Wednesday, 2 March 2016

I've had "La Danse de Mardi Gras" as an Ohrwurm for the past fortnight - please make it stop!

I woke up with it playing in my head one night two weeks ago, and it's been a persistent companion ever since. The version that's burrowed its way into my brain is by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys:

I've had that on iTunes for several years, and featured it in a post about Cajun music in 2012. I'm pretty sure I haven't played any Cajun music for a while, so I've no idea why it should have popped into my head now, or why it won't pop off again. I suppose I should just be thankful that it's such a great track, a febrile, bittersweet sound full of yearning (as uptempo numbers featuring minor chords often are), propelled by a maddeningly insistent rhythm. This afternoon, I gave up hope that it would just go away if I ignored it (because that's not how earworms work), so I did some research instead. According to this fascinating article, The Mardi Gras Song "is most commonly heard within the context of a traditional Cajun Mardi Gras run... and is played as the Mardi Gras 'runners' travel from house to house begging for ingredients for a gumbo." The same article tells us "its modal sound and melodic form are indicative of old Breton (French Celtic) melodies." So now we know.

Apart from Steve Riley's version, several notable recordings are available. Here, accompanied by some oddly unsettling video of what is presumably a Mardi Gras run, are the legendary Balfa Brothers with a more traditional, drum-free reading (featuring, unless my ears deceive me, some intriguing discords):

I don't know about you, but if I came across scenes like that while driving across rural Louisiana, I'd probably floor the gas pedal - but, then, I never was that adventurous.  And here is a terrific Creole (i.e. black) version by Cedric Watson:

All together now: "Capitaine, capitaine, voyage ton flag..."

If writing this post doesn't work, I might have to call in an exorcist.


  1. I've always tried to replace one worm with another - and none better than perhaps one of Tchaikovky's most wonderful creations, the middle movement of his hardly-known second piano concerto - which is almost a triple concerto. Listen and weep.

    1. Absolutely gorgeous, mahlerman - I probably enjoy Tchaikovsky's music more instantly and completely than any other composer's. But this is too subtle to ever be one of my earworms, which are usually uptempo and musically more obvious (for instance, I've been living with various snatches of Janacek's parping brass from the Sinfonietta on and off for many years - especially the bit that acted as the theme music for "Crown Court"!) My earworms tend to be relatively short - usually two bars at most - and it's just as likely to be something I hate as something I love. And they don't have to be musical - I'm particularly susceptible to lines from films and punchlines from jokes, even though I'm not a great lover of jokes. I'd gladly put up with all that mental clutter if I could just stop my decades-long habit of imagining myself falling from high places just as I'm about to "drop off" to sleep. A spell on the therapist's couch beckons!

  2. Try "Everyone has gone to the Moon" by Jonathan King or "Two Little Boys" by Rolf Harris.

  3. It's odd isn't it. You don't tend to hear those two on the radio these days, a point I made to the BBC when I asked them if they had any plans to bring back It's a Knockout.

  4. These deplorable comments remind me of the comedian Lee Hurst's recent tweet regarding BBC coverage of Europe's migrant crisis:

    "The BBC appears to have cameras that can find a child in a crowd of thousands of young men, but not on BBC premises."