore singers club, and jim garrett who had a rocket shaped guitar.
i suppose people will son be stopped from singing nicotine girl , because it does not discourage smoking.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 02:03 PM

Cook also has a lot to answer for, sailing around and dubbing random places!

And disliking smoking is not racist: Content of character, not skin color.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 02:50 PM

MRRZY,ok true.
Cook do you mean thomas cook travel agent?
The United States has invaded about 200 nations and territories. Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and possibly Venezuela. Invasions fit in with regime change. Other invasions from the past such as in 1898 in Puerto Rico have continued to this very day.quote Wiki
Dubbing random places and overthrowing Allende who was democratically elected,
Still i am sure you would agree with that, because you are American, it doesnt follow that you support american imperialism any more than i support british imperialism


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Jul 20 - 02:54 PM

Do I detect a touch of the "white saviour" in some of the posts in this thread?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: David Carter (UK)
Date: 27 Jul 20 - 05:42 AM

It has been one of my complaints about this forum that it is very parochial in what it covers. Almost all discussion concerns material from North America or the British Isles. Alan Lomax collected material from many parts of the world. Occasionally Kerboxeru will tell us about things from elsewhere, but its very little really.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Jul 20 - 06:51 AM

Sandman Mrrzy was referring to James Cook the British explorer.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 27 Jul 20 - 01:34 PM

And disliking smoking is not racist: Content of character, not skin color.

???

Mrrzy, I don't understand this comment.

DC


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 27 Jul 20 - 02:21 PM

David
Mudcat covers whatever the people who contribute want it to cover. The current contributors have no control over who or what. There is no discrimination. Some of us are specialists in our particular field, and want to give out info and answer queries on what we know.
Those in the know rarely have time to spread into other fields. There is no deliberate exclusion. We do have plenty of experts in specific areas of world music but in the main they have solitary knowledge that no one else here has. Jack, Vic, Phil to name just a few. Their contributions are certainly valued but it doesn't always relate to what the rest of us are interested in.

UK, Ireland, US, Canada, Oz, NZ; that's one helluva big parish!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 27 Jul 20 - 06:16 PM

OK, forget what I said Mrrzy. I have just seen what the smoking comment referred to.

DC


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: David Carter (UK)
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 06:14 AM

Well sort of Steve, but in other ways it isn't a big parish, because the music discussed from four of those countries is the music of recent immigrants from the other two. Lomax did collect traditional music in Australia, some while ago someone posted a link to those recordings, which I have now lost.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:10 AM

David
Perhaps our parochialism stems from the fact that the music we love is such a minority interest, and is swamped by more commercial music. Most of those who do get involved, because of such small numbers, find themselves so immersed in the music with so much to do that there simply is not time to go dashing off into other cultures and genres. For Lomax it was his living and his life's work, but I'll bet family side of things often played second fiddle because of his obsession. I know even at my level of obsession that can create problems.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:11 AM

I am not aware that Alan Lomax ever visited Australia. Can anybody confirm this, please?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:20 AM

I suppose that David Carter could be referring to volume 5 of the Columbia World Library of Folk & Primitive Music - Australia & New Guinea. But, if so, these recordings were made by a Dr A.P.Elkin and by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I would think that Lomax would have had the recordings sent to him in America, where he edited them for the album.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: David Carter (UK)
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:43 AM

Ah, right, yes I had assumed that Lomax made the recordings, but thanks for correcting me.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:48 AM

It has been one of my complaints about this forum that it is very parochial in what it covers. Almost all discussion concerns material from North America or the British Isles.

Parochial, that is debatable. Go look through old threads and you'll find quite a range the content covers. Mudcat covers the English-speaking world, without a doubt. The lion's share of us speak only English fluently.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: David Carter (UK)
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 03:02 PM

Yes, I also only speak English fluently. Which doesn't mean that I can't appreciate traditional music when I can't follow the words (or maybe follow a written translation), or even when there aren't any words (as is true of a fair part of the traditional music of Southern Europe).


