March 18, 2005

On The Ship Of Love (Shoo Rah)

"Ship Of Love" (T. Lynn)
Tamiya Lynn, from Tamiya Lynn, 1992

Tamiya Lynn’s atmospheric “Ship Of Love” uses as its departure and end points lyrics similar to what Fats Domino and Chris Kenner worked with on their rather innocent Shoora Rah songs (“front to front”, “side to side”, “back to back”, “go kiss your lover”, all with “Shoo Rah” repeated between them); but her song’s yearning vocal over primal percussion takes us into an exotic, sensual interpretation of those phrases that builds as she adds her own lyrics and steers us away from childhood into the realm of romantic love. Again, it would be interesting to know if she was re-inventing r&b songs that she undoubtedly heard in the 1960’s, or drawing on an earlier source from childhood. The chant-like nature of this tune tempts me to keep seeking something from the playgrounds of mid-20th century New Orleans to explain the mystery of Shoo Rah.

Although I don’t know how she got hooked up with them, there are some great musicians from the British jazz-fusion group, Fire Merchants, on her eponymous album, Tamiya Lynn . Jack Lancaster arranged the music, co-produced with Tamiya, and plays sax, keyboards and percussion on the CD. You won’t hear them on this song; but the remaining rhythm section is John Goodsall (guitar), Doug Lunn (bass), and Chester Thompson (drums). Among other notable sidemen and soloists is percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, who probably did contribute to this track. But even though the playing on the CD is top notch, and Lynn’s vocals are generally fine, the album never did much for me as a whole. The songwriting just doesn’t move me much, sorry to say. With its smooth jazz-inflected soul and funk with hints of Brazil, it should have worked better than it does. As it is long out of print, maybe you can find a copy used and judge for yourself.

So, this wraps up my Shoo Rah adventure. Hope you were at least entertained, if not fascinated with the subject. I left off one song by Mac Rebennack that appears on some of the demo recordings producer Huey Meaux released on him over the years. Mac (aka Dr. John) says that a lot of that stuff was just tracks of him and a piano that Meaux later overdubbed with a pick-up band and released after Dr. John got famous. Anyway, his Shoo Rah song has lyrics similar to what Domino and Kenner did, but is slow and bluesy. Tamiya Lynn (aka Tami Lynn) worked with Dr. John singing backup over the years; so there is another possible connection to her version. But the enigma of the origin remains.

I posted Ms Lynn's excellent cover of "Mojo Hanna" back on December 12, 2004; and my comments there tell you a bit more about her, if you're interested.


Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Please see my Allen Toussaint post.
I mentioned but didn't post Betty Wright's fine version of Toussaint's "Shoorah Shoorah!" because it is simply a cover of that tune. I chose to use a version by the composer himself.

As I pointed out, Toussaint's version has very little in common with the other Shoo Rah songs I posted, not that there's anyting wrong with that! I guess I could have pointed out, too, that there are several non-New Orleans tunes that use Shoo Rah - one by Elton John and one by Rita Coolidge. Hope y'all will forgive me for not bothering to listen to'em (although I did read the lyrics to Elton's). There's only so far I'll go for research!!!!

11:02 AM, March 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Everybody on South Rampart Street,
They all gettin' down, with that little shoora beat,
they goin: shoora shoora shoora shoora shoora now this
shoora now that"

8:41 PM, February 26, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Any idea about from whence it sprang?

1:50 AM, February 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above quote is from Dr. John’s version of a song entitled Shoora. . .

Now, keeping in mind that where a word comes from, what it means today and why a person uses it can be at least 3 different stories. . . here is one theory on from whence shoora sprang:

I hope this doesn't disappoint you too much but the word shoora comes from. . .can it be true. . . the ARABS!!??! Awww man. . .

Life is too complicated. Thank god for music and beer. Grab a cup of joe, for, at the risk of boring you, here is the history of Arabic (by way of Spain) influence on the U.S.A., Latin America, African Americans, music, blues, jazz and New Orleans. . .

The first wave of black immigrants in North America had more Arabic culture than African, because they had been slaves in Spain & Portugal (rather than having come straight from Africa to the U.S.) which countries were under Arabic (a/k/a Moorish) rule for about 600 years. Spain was ruled by the Moors from about 900 A.D. until the end of the 15th century, around 1492 A.D. That’s a long time. By way of comparison, the U.S.A. will turn 600 in the year 2376.

Between 1502 and 1518, hundreds of blacks migrated to the New World, to work in the mines and for other reasons. Many were born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar) and had, over the course of several generations, exchanged their original African culture for the Moorish (Arabic) culture.

When the last stronghold of the Moors fell at the end of the 15th century in 1492, the rulers of the reunified Spain– you know, good old King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella– gave the go-ahead for the epoch-making voyages of Columbus.

Long before this, the Arabs had kept and traded black slaves back in Spain. They can be seen in old paintings, depicted in various settings of medieval European society. Throughout the Middle Ages, black slaves came from the markets of Alexandria, Tunis, and Tripoli, where Arabic caravans arrived after crossing the desert. Another marketplace was Sicily. Scandinavian Vikings traveling west also encountered these “blåmän” (blå, blue, meant black in Old Norse).

