Ardoin as Ancestor and Artist: Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone by Amede Ardoin

By Daniel Garrett

Amede Ardoin, Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone
Tompkins Square Records, 2011

“Nou gen en bal aswa-la” is Creole for “We’re having a dance tonight.”  It is the language long spoken by the black French Catholics of south Louisiana.  “Language is an integral part of one’s identity, and the Creole language suffered from the same racist derision and oppression as did the people who invented and used it,” writes Sybil Kein in regard to black French or Creole poetry in “The Use of Louisiana Creole in Southern Literature” (Creole, Louisiana State University Press, 2000; page 131).  Kein, who claims that Armand Lanusse’s 1845 anthology Les Cenelles featuring seventeen Creole poets is the first collection of Afro-American poetry, discusses secular “Creole songs” composed by enslaved Africans in America, but makes a distinction between those and “zydeco or LaLa, the dance music of the country part of Louisiana, which was influenced by blues and rock and roll, although a few tunes overlap the categories” (Creole, page 122).  Amede Ardoin is seen as one of the pioneers of zydeco by those who know Louisiana music; and zydeco bears some resemblance to the reeling banjo and fiddle dance music known to different countries, including Mali and England and Ireland (hearing zydeco, I sometimes think of Irish music and other times of the Appalachian bluegrass music of America).  The musical pioneer Amede Ardoin was born March 11, 1898 and his death date is given as November 4, 1941, though the circumstances of that death remain in dispute; yet, the happy-sad music of Amede Ardoin lives, appreciated by lovers of the black French Louisiana style he performed.  Was Amede Ardoin run down by a car of white men because a white woman lent the dark-skinned Ardoin a handkerchief with which to wipe his face during a dance performance?  Was Amede Ardoin poisoned by a jealous musician?  Was Amede Ardoin relegated to a madhouse, in which he died?  Questions remain.  What we know is that Amede Ardoin, a Creole singer with a high, plaintive sound and an accordionist with a bold blare and songs of family, longing, struggle, adventure and pleasure, performed with Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee (born January 26, 1893, died October 3, 1989); and Ardoin’s work influenced both Creole and Cajun music—previously, for one thing, the accordion had not been considered a prominent part of Cajun music.  Ardoin was called “a hugely influential musician with a legend sunk in a ghostly past,” by writer-musician Dege Legg in the Independent Weekly (March 16, 2011), introducing the thirty-four songs of Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone.  It is a little troubling to think that a man’s lifetime oeuvre could consist of only thirty-four songs, but when the songs are good, loved, and important, there is more joy than trouble.  The songs of Amede Ardoin may be considered folk music or world music; whatever the comforting or confining category, his work is art.

DanielGarrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett, who likes jazz, independent rock, and world music, originated two internet logs: one focused on culture and social issues, “City and Country, Boy and Man,” and one focused on books, “The Garrett Reader.”  He has been writing a novel, A Stranger on Earth.  Contact: dgarrett31@hotmail or