[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#891: A review of the Choucoune material from Gage Averill

From: Gage Averill <gage.averill@nyu.edu>


In response to the recent thread about Choucoune, allow me to dig deep into
my Corbett archives to retrieve a number of messages about the subject.
Please forgive the length.  The first is from me, followed by a set of
lyrics I sent out, and a number of others posts that I have from
Corbetteers. Last but not least, I appended a set of communications from
scholars Ray Funk and Ken Bilby about the English version of Yellow Bird.


From: Gage Averill

Allow me to belatedly weigh in on the subject of "Choucoune" (originally
called "Fre P'tit Pierre") & Haiti Cherie (originally called "Souvenirs

Michel Mauleart Monton did indeed compose the musical setting in 1883 for
the poem by Oswald Durand which became known as "Choucoune".  Monton was
born in the U.S. (New Orleans) of mixed parents (Haitian father, American
mother) and was a noted pianist first in Cap Haitien, then in Port-de-Paix,
and finally in Port-au-Prince. Durand wrote the poem about a young
"marabou" woman nicknamed Choucoune from La Plaine du Nord whose given name
was Marie Noel Belizaire.

However, if you look far and wide at Caribbean Creole cultures, you will
find similar songs (for example the same melody animating certain 19th
century Trinidadian carisos and romances: "Balon monte, balon desan, balon
tonbe nan dlo").  Apparently the source for all of this melodic and lyrical
productivity is not necessarily Germany (which may have had a similar song)
as one writer remarked , but more directly a French "berceuse" or cradle
song.  Fouchard links the Monton melody and the Durand words to the early
meringue: "Ti zwazo, kote ou prale/ Ma prale, kay FilËt Lalo/FilËt Lalo
konn manje timoun/Si w ale, l'a manje ou tou" and he further states that
this meringue derives from the old French chanson d'Anjou "Non, non, non je
ne marierai pas" which has the same chorus melody as "Choucoune".

This should not surprise us (nor should it diminish the compositional
achievements of Durand & Monton) because this type of appropriation was the
norm in the 19th century. . . tunes and lyric fragments were routinely
borrowed for new compositions and this was not considered an unethical

From: P D Bellegarde-Smith <pbs@csd.uwm.edu>

"Choucoune" is by the Haitian poet Laureate Oswald Durand, (1840-1906).
There has never been a controversy about that Haitian melody! In the
recueil, "Rires et Pleurs," I retain this line: "Notre ile, ce joyau des
mains de Dieu tombe."

> From: P D Bellegarde-Smith <pbs@csd.uwm.edu>
> Lord Burgess may still live in New York City, and Oswald Durand is dead.
> The English lyrics have nothing to do with the Kreyol lyrics. This is a
> very old story. The latest version of something called "traditional?"
> when it's actually Haitian? In Juan Luis Guerra's "Areito" album, the
> song "Mal de Amor," which is a Nemours Jean-Baptiste piece whose name
> escapes me this very moment. Guerra was forced to apologize! Same story,
> other names!

From: Guy Antoine <gstenio@sprintmail.com>

I was well aware that Oswald Durand composed the poem, and I heard that
he also set it to music, but I was not convinced that he was the actual
musical composer.  Lyrically and musically, Choucoune is a romantic jewel
'des mains de Dieu tombe', a rare piece that evokes the untamed beauty of
Haiti and the Haitian people, and induces a bit of nostalgia.  I sing it
when I feel in a funk due to the incessantly bad news about Haiti.  It
reminds me that there is a certain humanity about Haiti, worth being
proud of, worth saving, worth fighting for.

Would you know of other musical pieces by Oswald Durand?  What about
'Haiti Cherie'?  (I know that it is not from Durand, by the way).

The melody to "Haiti Cherie" is likewise known throughout the Caribbean
(Cuba etc.) and seems to descned from a colonial era song (perhaps also a
cradle song). I have the lyrics to these two songs and will include them in
a post soon (someone requested this).

here are the full lyrics to
Choucoune in Kreyol (following up on the "Ayiti Cheri" I sent out a few
days ago). Pran plezi.


