A Lost Language, Set to Music

New Orleans has always been a melting pot for different cultures. A prime example is this interesting musical collaboration, featured on The Raw Story, between French jazz ensemble Mezcal Jazz Unit and the Native American blues/jazz-influenced Grayhawk Band. Grayhawk Band is headlined by Grayhawk Perkins, a historian for the Muskogee Nation, and the Mezcal Jazz Unit makes a point of seeking out indigenous artists from around the world to collaborate with.

In the article, Mezcal Jazz Unit bassist Emmanuel de Gouvello explained his group’s approach:

“We have to do something that is not usual world music, you know, just putting some drums or electronics on it. We have to respect the tradition, but do something new.”

The two bands collaborated on songwriting long-distance, then met up in New Orleans to practice before touring the state. The result was a one-of-a-kind sound. Perkins said,

“It was really intriguing for me to have him come in and say ‘Hey, I’d like to take that traditional [sound] and see what I can do…I can feel that French jazz style to it, which I don’t get here. I get more of that New Orleans jazz-funk style when I do my music.”

Called “3 Moon” after the Muskogee calendar, the band’s songs are based on Muskogee folklore and traditions. Even more intriguing: they are all performed in Mobilian, a pidgin language that different Native American groups used to communicate hundreds of years ago.

Nobody’s sure how long Mobilian was in use. Some scholars say that the tribes used it to communicate before Europeans arrived on the continent, and that influences from French, Spanish and English were incorporated later. Others say that it arose as a response to European settlement. Either way, it’s been extinct since the 1960’s. If you want to get a feel for it, I found a tutorial for you below. Hearing it set to music must be pretty cool. As Perkins described it,

“Here we are, doing almost exactly what our ancestors did 300 years ago. It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely a historic moment.”

 

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