Friday, March 3, 2017

Information About The 19th Century Black American "Coonjine" Dance & An Example Of The New Orleans Black Creole Song "Criole Candjo"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases the 19th century New Orleans, Louisiana Black Creole song entitled "Criole Candjo".

Information about the 19th century -if not earlier- African American dance form known as "coonjine" and similar sounding names such as "counjaille", "coonjar", "cundio", "candjo", and "koundjo") is also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, cultural, and etymological information.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the early collectors and publishers of this information and this song and special thanks to the memory of Q (Frank Staplin), a Mudcat Folk music forum commenter whose post (comment) I am showcasing.

Pancocojams Editor:
The following excerpt is showcased in Part I of a two part 2013 pancocojams series entitled "In Search Of Information About Counjaille & Coonjine Songs & Dances"

Part I of that series provides excerpts from material that provides information about those songs and dances. I also share my speculations in that post about why I think that counjaille and coonjine songs and dances seem to have been largely forgotten.

Part II of that series presents information about coonjine songs and eight examples of songs or song fragments that include the word "coonjine" or "coonshine".

From Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings Joshua Clegg Caffery (Google Book, pp. 247-249)
"The word coonjine, as it is employed here, as it was apparently most commonly understood in nineteenth- century America, refers to the particular body movements enacted by black workers while unloading or loading freight (Hardie 2004, 115-16). While the word was associated with these movements, it could also apply to any songs or dances performed by these laborers while going about their work. More broadly, the word came to be associated with any riparian African American song and dance style.

The roots of the word coonjine extend well beyond this meaning, and some have noted that it likely relates to the term counjaille, a dance popular in Creole communities in French Louisiana and the West Indies (Knowles 2002, 63-64). In the seminal Slave Songs Of The South, for instance, mention is made of a counjaille being performed in St. Charles Parish (a “sort of minuet”), suggesting that the counjaille in question may have been part of the complex of quadrille/contredanse sets found disseminated throughout Creole culture (Allen et al, 1867, 137).

Counjaille or Coonjine may also relate to the Haitian dance known as the koudyay or the Nicaraguan kujai. Although these dances are wildly different, their names have a common linguistic root in the West Indian dance performance known as “coup de jaille” (meaning a spontaneous spouting forth), a term that seems to have originated in colonial French military and political celebrations (Manuel, 2009, 31). In 1937 John Lomax recorded a song that referenced dancing the counjallee from a self-described Creole Haitian descendant in a nursing home in New Orleans (AFS 809 A01). In general, then, like European dance forms like the mazurka, quadrille, or jig, counjaile functioned as a basic name for a dance movement that accompanied a wide variety of vernacular, creolized associations.

It should also be mentioned that coonjine performers in the United States were among the most visible exponents of African American oral art in the 19th century. As steamboat roustabouts, they were in close contact with white people of various ethnic and economic backgrounds – a context that allowed their performances to permeate the boundaries of race and class. Not surprisingly, many of the early blackface minstrel performers may have based their performances of the songs and dances of the musical roustabouts (Kenney, 2005, 29-30), and roustabout coonjine songs may have marked an intermediate phase between plantation performances and the explosion of minstrelsy in the mid nineteenth century- a middle stage of African American vernacular music’s absorption into America’s popular music consciousness.”
Italics were included in that book.

From African American Secular Folk Songs

From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Jun 05 - 09:59 PM

Arr. by H. E. Krebiel

(Creole coonjar, cundio, Koundjo, counjaille)

In zou' in zéne Criole candjo,
Belle passé blanc dan-dan là yo,
Li té tout tans apé dire,
"Vini, zamie, pou' nous rire."
"Non, Miché, m'pas oulé rire moin,
Non Miché, m'pas oulé rire;
Non, Miché, m'pas onlé rire moin,
Non, Miché, m'pas oulé rire."

Mo courri dans youn bois viosin,
Mais Criole là prend même ci min,
Et tous tans li m'apé dire,
"Vini, zamie, pou' nous rire."
"Non, Miché, m'pas oulé rire moin,
Non, Miché, m'pas oulé rire."

