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'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs

Dave Rado 26 Nov 12 - 09:33 PM
Amos 26 Nov 12 - 10:16 PM
JohnInKansas 27 Nov 12 - 12:26 AM
Gibb Sahib 27 Nov 12 - 02:01 AM
GUEST,matt milton 27 Nov 12 - 04:03 AM
Will Fly 27 Nov 12 - 04:08 AM
GUEST,Grishka 27 Nov 12 - 07:30 AM
Mr Happy 27 Nov 12 - 08:13 AM
s&r 27 Nov 12 - 08:41 AM
GUEST,Paul Slade 27 Nov 12 - 08:46 AM
John MacKenzie 27 Nov 12 - 08:56 AM
Megan L 27 Nov 12 - 08:58 AM
John MacKenzie 27 Nov 12 - 09:11 AM
GUEST,matt milton 27 Nov 12 - 09:54 AM
GUEST,Paul Slade 27 Nov 12 - 10:52 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 27 Nov 12 - 02:16 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Nov 12 - 02:39 PM
Gda Music 27 Nov 12 - 03:38 PM
Gibb Sahib 27 Nov 12 - 07:57 PM
Genie 28 Nov 12 - 01:33 AM
GUEST,matt milton 28 Nov 12 - 06:20 AM
GUEST,matt milton 28 Nov 12 - 06:33 AM
GUEST,matt milton 28 Nov 12 - 06:37 AM
Dave Rado 29 Nov 12 - 06:21 AM
Gibb Sahib 29 Nov 12 - 08:07 PM
Dave Rado 03 Dec 12 - 02:46 PM
Dave Rado 03 Dec 12 - 02:51 PM
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Subject: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Dave Rado
Date: 26 Nov 12 - 09:33 PM

I've noticed that Harry Belafonte, when singing mento folk songs, sometimes pronounces "The" as "De" and sometimes as "The" - sometimes even using both pronunciations within a single verse or chorus. Is this a strange Belafonte characteristic (perhaps due to his being brought up partly in Jamaica and partly in New York), or is alternating between the two pronunciations like that normal among Caribbean folk singers? I ask because I would like to sound reasonably authentic, if possible, when singing mento or calypso songs. I would have expected that Carribean singers would either always pronounce "the" as "the" or always pronounce it as "de", so I was surprised when I recently noticed that, as I say, Belafonte alternates between the two.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Amos
Date: 26 Nov 12 - 10:16 PM

Interesting point. I don't know where HB is from, but I was acutely aware when in Jamaica that those who grew up there speak two tongues fluently and lapse from one to the other depending on who is around. One is formal English with colonial Brit overtones and the other is a sort of gullah pidgin or creole vernacular which uses many English words and many slang words blended in an unintelligible slurry. Beautiful to hear, but for me, impossible to understand! So it may be second nature for someone in that cultural mix to do contextual shifts from one pronunciation scheme to the other in midstream, fluidly, I speculate.

A


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 12:26 AM

The flip-flopping of these two particular pronunciations is actually fairly common in numerous of the various segments of the US population. Most of the people who do it can do it either way, but may use the "hard d" when they want to affect a "colloquial" manner.

People from some ethnic backgrounds seem to find that the "alveolar fricative" form takes a little more effort than the "stop" form, but sufficient numbers of those who shouldn't have a problem also do it when they're just feeling "a little lazy," so maybe one comes easier than the other for just about everyone (?).

HB may have used the switch depending on whether - or how much - he wanted to emphasize the "dialectic" nature/origin of particular songs, pretty much as some "country" singers do the same when they want to "sound redneck." If a particular "sound" belongs to the origins of a particular song, that's the way to do it if you can do it well, and Harry could. If it doesn't come fluently to you, it might be better to "modernize" an ethnic/vernacular song, with appropriate respect for its origins, or just not do it.

John


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 02:01 AM

I listen to a lot of Jamaican music, FWIW.

The foundations of the true popular music industry in Jamaican (and let's not pretend Harry Belafonte is not popular music) involve imitation of U.S. ways of singing and pronouncing. Much material is sung in something close to a U.S. way of singing...and not like the way those same Jamaican singers would speak.

