Here is a transcription of the words you will hear, followed by an English translation:

Les Mardi Gras vient de tout partout, tout le tour du moyeu.
Vient une fois par an pour demander la charité
Une vieille patate, une patate et des gratons.

Les Mardi Gras vient de tout partout, tout le tour du moyeu.
Vient une fois par an pour demander la charité
Une vieille patate, une patate et des gratons.

Capitaine, capitaine voyage ton flag, tout le tour du moyeu.
Une fois par an pour demander la charité
Une vieille patate, une patate et des gratons..

Les Mardi Gras vient de l'Angleterre, tout le tour du moyeu.
Vient une fois par an pour demander la charité
Une vieille patate, une patate et des gratons.
 
The Mardi Gras come from everywhere around the hub.
Once each year to ask for charity
An old potato, a potato and some cracklins.

The Mardi Gras come from everywhere around the hub.
Once each year to ask for charity
An old potato, a potato and some cracklins.

Captain, captain wave your flag, all around the hub.
Once each year to ask for charity.
An old potato, a potato and some cracklins.

The Mardi Gras come from England, all around the hub.
Once each year to ask for charity
An old potato, a potato and some cracklins.

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Listening to Potic Rider's resonant voice leading the Basile Mardi Gras in their begging song is a truly memorable experience. On Mardi Gras day in 1999 when I made this recording, the Mardi Gras gathered under an open barn near dawn at the Basile Town Park to hear instructions from Capitaine Potic Rider. (He is now president of the Basile Mardi Gras Association. The photo of him at the barn was taken in 2003.)
When I first photographed the Creole Mardi Gras in Soileau in 2000, I was very pleased to discover that some of the Mardi Gras still sang an old call-response Mardi Gras chant. Nick Spitzer recorded a version of it in 1976 and included it on the LP/cassette Zodico: Louisiana Creole Music.  For more information on Creole Mardi Gras traditions and the L'Anse de 'Prien Noir Mardi Gras (the Soileau run is an offshoot of this earlier run), see Nicholas R. Spitzer's article "Mardi Gras in L'Anse de 'Prien Noir" in James H. Dormon, ed.,Creoles of Color in the Gulf South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996), 87-125.  The essay includes a transcription of some words from the Creole Mardi Gras chant.

I don't know who is leading the chant in the recording I made. The late McKinley Ceasar Sr. of Basile carried a handheld megaphone for the chant on a few of the runs I witnessed over the years, but I don't believe he is the singer here. As the chant ends, you can hear the Cajun "La chanson de Mardi Gras" playing from a sound truck that accompanied the runners.

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I'm not sure exactly when I recorded the Tee-Mamou women singing their song, but it was a long time ago.  When they approach a home, they whoop and holler as they walk toward the homeowner. Then they stand in front of the homeowner while Capitaine Todd Fruge leads them in singing their song together.  As the song nears the end, the Mardi Gras creep somewhat ominously toward the homeowner and then, at the end, they erupt in raucous shouts.  The small group of musicians who accompany  the run begins to play, and the Mardi Gras dance with family members or find ways to cause playful trouble like stealing a bicycle or climbing a pole. Then, at most stops, the homeowner calls out to the Mardi Gras to let them know it's time for the chicken chase.

I don't have a transcript for this recording, but the Iota Tee-Mamou Mardi Gras Folklife Festival has posted the words with an English translation: http://www.iotamardigras.com/chant.html.  The recorded version omits a couple of verses that are included in the web transcript. For much more information about the run and a complete transcript of the song, see Caroline Ware's Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rule Backwards (University of Illinois Press, 2007).

Here's a link to a 2013 YouTube video that includes most of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4MB9X5ENz4

If no mp3 player is visible, click here to download an mp3 file of the Tee-Mamou song.
During the first few years that I photographed rural Mardi Gras courirs, I also tried a few times to record the songs that the Mardi Gras sang or that a band in a wagon played on some of the courirs. I used a cheap small handheld tape recorder, so the sound quality is not good.  A YouTube search will turn up Mardi Gras videos that have better sound and, of course, you get to see what is going on. But I decided to upload the files anyway for anyone who might be interested in them.

On most browsers, you should be able to click the play button on an mp3 player to listen.  In case no mp3 player is visible, I have included links to the mp3 files, which you can download.

For more information about Mardi Gras songs, see the article by Rocky L. Sexton and Harry Oster, "Une 'Tite Poule Grasse ou la Fille Aînée: A Comparative Analysis of Cajun and Creole Mardi Gras Songs," Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 114, No. 452 (Spring 2001), pp. 204-224. It includes transcripts of two versions of the song recorded in Church Point and transcripts of the Creole chant and Tee-Mamou song, as well as other songs, along with a lot of other information. You can view a summary of the article online.



A Version of the Traditional "La Chanson
de Mardi Gras," Church Point, 1999


The song was recorded in 1999 when the Mardi Gras visited the home of Jim and Betty David just outside of Church Point. Woody Daigle and the Cajun Five played the Mardi Gras song with their wagon parked near a barn while the Mardi Gras danced.  Holding a chicken, Jim David stood in front of a barn loft window. As soon as the band stopped, Jim tossed the chicken, and the Mardi Gras scrambled to catch it.