The Arabs had a special view of slavery. Their slaves could be liberated on festive occasions, especially if they could play music and dance. In this way, a free class of black Africans emerged beside the enslaved in Spain. Many dark-skinned Spaniards in Spain today resemble Arabic and African peoples.

Still awake? Stay with me. . .

The first black colonialists thus brought their Arabic music culture with them to the New World, as did the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists to a large extent. Instruments such as the castanets, the tambourine, and to a certain extent the guitar, are Arabic by origin. In the same way, flamenco music is based on Arabic modalities, the “Spanish-Phrygian mode” (on guitar, using Harmonic Minor modes, particularly the 5th mode, you can achieve a wide variety of sounds that blur between sounding Spanish to sounding Middle Eastern). Flamenco singing technique also bears a strong resemblance to the Arabic way of singing.

It was not until around 1530 that the Spaniards began to import slaves directly from Africa. The Portuguese did the same for their colony, Brazil. The management of the profitable slave trade was taken over from the Portuguese by the French and then by the British. It is estimated that around ten million black Africans were moved from Africa in the cruel slave trade until the abolition of slavery around 1870.

The white Protestants in power in the U.S. during slavery had zero tolerance for African culture: they sought to eradicate African culture patterns through systematic separation of slaves from their families, tribes, and even those who spoke the same language. Even drumming a beat was periodically prohibited since it was perceived as rebellious. The Spanish-Arabic roots, however, were not as controversial, as they were viewed as more European (though they were actually Arabic).

In Latin America and the West Indies, where Catholicism (not Protestantism) was dominant, there was more tolerance of African culture; Catholicism in Latin America and the West Indies emphasized more the fact that the slave was a human being, and that the institution of marriage was ordained by God. There was resistance to separating husbands from their wives and children from their parents. African culture– and Spanish-Arabic culture as well– were therefore more easily passed down from generation to generation.

Thus, the Arabic music traditions, as opposed to the African traditions, had more of a chance to be passed on by North America black folk, at least in the earlier years; whereas in Latin America, both were allowed to flourish.

Now to New Orleans. . .

The emergence of early jazz in the Mississippi area and New Orleans is related to the geographical proximity of and communications with Latin America, Cuba and the West Indies.

The history of New Orleans shows evident Spanish influences in addition to the French. Tolerance and rich musical traditions abound through its history. This is also the only region the US designated as Catholic. New Orleans and parts of Louisiana were also Spanish territories during one period (1763-1800). The term “Creole” includes Spanish culture as an important component. The proximity to Mexico also brought with it some Spanish influence.

When one of the great pioneers of New Orleans jazz, Jelly Roll Morton, spoke about the importance of “that Spanish tinge” for jazz, this is an important statement, the deeper implications of which speak to the Arabic influence.

Suffice to say, despite the current political climate regarding Arabs, and their apparent insatiable hatred for us and us for them, even they had a part in weaving the fabric of the intricate music and culture I’m so very proud to call American!

Now, you might be thinking what, pray tell, does this long winded history on Moorish culture have to do with the origins of shoora. . .

The word shoora comes from an Arabic word "shara", the original meaning of which was "to extract honey from hives." For me, this expression sums up the essence of the blues and black spiritual music. . . a sweetness in sound (i.e., the honey) arising from life's strife (i.e., the hive). That’s the trick and miracle of the blues: to be based on Pain, and yet (when done right) to bring Joy. Extracting honey from hives also could conjure up other, perhaps more sexual, ideas and imagery. . .

Well, it one man’s ideas as to the shoora mystery. . . Anyway shoora is a word still used in the Islamic world and its meaning has actually evolved into various secondary meanings, one of which is consultation and deliberation. The way in which consultation and deliberation bring forth ideas and opinions from people was seen to be analogous to the extracting of honey from hives.

P.S. my second theory is that shoora in American music is just another or perhaps a combo of the meaningless, percussive fillers “shoo-bee-do-bee”, “shoo-da-wop” and “ra-ra-ra” heard in so many songs (perhaps with a touch of "too-ra-loo-ra-loo” thrown in?)!

3:48 PM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Man. . . and I thought I was a music history geek. I'm not worthy!
Just kidding; but, seriously, that you would take to time to go into such detail astounds and humbles me. Don't you even want to take a little credit and tell us who you are? I am going to consider putting your comments up at the end of this post in the archives for more to see.

Your first theory has some elements that could be debated over many beers (and I'd enjoy that)- but I get your drift. The African diaspora had a torturous path and is more complicated than any of us may imagine. Certainly elements of other cultures have been deposited along the way. Also, reading this, I was reminded of the percussive Gnawa music of Morocco that came from the slaves brought there from the interior of Africa, speaking of comingling with Arabic culture.

That said, your second theory seems more plausible to me as it relates to these songs. As I think I mentioned, my ex-wife, a music teacher, found some of the Shoora songs with their repetitions similar to children's playground chants. There was one she mentioned that used the word "zero" at the end of each line. An approximation of "shoora", or is "shoora" a slurred version of "zero"? Maybe we will always have more questions than answers on this one. Still,
thanks so much for the valuable contribution.

9:47 PM, March 04, 2006  

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