Other times, Jamaicans sang as they speak, but again in the popular/commercial music world, this was somewhat less frequent until social movements made it cool.

So one difference is between the US/international accent and the Jamaican accent.

Then within Jamaican accent, there are levels of how "deep" one gets into the patois. My experience is that Jamaicans speak as "deep" a patois as you can imagine within local, informal circles, but that formal circumstances and interactions with "others" require a shift to a more shallow patois that comes closer to global English.

To answer your question more directly: No, I don't think shifting back and forth is a common feature of songs, and yes, it was probably a slip of Belafonte, who was torn between 2 different impulses.

And, incidentally, though the use of "de" is debated in U.S. Black songs, because people worry it is caricature, not so in Jamaican. Because "de" is like the proper word in a (almost) "foreign language," and everyone nowadays says it.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 04:03 AM

"And, incidentally, though the use of "de" is debated in U.S. Black songs, because people worry it is caricature, not so in Jamaican. Because "de" is like the proper word in a (almost) "foreign language," and everyone nowadays says it."

That may be true for actual Jamaicans, but when non-Jamaicans (especially white non-Jamaicans) use "de" it sounds like caricature. In every instance that I've heard, at any rate. Invariably comes across as a bit like Peter Sellers doing 'Goodness Gracious Me'.

Cases in point: "Turtle Calypso" by John Faulkner, or Diana Coupland singing "Underneath the Mango Tree" in Dr No, or Robert Mitchum's calypso album.

The only instance I can think of of a non-Jamaican just about getting away with it is Terry Hall of The Specials in their hit "Ghost Town", in which he sings "inna de boom town" so deadpan, making no attempt to sound anything other than the white guy from Coventry that he was, that he gets away with it. The fact that it's only 4 words in one song undoubtedly helps too, making it sound almost like a citation.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Will Fly
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 04:08 AM

Spring is sprung, da flowers is riz.
I wonder where da boidies is.
Da little boids is on the wing - nah - dat's absoid.
Da little wings is on da boid!


Damon Runyan? New York!


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 07:30 AM

Imitating other people always bears the risk of sounding like caricature. But almost all singing is about imitating other people. This includes HB himself, who was often blamed for sounding like caricature. Ethnic and sociological background, gender, etc., does not automatically make a song "ours" or "theirs". Has been discussed many times here.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Mr Happy
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 08:13 AM

IMO its best to do songs in your own natural voice with phrasing as you would normally speak.

Otherwise trying to emulate the patois of another culture can sound ludicrous or even patronising


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: s&r
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 08:41 AM

I always thought - it seems wrongly - that "spring is sprung...." was Jimmy Durante but it seems it was Ogden Nash, or e e cummings, or Anon of Brooklyn

Stu


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 08:46 AM

1) I used to work with a woman whose parents came to Britain from Jamaica with the Windrush generation. She spoke perfect estuary English in the (otherwise all-white) office, but automatically slipped into patois whenever her mum rang. It was as natural a switch for her as my own automatic excision of any swear words when I spoke to my parents.

2) When Johnny Cash recorded Bob Marley's Redemption Song, be delivered the lines just as Marley himself had done - "Sold I to the merchant ships", "We forward in this generation", and so on. "There was one line I was wary about because it was not good English," Rick Rubin says in his sleeve notes. "I said, 'Johnny, do you want to change this word to say it the way you'd say it?' And he looked at me and said, 'Bob Marley wrote that. I can't change that!'"

3) I used to chant along for all I was worth with Linton Kwesi Johnson's early albums, pronouncing the words in my closest approximation of his accent. As a nice middle-class white boy from North Devon, I've no doubt I sounded absolutely ludicrous, but my love for the music was genuine enough and how the Hell can you song those words in any other voice? "Stan' firm inna Englan' inna this ya time!" is one thing. "Stand firm in an England in this, your time," quite another.