[Note that some performers omit verses 3 and 4 in the interest of time.  If
you are singing this, after each chorus, repeat lines 2, 3, and 5 of the
same chorus.  For the first verse, this would be: "kon mwen sonje sa, mwen
genyen lapenn, de pye-mwen nan chenn").  Again, the accents graves follow
the fowels for universal e-mail translation]

1. De`ye` yon gwo touf pengwen [pinguin bush]
Lo`t jou mwen kontre Choukoun
Li souri le` li we` mwen
Mwen di: "Sye`l, ala be`l moun!" (x2)
Li di: "Ou trouve sa che`?"
	Chorus: Ti zwezo nan bwa ki t' ape koute (x2)
	Kon mwen sonje sa
	Mwen genyen lapenn
	Ka depi jou-sa
	De pye mwen nan chenn

2. Choukoun se yon marabou
Je` li klere kou chande`l
Li genyen tete debou
A si Choukoun te fide`l (x2)
Nou rete koze lontan
	Jis zwezo nan bwa te pare`t kontan (x2)
	Pito bliye sa
	Se two` gran lapenn
	Ka depi jou-sa
	De pye mwen nan chenn

3. Ti-dan Choukoun blan kou le`t
Bouch-li koule` kayamit
Li pa gwo fanm, li gwose`t
Fanm konsa ple` mwen touswit (x2)
Tan pase pa tan jodi!
	Zwezo te tande tout sa li te di (x2)
	Si ou sonje sa
	Yo dwe nan lapenn
	Ka depi jou-sa
	De pye mwen na chenn

4. N' ale lakay manman-li
Yon granmoun ki byen one`t
Sito li we` mwen li di:
"A mwen kontan sila-a ne`t" (x2)
Nou bwe` chokola nwa
	Eske tout sa fini, ti-zwezo nan bwa (x2)
	Pito bliye sa
	Se two gran lapenn
	Ka depi jou-sa
	De pye-mwen nan chenn

5. Yon ti blan vini rive
Ti bab wouj, be`l figi wo`z
Mont sou kote, be`l chive
Male`-mwen, li ki lakÚz (x2)
Li trouve Choukoun joli
	Li pale Fwanse, Choukoun renmen li (x2)
	Pito bliye sa
	Se two gran lapenn
	Choukoun kite mwen
	De pye-mwen nan chen
>From Ken Bilby & Ray Funk (on the English Yellow Bird)

Yellow Bird

>From Ken Bilby:
"Yellow Bird," for instance, was originally a Haitian folk song (with
Haitian Creole lyrics, of course), which later became popular in urban
Haiti as a méringue.

There is a new CD, Descendants, Grupo Vocal Desandann, (Bembe) features a
vocal  group made up of Haitian descendants based in Cuba features
"Choucoune" a "slow merengue"  with words by Oswald Duran and music by
Moleart Monton, which certainly sounds related. The summary is "Pretty girl
with incandescent eyes, if she really were faithful to me, I would marry her."

Again, from Ken:
On a CD called "Méringue: Buckle-Rubbing Street Music from Haiti" (Corason
COCD 107, 1993, Mexico), there is a version
of this song performed by Ensemble L'Avenir from Jacmel, but with the title
"Ti Zwazo" (which is Haitian Creole for "little bird") rather than
"Choucoune."  I just relistened to this track, and the melody of the
chorus/refrain of "Ti Zwazo" is virtually identical to that of "Yellow Bird"
(one is very clearly derived from the other); the melody of the verse,
however, is different.  Here's what the CD notes say about this track: "The
words of Ti zwazo (_petit oiseau_ or little bird) were written by Oswald
Duran.  His creole poem tells of Choucune, a beautiful mulatta who falls in
love with a red-bearded foreigner and abandons her mulatto boyfriend.
Harry Belafonte made this song extremely popular in the '50s and hence it
is often mistakenly included in the repertoire of Jamaican folk songs."

It is recorded by Haitian Andre Tousaint who moved to Bahamas in early 50s
on Andre Tousaint and the "Caribbeans" (including a young Ernest Ranglin on
guitar) Bahama Recording BRL No. 20, 1956.

It is reportedly "Colby" by Roger Fanfant et Son Orchestre Guadeloipeen, c.
1938 on Orchestres Creoles. MM 30876

The popular version of Yellow Bird was "composed" by Luboff/Bergmann. (I
have the sheet music for this) and was first recorded on Norman Luboff
Choir. Calypso Holiday Columbia CL 1000.  The notes to the album state:

More of the French influence may be noted in Yellow Bird, derived from Folk
materials. This is the serenade of a lonesome lover to an equally lonesome
bird, couched in poignant and poetic terms.

