Same Form, Slightly Different Function: Senegalese Cumulative Songs as Contrasted to their Canadian and European Counterparts

Sheila MacKenzie Brown


The formula song genre encompasses such forms as chain songs, enumerative songs, and cumulative songs. In Western society we are familiar with some of these forms through songs such as Theres a Hole in my Bucket, Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush, Alouette and The Twelve Days of Christmas. Many of us will know these as stand alone songs not necessarily connected to any other oral art form. Historically, here in Canada, some are thought to have been used as paddling songs to accompany the motion of the Voyageurs paddles which provided more power when dipped in unison. In more modern usage we find these songs as part of the school programme, used to encourage memorisation, counting, sequencing, reverse sequencing, group singing and the like. They are also useful for introducing the idea of song structure or form in the music programme. And then, of course, they are sometimes sung just for fun! My research among the Jola-Bandial people of southern Senegal has revealed that they too have formula songs as a part of their oral folk literature. In many instances in this society however, they form a part of a greater whole they are a key feature of the story-telling tradition. This paper will look at the performance context of these songs, in both the African and Western contexts, as well as the function and form of these songs as they are found in the Jola Bandial oral tradition and that of Western society.

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