4) I always thought that Ghost Town line was "in natty boom town", but maybe I'm wrong. Whatever it is, Terry Hall makes it work, anyway.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 08:56 AM

I love the Jamaican accent.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Megan L
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 08:58 AM

Da rather than de is common in Shetland as in "Da sang o da Papa men"


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 09:11 AM

Aye, but they're awmaist Norwegians, Meg


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 09:54 AM

Yeah but Paul, singing along to something as a member of the audience or at home is very different to giving a performance.

and that Bob Marley song you mention Johnny Cash covering: I bet Cash doesn't pronounce "they" as "dey" the way Marley does.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 10:52 AM

Two very fair points, Matt.

I'd certainly have thought twice before doing my LKJ routine in public and, having just checked, I find you're right about Cash saying "they" rather than "dey" in Redemption Song as well.

It is true that "Dey rob I" seems to take it into the realm of caricature, while "They rob I" doesn't. Just that one extra little step that does the damage I suppose...


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 02:16 PM

Sing it in your lingo. Imitating some other dialect or patois or regionalism always sounds ludicrous (I agree with Mr. Happy) unless you are very familiar with it.

The "th" is difficult for many from other than English-schooled backgrounds.

Thaler, the coin is an example. Pronounced Taler in German, as are all words beginning with TH. Some other languages are similar.
They easily becomes Dey, and Those becomes dose.

And do you say "thuh" or "thee" or "de" or "duh", in "--- dictionary is on the shelf."


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 02:39 PM

Pronouncing "th" as "d" is very common in many accents. Like sayng "b" where we write "v". As with all kinds of variations in the way we speak, most of the time we don't even notice it.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Gda Music
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 03:38 PM

The Book of Jamaica - Pleasure Island   
Esther Chapman   (Arawak Press - c1958).

A quote from a paragraph dealing with "The Jamaican Language".

"The insertion of a vowel as in "cyan" for "can", and "cyard" for "card" is supposed to derive from Gaelic and there are other Anglo-Irish influences, for instance the use of "d" for "th", as in "mudder" (mother), "de" (the), "dat" (that)".

GJ


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 27 Nov 12 - 07:57 PM

Hi matt,

That may be true for actual Jamaicans, but when non-Jamaicans (especially white non-Jamaicans) use "de" it sounds like caricature. In every instance that I've heard, at any rate. Invariably comes across as a bit like Peter Sellers doing 'Goodness Gracious Me'.

Cases in point: "Turtle Calypso" by John Faulkner, or Diana Coupland singing "Underneath the Mango Tree" in Dr No, or Robert Mitchum's calypso album.

The only instance I can think of of a non-Jamaican just about getting away with it is Terry Hall of The Specials in their hit "Ghost Town", in which he sings "inna de boom town" so deadpan, making no attempt to sound anything other than the white guy from Coventry that he was, that he gets away with it. The fact that it's only 4 words in one song undoubtedly helps too, making it sound almost like a citation.


I understand what you are saying, but my incidental comment is indeed referring to something else which you may not be aware of. Terry Hall "getting away with it" is the only instance *you* can think of, but sure, that is just my point: there are a lot more instances like that. And of course those other singers you name sound like caricature because -- accent or not -- they kind of *are* caricature.

Jamaican patois is very nearly its own language -- at least, it is not just a regional "accent." When singing a Jamaican song (here I disagree with Q), one can't just sing in one's own (non-Jamaican) accent. The accent is the language is the song.

Happily -- and this is the observation I was making -- Jamaicans (and I don't mean British-born West Indians who are marginalized in their society) often accept others' use of their accent and language because it is their language and they are proud of it. They don't have a complex where they believe their actual vernacular is inferior, and that if others adopt it then they must be making fun of them. It is how Jamaicans communicate, and if you go to Jamaica and want to make yourself understood, there is no shame in actually speaking the local language or adjusting your accent, at least. (Although I speak the local language in India, when I go there, sometimes people want to speak in English and yet to make myself understood to them, I match their accent, vocabulary, turns of phrase, etc. No one is offended that I am not speaking in my "true" accent, and that in fact sounds to me like a very English idea that one must staunchly maintain one's own ways when amongst others!)

