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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Tradition Acadian

My granduncle, Germain à John à Basil Chiasson used to sing a song that began, “Nous sommes venus du Grand Toulon. Trois grands vaisseaux du roi Bourbon.” In the song, the three ships from Toulon are captured by the British and the crew are taken captive. While the song is not dated, its content suggests the period of The Seven Years’ War and, indeed, the story is almost identical to another song from the collection by Father Anselme Chiasson of Chéticamp which is dated as of the same period.

Granduncle Germain learned the song from his mother in St. Joseph du Moine on the west coast of Cape Breton. She would have been born around 1850; obviously there was no television, no radio, no newspapers and probably no books in her home. But she had access to world events of one hundred years previous through her songs.

My own mother, Lucy Doucet, sang a song about a young man who invites a girl to dine with him. She refuses. Her father would disapprove. Who will tell him? The birds. Do the birds speak? Yes, they speak French and English. A few words in Gaelic and even in Spanish. “Des petits mots en ecossais, et puis en espanol aussi.”

When my mother grew up, 300 years had passed since her people had any connection with the Spanish. Again, the song gave them access to a time long past.

There are many songs of soldiers going off to fight for the King of France, so the songs predate the 1600s. And the king isn’t always a good guy, or at least not his son. In one song, the prince shoots the peasant’s innocent white duck with his silver gun. The early settlers of Chéticamp, suffering new forms of oppression, were able to sing of a time when their ancestors spoke up to the king’s son and reprimanded him. No doubt this would affirm them in facing up to their own social structures.

There were work songs, for milling frolics, spinning frolics and harvest frolics. Work instruments often substituted for musical instruments. The butter was churned to the sound of “sa, sa, sa, Murette, donne moi de ton lait.” Later, the sewing machine would accompany similar lyrics. There were songs for parties on religious feasts, like La Chandeleur, and there were laments, stories of betrayed lovers and of broken hearts. The songs covered every area of human endeavour but particularized in the way that their own people had lived it out.

Dan Doucet

Acadian Songs