Mais li té tant cicané moi,
Pou li té quitté moin youn fois
Mo té 'blizé pou' li dire,
"Oui, Miché, mo oulé rire,
Oui, Miché, mo oulé rire moin,
Oui, Miché, mo oulé rire."

Zant tous qu'ap'ès rire moin là-bas
Si zaut te conne Candjo là,
Qui belle façon li pou' rire,
Djé pini moin! zaut s'ré dire,
"Oui, Miché, mo oulé rire moin,
Oui, Miché, mo oulé rire."

One day one young Creole Candio,
Mo' fineh dan sho' nuff white beau,
Kip all de time meckin' free,
"Swit-hawt, meck merrie wid me!"
"Naw, sah, I dawn't want meck merrie, me,
Naw sah, I dawn't want meck merrie;
Naw sah, I dawn't want meck merrie, me,
Naw sah, I dawn't want meck merrie!"

(I go teck walk in wood close by,
But Creole teck same road and try
All time all time to meck free-
"Swithawt, meck merrie wid me."
"Naw sah, I dawn't want meck merrie, me,
Nah sah, I dawn't want meck merrie."

But him slide 'round an 'round dis chile,
Tell jis fo' sheck 'im off lill while
Me I was bleedze fo' say: "Shoo!
If I'll meck merrie wid you?
O, yass, I ziss leave meck merrie, me,
Yass, sah, I ziss leave meck merrie."

You-alls wat laugh at me so well,
I wish you'd knowed dat Creole swell,
Wid all 'is swit, smilin' trick.
'Pon my soul! you'd done say, quick,
"O, yass, I ziss leave meck merrie, me.
Yass, sah. I ziss leave meck merrie,"

The melody written down by Mr. Macrum. English paraphrase by George W. Cable. A note to Krehbiel from Lafcadio Hearn who (at that time a resident of New Orleans), says: "My quadroon neighbor, Mamzelle Eglantine, tells me that the word koundjo (in the West Indies Candio or Candjo) refers to an old African dance which used to be danced with drums. The 'Criole Candjo' ... is sort of a [black] Creole dandy who charms and cajoles women by his dancing- what the French would call un beau valseur."

pp. 118-120, H. E. Krehbiel, 1913, "Afro-American Folk-Songs." Krehbiel corresponded with Lafcadio Hearn in New Orleans in the period 1877-1884, and discussed this and other secular songs with him. George Cable was in correspondence with both Krehbiel and Hearn, and inchuded the above version of the song, credited to krehbiel, in the article "Creole Slave Songs," printed in the Century Magazine, 1886.

Cable, in his description of dances he saw in Place Congo, said the counjaile was accompanied by posing, breast-patting and chanting. He remarked that the counjaile songs were never complete, ending only at the caprice of the improvisator, "whose rich, stentorian voice sounded alone between the refrains. Of the dancers, cable said, "let one flag, another has his place, and a new song gives new vehemence, new inventions in steps, turns, and attitudes." Cable, 1885, "The Dance in Place Congo," Century Magazine, vol. 31, pp. 517-532, Dec.

The Century Magazine is reproduced on line,"
The hyperlink that was given for the Century Magazine now goes to this link

*I started this Mudcat discussion thread in May 2005.

In the post [comment] that I wrote immediately after Q's post about the song "Criole Candjo", I indicated that I didn't find any information about the "candjo" dance in three books I had at home about Black dance in the United States. But I (somewhat) redeemed myself in my next comment in which I corrected my previous guess that "candjo" might have been a referent for another Black Caribbean/Black American dance such as the "calinda" or the "chica":

Subject: RE: African American Secular Folk Songs
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Jun 05 - 08:41 AM

More on 'Candjo':

See this excerpt from harold Courlander's Negro Folk Music, U.S.A {Columbia University Prss, p. 192; 1968} that refutes what I wrote earlier:

"The term Counjaille, or Coonjine, is still used in southern United States waterfront areas to mean moving or loading cotton, an activity that once in all probability, was accompanied by Counjaille-type songs and rhythms. Negro children on the docks and levies sang such songs as:

Throw me a nickel, throw me a dime
if you want to see me do the Coonjine."