As a musical example, take sound clash, which I would consider to be one of the deepest musical engagements one could have with Jamaica music culture. No pretending here. The audiences are harsh critics, and rough. The participants in sound clash come from around the world, and when they address their audiences, they do so in Jamaican. Here's a clip I pulled up quickly of a German sound system performing for an audience in Jamaica. The audience is not getting offended; they are loving it. In fact, if the German couldn't speak jamaican, he might not be respected by them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCUIDk-Nw70

This is a "real world" interaction, by Jamaicans in "the ghetto" with their main type of music. Not "folk singers" performing out-dated popular folklore dug up from books about another nation group and worrying about offending said group by singing their songs (which the folk singer has chosen to do, after all) in the wrong way.

But this may all be off the main topic! Interesting though, I think.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Genie
Date: 28 Nov 12 - 01:33 AM

FWIW, Harry Belafonte, while born in Harlem, was the son of Melvine (née Love) – a housekeeper of Jamaican descent – and Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr., from Martinique.
From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in her native country of Jamaica.
His Caribbean dialects were thus not mere imitations but echoes of the speech he heard from his own parents as a child.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_belafonte

I have no problem with songs being sung using or approximating the pronunciation or dialect in which they were originally written or sung.
My issue is how, when a dialect or language is transliterated using English letters (instead of phonetic characters), it often leads to gross distortions of the actual sounds.

So, if you read an old "minstrel song" as "Heb'n, heb'n, ebrybody talkin' 'bout heb'n ain' goin' dere, g'wan ta wa'k all ober God's heb'n," and you try to reconstruct the dialect from that transliteration, you will probably really exaggerate the "bad English" and not sound much like the actual dialect anyway.

I'll bet this goes for a Caribbean dialect too.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 28 Nov 12 - 06:20 AM

"In fact, if the German couldn't speak jamaican, he might not be respected by them.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCUIDk-Nw70
This is a "real world" interaction, by Jamaicans in "the ghetto" with their main type of music. Not "folk singers" performing out-dated popular folklore dug up from books about another nation group and worrying about offending said group by singing their songs (which the folk singer has chosen to do, after all) in the wrong way."

Not off-topic at all, and indeed very interesting.

For one thing, you're assuming that "worrying about offending said group by singing their songs in the wrong way" is the prime concern. For me, it's simply that I think most people sound stupid when they attempt foreign accents in performance.

If it was merely risking offending a particular nationality/ethnicity, then a folksinger could do what he/she liked as, frankly, in the UK there aren't all that many black faces at folk clubs. For me, it's simply bad art in most cases - embarassingly so. This "sounding stupid" happens to be compounded, for me, by the fact that the language/accent itself was the result of violent historical impositions, so sounding like a caricature is almost like adding (political) insult to (aesthetic) injury.

To cut a long story short, the few calypso and mento songs I sing (Lion Heart, Iron Bar, Blow Wind Blow, Rum & Coca Cola, Monkey Talk) I sing in my own london accent. I've played them in a few local pubs where I live (Brixton) and once or twice, old West Indian blokes have been pleased to hear them and sang along. Patois words I take on a case-by-case basis: usually I adopt that "Terry Hall" strategy of quasi-exaggerating my non-Jamaican, south london accent when I sing them - works v. well and kind of gets a laugh. But I never sing "de" for "the" - too much like putting on an accent.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 28 Nov 12 - 06:33 AM

...but actually, to refer to the example you give, then I think it's very different when you're engaging with a living culture. You get to find out how people respond immediately. There's a negotiation and conversation there that simply isn't there with folk music.

However, for me, the jury remains out over those white Germans. In the link you gave, well, I couldn't even hear what they were saying cos the mic was so distorted going through that loud PA.

That's the nature of a soundclash. Were I to hear those guys those guys on a pristine studio recording - not that that's applicable to a soundclash - would I be impressed? Ever heard Gentleman? I think he's rubbish. And it's irrelevant to me whether or not any Jamaican deejays think he's any good. He's still rubbish.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 28 Nov 12 - 06:37 AM

on the other hand, I did like that YT single from a few years back. He was a white Englishman wasn't he?


