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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Boney M - Brown Girl In The Ring (Video, Lyrics, & Comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revised: March 5, 2017

This post features a video of Boney M singing the Caribbean children's song "Brown Girl In The Ring". This post also provides the text of that version, as well as comments about the "Brown Girl In The Ring" game song.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and entertainment purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.
-snip-
The version of the Boney M video that was originally showcased in this post is no longer available (as of March 5, 2017). I embedded another video of that same performance. I also removed two links to other examples of "Brown Girl In The Ring" game performances. Those examples, along with a different Boney M clip of this song, are showcased on this 2017 pancocojams post http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/03/is-caribbean-game-song-brown-girl-in.html.

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EARLY VERSIONS OF "BROWN GIRL IN THE RING"
The Wikipedia page for "Brown Girl In The Ring" (song) whose link is given immediately below notes that "Jamaican poet, actress and singer Louise Bennett recorded the song in 1957 on an album of Children's Jamaican Songs and Games, re-released by Smithsonian Folkways (2007)".

The title "Brown Girl In The Ring" is routinely given for this game song. However, the title "There's a black boy in a ring" is included in a list of "ring tunes" (circle songs) in this 1904 book "Jamaican Song And Story: Annancy Stories, Digging Sings, Ring Tunes, and Dancing Tunes. With introductory essays." by
Walter Jekyll, coll. and edit., 1904 (Dover reprints), The Folk-lore Society, LV. [posted by Q (Frank Staplin) on http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=138255#3168488 "Songbook Indexing: Calypso/Caribbean Songbooks"

That same discussion thread but a different post (comment) includes a listing for a Jamaican song entitled "See Ma Little Brown Boy?". That song is included in the book Calypso Songs Of The West Indies by Massie Patterson and Lionel Belasco (1943).

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PLAY INSTRUCTIONS
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Girl_in_the_Ring_(song)
“Brown Girl in the Ring is a children's ring game thought to have originated in Jamaica.

Players form a ring by holding hands, then one girl or boy goes into the middle of the ring and starts skipping or walking around to the song. The girl or boy is then asked, "Show me your motion." At this point the child in the center does his or her favorite dance. If asked "Show me your partner," he or she picks a friend to join him or her in the circle. It has been played for many centuries in all of Jamaica.”
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While the person in the middle "shows" her or his motion (does a dance or some other movement) the other people forming the circle try to do her or his same motions. Afterwards-according to the group's play instructions- the middle person picks someone to take her or his place.

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INFORMATION ABOUT BONEY M
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boney_M.
Boney M. is a vocal group created by German record producer Frank Farian. Originally based in West Germany, the four original members of the group's official line-up were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Maizie Williams from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell from Aruba. The group was formed in 1975 and achieved popularity during the disco era of the late 1970s. The group has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide with most sales in the UK and Germany.
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INFORMATION ABOUT THE BONEY M VERSION OF "BROWN GIRL IN THE RING"
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Girl_in_the_Ring_(song)
"Arguably the most popular version of the song, Boney M.'s version was originally a single B-side to the group's #1 hit single "Rivers of Babylon" (1978). When "Rivers of Babylon" had slipped to #20 in the UK charts, radio stations suddenly flipped the single, seeing "Brown Girl in the Ring" going all the way to #2 and becoming a hit in its own right. Liz Mitchell had previously recorded the song in 1975 with the group Malcolm's Locks, as the B-side of their single "Caribbean Rock"...

"Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring single is the sixth best-selling single of all time in the UK with sales of 2 million.[3]
1993 Remix."

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FEATURED VIDEO: Boney M - Brown Girl In The Ring 1978



NoMadU55555 Published on Nov 14, 2016
-snip-
This video was added to this post on March 5, 2017 because I found out that the video clip of this same Boney M performance that I had initially embedded is no longer available.

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LYRICS: BROWN GIRL IN THE RING*
(Boney M version)

Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
There's a brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la la
Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
Come on show me your motion
Tra la la la la la
Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Blue Hill water* run dry
Got nowhere to wash my clothes
Blue Hill water* run dry
Got nowhere to wash my clothes

I remember one Saturday night
We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes
I remember one Saturday night
We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes

Beng-a-deng
Beng-a-deng

-snip-
*These lyrics were added to the March 5, 2017 embedded video's discussion thread by Ashraf Ali (in January 2017). Asharaf Ali gave "Blue Hill water" as "old headwaters". I believe "old headwaters" is an incorrect transcription. "Blue Hill" refers to a location in Jamaica).

Here are some explanations about words in this song:
"ring" = circle

**
"in the ring" = standing in the middle of a circle

"She looks like a sugar in a plum" - My guess is that this means that the girl looks very sweet.

**
"johnny-cake"
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnycake
"Johnnycake (also jonnycake, johnny cake, journey cake, shawnee cake and johnny bread) is a cornmeal flatbread that was an early American staple food and is prepared on the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to Jamaica."

