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


  • Sheila MacKenzie Brown Société International Linguistique (S.I.L)


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 “There’s 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.

Author Biography

Sheila MacKenzie Brown, Société International Linguistique (S.I.L)

SHEILA MACKENZIE BROWN received her early teacher training in England and taught high school music, and physical education there for two years before emigrating to Newfoundland. There, she was based in Gander and worked mostly with the Terra Nova Integrated School Board. She was involved in creating and implementing music and art programmes around the district, and enjoyed the trust and freedom of the school board to use local folksongs to teach not only music, but also many aspects of Newfoundland’s early occupational history - Fishing, Lumbering, Seal Hunting and Rum Running. She went on to gain an MA in Folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and later her MEd in Music Education (Kodaly specialisation) from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. In 1990 Sheila moved to Kelowna, British Columbia taking up a position in the Faculty of Education at Okanagan University College (now the University of British Columbia Okanagan) enjoying the opportunity to work with “wanna be” teachers, encouraging them to teach music per se and, to use music, and local folksongs as an aid in teaching in other areas such as Language Arts, basic numeracy, and social studies. Sheila took early retirement in 2004 and joined La Société International Linguistique as an ethnomusicologist. She is presently working in Senegal in West Africa, studying the instruments, music, dance, and storytelling forms among ten different people groups. Her natural tendency towards integration has been a great help in these societies where life tends to be an “integrated whole.”