I take it the children were asking White passerbyers to throw them money and they would do a dance that was patterned after movements made by those loading cotton."...

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Here's the rest of that June 6, 2005 post that I wrote about that historical "thrown me a nickel, throw me a dime" song snippet:

    I remember this verse pattern when I was growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey {1950s, early 1960s} as

    You get a nickel, and I'll get a dime
    And we'll go out and buy some wine.
    Drinkin wine, wine, wine
    Drinkin wine, wine, wine
    Drinkin wine all the time.


    This might have come from some recorded song that we had heard."
    I didn't mean to imply that the song that I remembered from my childhood was sung while dancing for money or otherwise.

    I just remember singing it at home (without any dancing being performed). Because my family was very religious, any lyrics about drinking wine (except for church communion) was kinda risque. So this was definitely not a song that was sung around adults.

  2. Here's a long excerpt from this article Black Creoles of Louisiana - History and Cultural Relations
    "Perhaps as many as twenty-eight thousand slaves arrived in eighteenth-century French- and then Spanish-held Louisiana from West Africa and the Caribbean....

    Among those eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Louisiana Creoles with African ancestry, a higher percentage than in the rest of the American South was freed from slavery in Louisiana, owing in part to French and Spanish attitudes toward acknowledgment of social and biological mingling. These cultural differences from the Anglo South were expressed in laws (such as Le Doce Noir and Las Siete Partidas in Louisiana and the Caribbean) that governed relations to slaves and their rights and restrictions and provided for manumission in a variety of circumstances. Of those freed from slavery, a special class in the French West Indies and Louisiana resulted from relationships characteristically between European planter/mercantile men and African slave or free women. This formative group for Black Creoles was called gens libres de couleur in antebellum times. In New Orleans, these "free people of color" were part of the larger Creole (that is, not American) social order in a range of class settings from French slaves, laborers, and craftsmen to mercantilists and planters. Some of these "Creoles of color," as they were also sometimes called, owned slaves themselves and had their children educated in Europe.

    Various color terms, such as griffe, quadroon , and octoroon, were used in color/caste-conscious New Orleans to describe nineteenth-century Creoles of color in terms of social categories for race based on perceived ancestry. Given the favored treatment of lighter people with more European appearance, some Creoles would passe blanc (pass for White) to seek privileges of status, economic power, and education denied to non-Whites.

    In times of racial strife from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, Black Creoles were often pressured to be in one or another of the major American racial categories. Such categorization has often been a source of conflict in Creole communities with their less dichotomized, more fluid Caribbean notion of race and culture."

    1. Here's an excerpt from Creoles

      ...."Contemporary Creoles
      Although some white southern Louisianans reject the Cajun label and continue to call themselves Creoles, the term is used today most commonly in reference to those of full or partial African heritage. Like their ancestors, these Creoles are typically of French-speaking, Catholic heritage (distinguishing them from other Louisianans of African heritage who derive from English-speaking, Protestant heritage). Significant populations of these Creoles can be found in New Orleans, the Acadiana region of southern Louisiana, the Cane River/Isle Brevelle area near Natchitoches, and in East Texas as far west as Houston.

      Moreover, a notable population of Creoles of African descent exists in California, the result of decades of immigration to Creole enclaves in places such as Oakland and San Francisco.
      Ethnic group members themselves continue to use the terms black Creole in reference to Creoles presumed to be solely of African descent and Creole of color in reference to Creoles of mixed-race heritage. Increasingly, however, both African-derived groups have put aside old animosities based largely on skin color and social standing to work for mutual preservation. They often describe themselves simply as Creoles, despite criticism from Afrocentric groups like the Un-Cajun Committee of Lafayette. Members of that group call on Creoles of African descent to reject their Creole identity and to refer to themselves solely as African Americans.

      Regardless, since 1982, Creoles of African descent have operated the Lafayette-based preservation group, C.R.E.O.L.E., Inc. (Cultural Resourceful Educational Opportunities toward Linguistic Enrichment), whose adopted flag reflects the West African origins of both Creoles of color and black Creoles."....

    2. "Black Creole" in this post and in other pancocojams posts refers to Creoles of any Black African heritage.