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Dave Rado
Date: 29 Nov 12 - 06:21 AM

Thanks for all the responses, especially Gibb Sahib's, which was the only one that directly answered my question.

With regard to imitating the Jamaican accents, no one has mentioned Nina and Frederik, who, as far as I'm concerned, sound wonderful, and as far as I'm aware, they were never accused of being patronising. Also, the vast majority of British singers sing in an American accent (going back to the first Rolling Stones songs), and do not get accused of caricature (I've never heard anyone claim that Adele or the Stones are patronising black Americans), so I don't see why it should be any different with the Jamaican accent, provided the singer has listened very carefully to the original and made a serious and genuine attempt to get the accent right. I always try to sing every song I sing in the original accent, by listening to authentic singers and trying to imitate them perfectly, and if I don't feel I can make a good fist of the accent I just don't sing that song in public. To me I am paying tribute to a culture by singing its folk songs in the original accent, not caricaturing it. And if you object to that, you should object just as much to Mick Jagger's or Odele's accent when they sing their blues or gospel-derived songs, because I suspect that's also the reason they sing those songs in an American accent - as a tribute to the culture that most influenced them musically.

FWIW, Jamaicans have in the past shown appreciation for my rendition of mento songs.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 29 Nov 12 - 08:07 PM

matt,

I agree, aesthetics is a different issue. I see what you mean. I definitely have my preferences...certain things make me cringe, or whatever. I wonder however if, in many cases, that cringing...that feeling that it is aesthetically bad...is not related to my/our sense of the other issue: the politics of it all.

I can think of times when accents seem inappropriate, and other times when they are entirely necessary. I think lots of times we come at this topic (i.e. the topic of what accent should you sing in, discussed periodically) with certain specific examples in mind, and form our opinions based on those. (Being general with "we" here!)

But then we find other example where the ideas don't hold.

The contemporary Jamaican situation is an interesting case.

Another interesting thing about sound clash culture (sorry, taking this further off topic!) is that it is a culture/audience that vehemently and actively -- e.g. in its discourse -- opposes what they call "bias", i.e. any sort of prejudice against performers. Audiences, who view themselves as being invested with the ultimate right to judge the quality of a performance, pride themselves in being fair and not seeing color, creed, etc. So the "community" actively squashes anyone who might say 'hey, this guy is not Jamaican so what does he know? he must be no good." I think this is especially interesting because its different than what goes on with music in a lot of countries, where people fight over who has the authentic "right" to perform some music. Not surprisingly -- and something that has also really struck me about Jamaican music and which may be one reason I like it -- there is very little tension about the issue of "tradition" there. People generally are not fighting over ideas of what constitutes "traditional."
In a lot of ways, its an example that invalidates many people's assumptions about folk and traditional music when they are speaking with, say, English songs in mind.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Dave Rado
Date: 03 Dec 12 - 02:46 PM

By the way, further to Matt Milton's post, in which he wrote: "and that Bob Marley song you mention Johnny Cash covering: I bet Cash doesn't pronounce "they" as "dey" the way Marley does."

Cash makes absolutely no attempt to do a Jamaican accent - he just sings in his own accent. So given that, of course he couldn't say "de" for "the" - that would be stupid.

It seems to be a general rule that American and Canadian singers make to attempt to sing folk songs from elsewhere in the originating accent. I think that's a shame, personally. I've often wished that Joan Baez would desist from singing Scottish folk songs, as I think they sound stilted in an American accent. But British and European singers do generally try to imitate the accent of the country a song comes from, and as I say, most British singers sing even their own songs in an American accent.


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Subject: RE: 'De' vs. 'The' in Carribean folk songs
From: Dave Rado
Date: 03 Dec 12 - 02:51 PM

Just to clarify, when I said in my last post that "most British singers sing even their own songs in an American accent", I meant of course, when singing songs they had written themselves - when singing British folk songs, they sing it in the originating accent (English or Scottish or whatever) - or in their own accent.


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