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PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S COMMENTS ABOUT THE WORD "BROWN" IN "BROWN GIRL IN THE RING" (Revised March 5, 2017)
On July 7, 2008 a concerned White parent posted a comment in http://loveisntenough.com/2008/07/14/ask-arp-is-it-wrong-to-sing-this-childrens-rhyme/ asking whether the game song "Brown Girl In The Ring" is racist. Tami Winfrey Harris, the Black blogger who is/was the editor of that site, concluded that this song isn't racist. I agree with that "Brown Girl In The Ring" isn't Necessarily or intrinsically racist. However, I do believe that the song originally was racial in that the word "brown" probably was a reference to the children's skin color.

My guess is that this song was composed at least in part to help Black children develop and reinforce self-esteem. I recall reading* that an old version of this song had the title and refrain "Black boy in the ring". However, "Brown girl in the ring" is the title and lyrics that have become fixed for this song. More comments about the word "brown" are found below.

A contemporary way of playing "Brown Girl In The Ring" that I observed at a Caribbean day program in 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area is to sing this game to reinforce children's knowledge of their colors. When "Brown Girl In The Ring" is played that way, the color that is named refers to the color of the blouse or shirt that the person in the center of the circle is wearing. For instance, if the girl in the center of the circle is wearing a "blue" blouse or shirt, the words to the song are "There's a blue girl in the ring". But if the boy in the center of the circle is wearing a red shirt, the words to the song are "There's a red boy in the ring".

But singing "Brown Girl In The Ring" with a multiracial group of people and using different color references for articles of clothing could be problematic because people may think that you are using color references to identify members of different races or ethnicities (with "ethnicity" here meaning the United States definition of "Latino/Hispanic"). I don't believe that "being color blind" is the goal that we should be striving for. Instead, I believe that we should be working for a time when a person's race or ethnicity has no positive or negative valuation. I think that it would be highly unacceptable to teach children a song that points out the differences in color that people have for the sake of doing so or for the sake of patting yourself on the back about how racially accepting you are.

As a point of information, while it's usually acceptable in the United States nowadays for adults to use the references "Black people" and "Brown people", it's no longer socially correct [if it ever was] to use the color references "red people [for Native Americans] and "yellow people" for [East Asians].

Also, notice that the color referent "Brown" and not "Black"* was used in the song "Brown Girl In The Ring" to denote Black people's skin color. Unfortunately, even in the year 2012 because of the history and current conditions of racism, many Black children in the United States, and possibly also in Jamaica where the song "Brown Girl In The Ring" likely originated, consider being called "Black" (or "Blackie") an insult and prefer to be called "Brown". That said, in the United States, in political discourse adults use the phrase "Black & Brown people". In that phrase "Black people" refers to people of African descent [who can have very light skin, brown skin, or very dark skin] and "Brown people" usually refers to Latinos/Hispanics, and other People of Color from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.

I believe that the "Brown Girl In The Ring" game song could have purposely or unwittingly negative consequences -for example if people sing this song in a majority White setting where there is only one or only a few children of color- meaning "children of some black African descent and/or other children whose skin complexion is brown." I've read comments about brown skinned girls who were given “the honor” or the responsibility of playing the role of the "brown girl in the ring". Even if other people thought/think that this is an honor, it may not be considered that way by those "brown skinned girls".

It might be a good idea before playing this game to simply explain to the children that this song is entitled "Brown Girl In The Ring" to help children feel good about themselves. But -given the possible racist or at least culturally insensitive connotations that could result from changing the word "brown" to some other color- I'd probably just sing the "brown girl in the ring" or "brown boy in a ring" words and not replace those words with some other color - regardless of the race or ethnicity of those playing this game. And I would not purposely select a "brown girl" or "a brown boy" in a predominately non-Brown or non-Black group to be the first child in the middle because that "others" that child.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND THANKS
Thanks to Boney M for popularizing the "Brown Girl In The Ring" song. Thanks also to all those who I quoted in this post and thanks to the uploaders of this featured video.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

4 comments:

  1. Blue hill water dry, nowhere to wash my clothes. I remembered one Saturday night, we had fish and Johnny Cake. :)
    Always thought this was originated in The Bahamas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      Although I'm sure "Brown Girl In A Ring" is a Caribbean song, I'm not sure where it originated in the Caribbean. Perhaps it was in the Bahamas.

      Delete
  2. The part Bluehill water dry is from the Bahamas. Blue Hill is a place in New Providence and Boney. M copied the version from Bahamian artist Exuma who recorded it in 1972. Exuma's version is the first version to include that piece. None of the other ones have it before Exuma and Boney M copied it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that information, Anonymous June 24, 2017.

      I appreciate it. As a result of your comment, I found this sound file of Exuma's "Brown Girl In The Ring": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYjYgiL1Kg0 which I've decided to feature in its own pancocojams post.

      I'll add that link here when I publish that post.

      Thanks again!

      Delete