This is the song heard on many Mardi Gras runs across Southwest Louisiana. Versions of it recorded by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys and by the Balfa Brothers are especially popular. I do not know the name of the accordionist/vocalist who did the version I recorded.
:
Potic Rider Sings the Basile Mardi Gras Song
Before the Run in 1999

After undergoing the traditional search for weapons, they sang their song before they loaded on trailers and began their run. The excitement and enthusiasm of the Mardi Gras are obvious, even in this recording made with a small hand-held machine. Once the song was over, the Mardi Gras surrounded me, each begging insistently until I produced at least "cinq sous."  They returned to beg again and again, even while the co-capitaines whipped them in a vain attempt to keep them under control.

You can see the Basile Mardi Gras singing their song at the barn in a 2013 YouTube clip, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5huDXYg1d0, or view performances of the song while on the run in this 2010 clip,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=US8eeIbV5Vk.

The Basile Mardi Gras Song

Sung by Russell Potic Rider and the Basile Mardi Gras
in the Basile Town Park Barn immediately before the start of the courir, February 16, 1999. French transcription by Helena Putnam supplied by the Basile Mardi Gras Association. The song is led by the captain with the Mardi Gras joining in to sing the refrains.

Capitaine, capitaine, voyage ton flag et hale ton camp.

Chorus: Tout le tour autour du moyeu.

La route est grande, la nuit est longue, et les belles sont pas invitées.
C'est les Mardi Gras, ça vient une fois par an demander la charité.
Une fois par an, c'est pas trop souvent pour vous quand même.

Chorus: C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.
C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.

C'est les Mardi Gras ça devient de loin, ça devient de l'Angleterre*.

Chorus: Tout le tour autour du moyeu.

C'est les Mardi Gras c'est tout des bons jeunes gens,
Des bons jeunes gens ça devient de bonnes familles.

Chorus: Tout le tour autour du moyeu.

C'est pas des malfecteurs. C'est juste des chamondeurs**.

Chorus: C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.
C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.

C'est les Mardi Gras, ça demande à la maitresse,
À la maitresse pour une petite poule grasse et du riz ou de la graisse.

Chorus: Tout le tour autour du moyeu.

Pour faire leur grand gumbo ce soir à Grand Basile.

Chorus: C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.
C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.

Tu me promettrais ci, tu me promettrais ça, mais tu m'en donneras pas.

Chorus: Tout le tour autour du moyeu.
C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.
C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade

Capitaine, Capitaine les sauvages*** ça peut plus chanter à force que leur gorge est sec.

Chorus: Tout le tour autour du moyeu.

Une bonne petite bière fraide [froide] les ferait chanter meilleur.

Chorus: C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.
C'est hip, c'est hip, c'est hop, et mon cher de camarade.


Captain, captain, wave your flag and move your group.

Chorus: All around, around the hub. [Repeated as a refrain.]

The route is long, the night is long, and pretty women aren't invited.
It's the Mardi Gras that come once each year to ask for charity.
Once a year isn't too often for you anyway.

Chorus: It's hip, it's hip, it's hop, and my dear friend.
It's hip, it's hip, it's hop, and my dear friend. [Repeated as a refrain.]

It's the Mardi Gras that come from far away, that come from England.*

It's the Mardi Gras, they're all good young people,
Good young people that come from good families.

They're not evil doers. They're just beggars.**

It's the Mardi Gras that ask the mistress [of the house],
Ask the mistress for a fat little chicken and some rice or lard

To make their big gumbo this evening in big Basile.

You'll promise me this, you'll promise me that, but you won't give me anything.

Captain, captain, the Indians*** can't sing anymore because their throats are dry.
A good little cold beer would make them sing better.

* The Basile song, like the popular Mardi Gras song sung during the Mamou, Eunice, and many other courirs, says that the Mardi Gras come from "l'Angleterre" or England.  This would seem to be an unlikely point of origin for the Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana.  Years ago, after consulting some dictionaries, I conjectured that perhaps the phrase was once "langue de terre"-referring to a tongue of land, i.e., a peninsula. According to Caroline Ware in her book Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rule Backwards (University of Illinois Press, 2007), Potic Rider sings "les langues de terre," carrying the metaphorical meaning of "far away" (footnote 36 on page 201).

** The Dictionary of Louisiana French's main entry for this word uses the spelling "tchamandeur" with "quémandeur" as another alternate. According to Ware, footnote 37 on page 201, Potic Rider sings "les queues d'en bonheur" or "les queues de bonnes heures," - "good-timers" or "early risers" - though, in either case, I don't know what "queues" means in this phrase. To my American ears, Rider sings "chamondeurs" in the 1999 version I recorded, but you can hear the other phrase in the YouTube videos from 2010 and 2013.

*** My speculation is that the noun "sauvages," translated in dictionaries as "Indians," here also includes the meaning of the adjective "sauvage" - "wild" or "untamed" - in reference to the Mardi Gras.

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Creole Mardi Gras Chant Recorded in Soileau in 2000
The Mardi Gras Song of the Tee-Mamou Women
This is a photograph of the late McKinley Ceasar Sr. leading the Creole Mardi Gras chant during the Soileau Mardi Gras run in 2008. As I recall, he was not the lead singer when I made the recording of the chant in 2000.
Reggie Matte on accordion, Ken David on fiddle, and Woody Daigle on triangle are shown in the Church Point Mardi Gras band wagon in 2002. The accordiist/vocalist on the 1999 recording is unidentified.
Capitaine Todd Fruge is shown leading the Tee-Mamou Women Mardi Gras as they sing their song together during the 2006 run.  The recording was made before 2006, but I don't know the exact year.
Listen to Four Mardi Gras Songs
 
 

 
 
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