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 03:24 PM

I know songs in lots of languages I don't speak. Comes from growing up with the likes of Bikel!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 06:04 PM

I also speak english as my first language , i am not sure i am fluent, although i do notice a lot of verbally fluent effluent   particularly below the line,
however the abilty to understand the words does not stop me appreciating gealic irish singing.
i appreciate all kinds of tradtional music including bulgarian and mongolian. i occasionally appreciate italian opera.
I would happily describe mudcat in many ways but parochial would not be one of them , a friend of mine today called it Mudlark, that forum mudlark is very useful for getting songs, i rather liked that ..mudlark, what mudlarks Pip old chap, with apologies to Joe Gargery in Great Expectations.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: hsempl
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:32 PM

From Joe, above: "Somebody yesterday wanted to discuss whether it was appropriate for another singer to use the word "Kanaka" in a song, and I nipped that discussion in the bud and said that we have to let people make their own choices about what they sing, and discuss that stuff in Mudcat threads."

I actually left the sing, not because of the discussion, but because I felt like the mention of offensive lyrics was offensive. I completely understand needing to move the sing along and not prolong verbal discussion during a sing, but I think Joe you said something like "we sing lots of different lyrics" and I was going to message you privately to confirm I had heard you correctly but from the above ("We have to let people make their own choices about what they sing"), I can see that I did understand you correctly. Of course, it is up to the host to decide how to run their sing, but if when someone points out something is offensive that is not taken seriously, then it's not a sing I feel comfortable taking part in. Discussions about lyrics and songs appropriateness (and that some songs might be appropriate in an environment where there is room to give them context but not in another environment) can be done off-sing, but if someone says something is offensive, IMO the only thing to do in real time is apologize and move on.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: hsempl
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 09:33 PM

Whoa, I mistyped above - what i meant to type, instead of "but because I felt like the mention of offensive lyrics was offensive" was "but because I felt like the mention of offensive lyrics was discounted."


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: Joe Offer
Date: 28 Jul 20 - 11:59 PM

Well, Heather, it's a difficult question, and not something that can or should be settled in a singaround. Each singer will make his or her own choices for personal reasons, and there will be a wide variety of choices. I don't think I "discounted" the objections to the song - I just said it was something that couldn't be settled at the time of the singaround and should be discussed at Mudcat.

That's the deal with traditional music. Our great-grandparents lived in times where racist ideas and language were common. Those songs were their reality, and they probably sang them without any particular hatred or any idea of offending anyone. And in general, when I sing an historic song, I sing it without apology and expect listeners to be smart enough to discern that these are the ideas of the time the song came from, and are not my own. I don't sing contemporary songs that have any hint of racism, but I give a little tolerance to historic songs rather than belaboring the point.

Last week was the first time in my life that I ever heard that the word "Kanaka" might be offensive. It's going to take me a while to believe that. I will respect all sorts of opinions, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to espouse them myself.

I don't particularly like "Going Down to Old Maui" and don't sing it myself because I am uncomfortable with the attitudes it expresses that are demeaning to women (although I will sing it without comment if people ask me to). But on the other hand, I'm not offended if somebody else sings it - that's their choice. On the other hand, I really enjoy singing "John Kanaka," and had no idea in the world until last week that anybody might find it offensive. And until I hear it from a Hawaiian that it's offensive, I won't put much stock in the assertion it shouldn't be sung.

-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: hsempl
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 01:03 AM

Joe,
The issue isn't whether or not the word is objectively offensive - I don't know, and opinions vary I'm sure among Hawai'ians and other Islanders as well. It's that if someone says something is offensive, then it is offending them. It sounds like you are saying you don't care about that. You say you expect people to be smart enough to realize you aren't meaning offense when you sing a historical song. But without context, in a jovial sing-around rather than a more formal venue, not everyone is going to be familiar with every song and know its history. You refer to giving context as an "apology." It's not an apology to give a heads up when a song is known to be possibly offensive. And when (as in the case at Monday's sing) it was clear the singers had not been aware of that fact, there's no need for anything other then, at that point, a quick acknowledgment and apology for offending - same as you would if you'd accidentally stepped on someone's foot - and then moving on. But it sounds like unless you personally believe something is offensive you don't believe it should offend anyone else.
Also, I understand "the deal" with traditional music. For the past four years I've been one of the hosts of a weekly community radio show that focuses on ballads and other traditional music. I think it can be assumed that everyone on Mudcat is aware that the songs our great-grandparents sang were more racist than the songs of today. That felt a little patronizing.
Heather


