Fat Tuesday – Eh La Bas!

Today’s  the day we call in England  Shrove Tuesday. We’re apparently all supposed to get shriven by doing a penance before Lent . Another name for the occasion is Pancake Day, although I’m not sure what sort of pennance it is to be forced to eat pancakes.

Further afield the name for this day is a bit more glamorous. Mardi Gras, which I translated using my schoolboy French as Fat Tuesday, doesn’t make me think of pancakes but of carnivals. And being brought up in a house surrounded by Jazz, it makes me think of New Orleans and the wonderful marching bands that played not just during the Mardi Gras parades but at  just about every occasion for which they could find an excuse, including funerals.

The Mardi Gras parades gave rise to many of the great tunes of New Orleans Jazz, many of them named after the streets through which the parade would travel, mainly in  the famous French Quarter. Basin Street, South Rampart Street, and Bourbon Street are among the names redolent with history for Jazz fans and musicians around the world. I also remember a record by Humphrey Lyttelton‘s 1950s band called Fat Tuesday.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras has on recent occasions sometimes got a bit out of hand, and you probably wouldn’t want to take kids into the French Quarter for fear they would see things they shouldn’t. Personally, though, I’d love the chance to savour the atmosphere and watch the parades.  Anyway, here’s an infectious little number performed for you by the inestimable Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans; the Preservation Hall is located in the French Quarter. It’s a traditional song with original lyrics in the local Creole Patois, but often also performed in standard French. The words are all about eating, which makes it somewhat relevant to today, although that’s only their surface meaning. You might recognize the tune from other songs that borrowed the theme, but this one is the Daddy! You don’t often hear it played with as strong a Caribbean influence on the rhythm as this version, and the excellent banjo solo is evocative of the Cajun music or Louisiana, but that blending of cultures and traditions is exactly what made New Orleans such an important place in musical history…



8 Responses to “Fat Tuesday – Eh La Bas!”

  1. It should spell, Hé là bas… At least in my patois!

  2. And in mine it should spell “penance”.

  3. Dave McLaughlin Says:

    I believe the pancake thing was symbolic of clearing out the cupboards in one last orgy of fun before 40 days of living on a diet of sackcloth and ashes – or something like that. Mardi gras is the same thing, give or take a couple of orders of magnitude.

    Thanks for the song. I enjoyed it!

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