As long as there are people, there is song. This concept really struck me as I reviewed Songs in the Shade of the Cashew and Coconut Trees (Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from West Africa and the Caribbean.) I felt I was tracing history, peering into the daily lives of families. Certainly the illustrations, so tender and intimate, influenced this emotion.
Of course I’m sure I have also been been influenced by the 1619 podcast, which I had begun around the same time I started reviewing this CD/book combo. This collection gives me songs for those slaves and their families. This album draws from the areas of West Africa most profoundly impacted by the slave trade, and takes us across the Atlantic to the Caribbean where many of those slaves were sold. Although an ocean separates these regions, the music unites. Over the course of the 400 years of this dehumanizing practice the people did what they could to resist and maintain their identity and humanity. Songs played a strong role in keeping alive their spirits and their culture. You can hear creole languages in the songs, which also speak to the people changing the rules and claiming what they can. There’s so much more I could say!
I listened to the CD in the car before I ever opened the book. Apart from the Jamaican Day-O (also from Trinidad and Tobago) all the songs were foreign to me. Nor do I speak any of the languages represented in this collection. Although I speak French, and several countries represented in this collection had been French colonies, I remain unfamiliar with the language and the songs. With a close listen (and reading the lyrics printed in the accompanying book) I can identify only a small handful of words of francophone origin.
Colonial languages mixed with local dialects and the native tongues of the enslaved people to create creole languages. Creole languages are beautiful to me, an embodiment of the power of the human spirit. But to avoid making this a treatise on post-colonial aftermath I’ll stop now. Because this is about the music and the book.
You and your children do not need familiarity with the music or the languages to appreciate this album. And the pictures provide the setting, and the tender love of families. Our family and community experiences unite us. This music is accessible to all of us, and the message is universal.
(Does it interested you to learn how music evolves? If you’re interested in how the music of enslaved people has influenced all aspects of American music I highly recommend episode 3 of the 1619 podcast available wherever you find podcasts.)