This song is the song most often recorded by steel bands. See notes to Jeff
Thomas discography. No attempt to list all these.

It has also becomes an easy listening standard, recorded as the title cut
to albums by the Mills Brothers, Roger Williams, Lawrence Welk, and many

Arthur Lyman.  Yellow Bird. ***. 1961
Mills Brothers. Yellow Bird. Dot 25338
Lawrence Welk. Yellow Bird. Dot 3389
Roger  Williams. Yellow Bird. Kapp KS-3244

The Arthur Lyman album went to number 4 in the charts and has been reissued
on Rykodisc,

And on a number of singles:

Baja Marimba Band. For Animals Only/Yellow Bird. Almo 228
Paul Clayton. Kilgary Mountain/Yellow Bird. Monument 450
Jan Garber. Yellow Bird/Hey Look Me Over. Decca 25550
John Gary. More/Yellow Bird. RCA 762
Arthur Luboff Choir. Clip Go the Shears/YellowBird. Columbia 41294
Arthur Lyman. Yellow Bird/Havah Nagilah. GNP Crescendo 5024. 1961
Mills Brothers. Yellow Bird/Baby Clementine. Dot 15858
Nashville String Band. Yellow Bird/***. RCA 9781
Brad Swanson. Yellow Bird/Mame. ***
Lawrence Welk. Yellow Bird/Cruising Down ***. Dot 16222

It was also recorded on the following lps

The Colorful Ventures. Dolton BLB 8008. 1961

A version of the song is asserted by Irving Burgie and in his recent

reggae recordings of "Yellow Bird"

Featured on Caribbean albums by Merrymen from Barbados and by Keith Stewart
from Jamaica.  The Keith Stewart version is on an lp of the same name
recorded at the Yellow Bird nightclub in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  There is
also a Yellow Bird club in Freeport, Bahamas at the Windward Palms Hotel


And a calypso queen. See more at

Info from Alaister:

Recorded by the reggae group, the Paragons. Also by

1. Hyltonairs (Big bamboo/meet me in Jamaica)
2. Gaylads (Sunshine is Golden)
3. Sugar Belly Combo (Linstead Market)
4. Harry Sweeting (From Jamaica with love)
5. Lord Antics (Hotter than Hot)
6. Lord Creator (Jamaica Time)
NB These are only the covers of the song on the STUDIO ONE label, from
"Never Grow Old:  the Studio One singles listing". I'll check the album
list when I have time, but undoubtedly there are a million more, I think
the Paragons were on Treasure Isle.

from Ken Bilby:

Here's one to add to the reggae list.  A reggae version was recorded in the
1970s by Lord Tanamo ( who during the early to mid-60s sang ska with the
skatalites, and before that, recorded some mento songs).  It is on his album
titled "Yellow Bird" (Sonic Sounds, Kingston, 1970s -- sorry, don't have
exact date, or other details -- I only have the cassette version of this
album, which was originally an LP).  Tanamo's version is quite nice.

Gene Ammons does a jazz version in 1962 on his album
Bad! Bossa Nova, on *** reissued on OJC (Fantasy)
Yellow Bird

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Did your lady friend leave the nest again?
That is very sad, make me feel so bad.
You can fly away, in the sky away.
You more lucky than me!

I also have a pretty gal,
She not with me today.
They all the same, the pretty gal,
Make them the nest, then they fly away.

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Better fly away in the sky away.
Picker coming soon, pick from night to noon.
Black and yellow you, like banana too.
They might pick you some day!

Wish that I was a yellow bird,
I fly away with you.
But I am not a yellow bird,
So here I sit, nothing else to do.
Yellow bird, yellow bird, yellow bird.

Gage Averill
Department of Music, New York University
24 Waverly Place, Rm 268,
New York, NY 10003-6789
(212) 998-8302 (bus)
(212) 995-4147 (fax)

Home: 82 Puritan Drive
Port Chester, NY 10573
(914) 939-4193
e-mail: gage.averill@nyu.edu

Home page for _A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey:
Popular Music & Power in Haiti_ is:

NYU Music Department: http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/music/