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 02:43 AM

OK, Heather, I'm going to be brutally honest, because you've crossed the line. Most people are a little bit afraid and very much self-conscious about singing solo. It takes a lot of courage for them to sing a song. And there are other "my shit don't stink" singers who nonetheless pass judgment on them, thereby attacking what little self-confidence these "lesser" singers have been able to muster. These stinkless singers often seem compelled to attack or at least scold their inferiors. I suppose it's motivated by their own low self-esteem - but it stinks, nonetleless.

The woman who complained, humiliated me publicly a few years ago after I sang when she thought it was inappropriate for me to sing. There's another stinklessly self-involved Mudcat woman who sang over me while I was singing because she did not think I was singing the correct melody - and a second time, she talked over me and kept talking louder and I was singing louder. So, that's three times right off that I have been humiliated and suppressed by these two "shit don't stink" women who somehow think they have the right to control the singing of others. Oh, I can think of a third one, the wife of our old choir director - she jumped all over me because I did not adequately thank her husband on one occasion, and she kept up a pattern of putting people down for years.

It is all I can do to stop myself from jumping up and choking these women when I see them. And I'm certainly not the only person these women have humiliated. These women live to put other people down. So, yeah, the woman who complained is a woman who always complains and always suppresses. She is a squelch.

I can think of men who are squelches, too. They like to control threads at Mudcat and put other people down. These are people who like to be the insiders so they can push other people out.

Another example: I'm in a book club that was discussing a book about Chinese railroad workers in California. We were talking about prejudice against Chinese, and I pulled out a book and read three verses from "John Chinaman" songs to illustrate that racism and to explain that it still exists in people who come to Mudcat to say how "cute" they think the songs are. One of the participants was offended at my reading those verses, and he made sure I knew what a horrible person I was for offending him.

Well, you know, I read those verses for an honest and constructive purpose, and I really don't give a rat's ass that he was offended. And I don't see any righteousness in "shit don't stink" singers who are offended by the singing of others. So, yeah, when people attempt to pass judgment and suppress what others say or sing, it stinks.

And if they attempt to do that sort of shit in a song circle I'm controlling, I'm going to do my best to stop them.

So, yeah, put that in your pipe and smoke it.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: hsempl
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 03:06 AM

Joe,
What line did I cross?

As someone who has struggled with pitch, I am very aware that it takes guts to sing when less sure of oneself; it also takes guts to speak up about racist or misogynistic lyrics - doing so helps make singing spaces welcoming to all singers. I thought the person who did so was gentle and direct - complimenting the song and the singing, saying it's a fun song to sing and they'd enjoyed it, then mentioning the problematic lyric. It's a good model. I was glad they spoke up because I had been feeling uncomfortable but hesitated to speak because I was new to the sing and worried about hurting the singers' feelings.

As for the rest of your message above, there are several unrelated incidents being conflated, and I am disturbed by the violent imagery, which makes me think it would not be safe to be in a physical space that you were in. It also makes me not think it's productive to continue this conversation, at least on my part.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: Waddon Pete
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 03:10 AM

Well said Joe!

You run the singaround well and make a hard job look easy.

Pete


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 06:01 AM

Boy, that blew up in a hurry!

Joe, I think if you go back to Heather's first post, to the end of it, you'll find it makes good sense. If someone says she has been offended, apologize for whatever caused the offense, and move on. An apology is not an admission of guilt; it is not an agreement that what was done was in any objective sense offensive; it's just an acknowledgement that when someone says she was offended, she was, in fact, offended. Whatever past history you may have with the person, right now the person is offended; acknowledge that, and move on. If the person wants to continue the complaint after an apology, then it's perfectly justifiable to insist that the place for that is at Mudcat and not during the singaround.

It seems to me that, purely as a practical matter, this is the way to continue the singaround while ruffling the fewest feathers.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: Mrrzy
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 08:02 AM

I put something in the chat about kanaka rather than talking about it on the zoom.

I think Joe does a bang-up job running said zoom. Joe, you do great work on all of our behalves. Please don't stop.

Everybody else, please don't make him *want* to stop.

I was glad someone besides me brought up kanaka.

I was glad Joe redirected the singaround away from the about-to-erupt argument. He's right, not that people should sing unchallenged, but that *raising* the challenge was enough *for that medium* at that time.

My feelings. Thanks.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 09:58 AM

There's no doubt that offensive lyrics are a valid issue for discussion. It's a very hot topic in our San Francisco Folk Music Club. Last I heard, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" is now considered offensive.

Here in California, everybody is offended by everything, so I'm not inclined to apologize for anything I do in good faith. My temptation is to say, "Go piss up a rope" - but that, too, interrupts the flow of a singaround. Maybe I have a wrong understanding of apologizing when somebody is offended, but I see no need for apology when I had no intention to offend or when I don't think my action was offensive.

I think that after a person sings, it's appropriate to either make a positive comment, or to say nothing. It might be appropriate to speak briefly about the background of the song, and I admit to sometimes being too wordy in my attempt to discuss a song. On Zoom sessions, it might be appropriate to say something after the song if the singer's sound needs adjustment - but I think that only the host should interrupt in the middle of a song, and only when something can be done quickly to remedy the problem.

But if there's negative stuff, I think it generally should be discussed privately, as in the private chat. If further discussion is necessary, it can be done afterwards.

And yes, Gerry, Heather's first post was reasonable. Then she became insulting.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Tech: Hints for Zoom Singaround Hosts
From: Acorn4
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 10:09 AM

It's a very thorny problem and can extend to areas like songs about whaling and hunting.

Can you disapprove of both and still sing the songs, as a lot of them are cracking songs.

In essence when you sing a folk song you are, in a sense, acting. In a play you could be acting the part of a Shakespearian villain, which bears no relation to your own beliefs or behaviour.

If you are an atheist you might be offended by religious references. We have a person who attends our local sessions who tuts at the end of a song with any religious connotations.

I've tried telling him "you don't have to be a psychopath to sing a murder ballad" to no avail.

We'd need to ban the whole of Kipling if you read the use of the "n" word in the "Just So" stories.

Not coming to any conclusions here but just a few thoughts and just saying that the implications are far reaching.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Rex
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 02:50 PM

I was presenting some nineteenth century songs at a symposium. The audience was almost exclusively historians. I presented The Yellow Rose of Texas, gave some of the background, pointed out offensive words, particularly "darkie" and then performed the song. The words are from a hand written paper in the archives of the University of Texas at Austin which I pointed out. Contrary to popular belief it's origins are not about cowboys. I was later confronted by some who were offended by the song leaving me to wonder what is the purpose of a symposium?
   Point two, I was asked to give a presentation for a class of graduate students at the University of Denver. The subject was songs that were popular during the beginnings of settlements in the Colorado Territory. A sub heading was the popularity of minstrel songs, America's first pop music and its rough edges. I pointed out a good example, The Year of Jubilo or Kingdom Coming. It was written by an abolitionist and is pointing out the rise of the former slave and the fleeing of his captors. But that word, "darkie" runs all through the song. I had to make sure that all cell phones were down and the students would simply see the song as it is warts and all. The professor was sympathetic and felt it was right to include the song as an example of what seems to be good intentions for the time by its writer. Not all the students agreed. In this place of learning some could not get past that word. Even if this is a good example of again, good intentions, I do not believe I will ever sing it again in any situation.

Rex


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Severn
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 07:40 PM

One thing I found that I had to learn in a relationship/marriage situation was that even if you were right in the argument or dispute, if another party was hurt by the nature of what was said, be it tone of the manner you express yourself in trying to make your points, at some point, the right of wrong of things can become secondary to the fact that someone on one of even both sides of the dispute are hurt or offended, the were indeed hurt, and hurt IS hurt whether you feel you were right or proved your point. If one walks away knowing one was right in the argument leaving the other party hurting from something other the settlement (if you even reached one), you have to understand the hurt and you don't have to concede the original point to know that something beyond all that happened, some offense real or imagined has occurred, and if you ever want to be able to solve possibly more important problems, these sensitive points have to be identified to be used as tools (and hopefully not weapons) in the future. You have to be able to apologize for these offenses no matter who won the original point, as it is in the end, a completely different apology. Then you can move on and build on things in an open manner without dropping into set patterns each time something does go wrong or is disputed as a matter of habit. When communication goes, each party can hurt the other in ways they will no longer realize.

You were a bit rough on Heather, considering some of the other posts that get harsh, shrill of mean that will come up in threads like this one. I greatly appreciate and respect your skills as a moderator and count you as good friend, but I am surprised that these posts rather than some others could set things boiling over the top.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 29 Jul 20 - 07:51 PM

"I'm not inclined to apologize for anything I do in good faith.... Maybe I have a wrong understanding of apologizing when somebody is offended, but I see no need for apology when I had no intention to offend or when I don't think my action was offensive."

Joe, I think all of us – you, me, Mrrzy, Heather – have the same goal: continuing the singaround without it being interrupted by a discussion that should take place elsewhere.

If there are two ways to achieve that goal, and one of them leaves one or more people upset, and the other way doesn't, then I think the way that doesn't upset anyone is the optimal choice.

Acknowledging that someone has been offended, expressing regret that someone has been offended, seems to me to be the way to achieve the goal without leaving anyone upset. Acknowledging that someone has been offended in no way accepts blame for causing offense, and doesn't even agree that an offensive act occurred; it just lets the other person know that you understand how they feel. People need that.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,anon
Date: 30 Jul 20 - 01:50 AM

i dont want to start anything, only to say as someone from the jewish faith it would make me supremely uncomfortable to have people uncritically singing antisemetic songs. If that's the kind of space you wish to cultivate, and those the kinds of people you wish to attract, fine, but don't blame those of us who are the subject of some of the more frankly offensive songs for staying away from those who wish to sing them uncritically


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 30 Jul 20 - 06:12 AM

Instead of making hypotheticals, anon, why not come along to see for yourself what kinds of people are attracted?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Severn
Date: 30 Jul 20 - 10:05 AM

I have yet to hear anything that I might think of as offensive in an antisemitic way sung at the Mudcat sing and we have a good number of Jewish singers present who I am sure would let us know if such a song slipped in without a short bit of reference as to why the singer is including it and it's context, as there is a bit of the historian in most of us. Take Gerry's suggestion and join us
and be enlightened and entertained.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Aug 20 - 07:53 AM

a song i would not sing is Hugh of Lincoln, it is anti semitic
as is that play Shylock, written by the establishment lackey Shakespeare,
however that is easy for me i just make sure the play Shylock is not in my house, IT MUGHT BE WELL WRITTEN BUT ITIS ANTI SEMITIC


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Aug 20 - 07:59 AM

i just make sure the play Shylock is not in my house

A spin off from the The Merchant of Venice, I presume. Must be a recent disccovery.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 01 Aug 20 - 09:55 AM

You cannot call Shakespeare an establishment lackey or allude to the extent to which he was influenced by his paymasters (eg the King) in my experience without Jim Carroll coming along flashing his I'm working class but I can appreciate Shakespeare. He told me I hadn't being paying attention to the plays when I said something similar!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 01 Aug 20 - 09:59 AM

I haven't studied the discussion leading up to the focus on people being offended/upset in detail, but it seems to me possible to trivialise the important issues by framing them in terms of people's subjective sensitivities/being 'upset'. Not saying anybody did this or tried to do it. But it can happen I think. It then leads on to the 'snowflake' insult line of attack. Just a thought, not trying to argue that people's feelings aren't important.


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