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Rhiannon Giddens, vocals and minstrel banjo;
Jamie Dick, percussion;
Dirk Powell, fiddle;
Jason Sypher, bass

La melodia di “Better Git Yer Learnin’ è attribuita al banjoista ottocentesco Thomas F. Briggs, ma al testo originario, pieno di luridi stereotipi razzisti, le nostre hanno sostituto liriche considerando il punto di vista di uno schiavo emancipato.  
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rhiannon-giddens


The tune for this song is attributed to the banjo performer Thomas F. Briggs, found in a banjo method book published in 1855 entitled Briggs’ Banjo Instructor. It provides an early glimpse into that first truly American cultural sensation, the minstrel show. These tunes were published with no words, which gave me the opportunity to engage with them as pieces of music with no baggage. After learning quite a few, I braced myself to read the original lyrics, and was faced with a mountain of offensive sentiments and the degraded characters of the “minstrel nigger” and “plantation darky.” I thought about what an actual emancipated ex-enslaved person might have to say in a song like this, and “Better Git Yer Learnin’” was born. Each verse refers to well-known difficulties in the African American world of the mid-1800s, and all around education. Education was what the enslaved person wanted above all else, yet even trying to learn to read was often a punishable offense.
After the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in 1863 (many in Texas and other territories didn’t find out until the June of two years later—a date celebrated by the holiday Juneteenth), young teachers (white and black) who graduated from schools like Oberlin went to teach at newly formed schools for black children all over the South, but the conditions were so bad many of them took sick and died, or gave up.
Where all-black schools were established, sometimes white supremacists would blow them up. Opportunities for education were hard to come by but, to a newly freed per- son, worth fighting for. — RG
Dal libretto dell'album
When I was just a little pick (*)
I almost learnt from cousin Nick
Ol’ Massa found out sure enough
And poor ol’ Nick he got strung up

Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Before it goes away

The year was 1863,
A paper said that I was free
But no one read it to my ears
And so I slaved for two more years

Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Before it goes away

A teacher came from Ohio
To learn us what we’d need to know
Before she told us what was what
She up and died of whooping cough

Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Before it goes away

I heard about a school was free
Way out east in Tennessee
Before I got to go to town
The damned ol’ Rebs had burned it down

Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Before it goes away

So now that I am old and gray
Listen close to what I say
The white folks they will write the show
If you can’t read
You’ll never know

Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Before it goes away
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Better git yer learnin’
Before it goes away
(*) short for “pickaninny,” a common term for a young black child

Contributed by Dq82 - 2019/4/13 - 17:56



Language: Italian

Traduzione italiana / Italian translation / Traduction italienne / Italiankielinen käännös:
Riccardo Venturi, 14-04-2019 08:55
MEGLIO CHE IMPARI

Quand'ero un ragazzino
Quasi avevo imparato dal cugino Nick [1]
Il vecchio padrone [2] lo venne più o meno a sapere
E il povero Nick finì impiccato

Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari
Prima che questo finisca

L'anno era il 1863,
Un documento diceva che ero libero
Ma nessuno me lo leggeva a voce alta [3]
E così rimasi schiavo per altri due anni

Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari
Prima che questo finisca

Venne un'insegnante dall'Ohio
A insegnarci quel che avevamo da sapere
Prima di poterci dire come stavan le cose
Se ne morì di tosse canina

Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari
Prima che questo finisca

Sentii dire che c'era una scuola a gratis
A est laggiù lontano nel Tennessee
Prima di farcela a arrivare in città
Quei maledetti Ribelli [4] l'avevan già data alle fiamme

Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari
Prima che questo finisca

Così ora che sono vecchio e canuto
Ascolta da vicino quel che dico:
I bianchi scriveranno il copione
E se tu non sai leggere
Non saprai mai nulla

Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari
Prima che questo finisca
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari,
Meglio che impari
Prima che questo finisca.
[1] Cioè, a leggere e scrivere.

[2] “Massa”, il modo in cui gli schiavi negri chiamavano il padrone bianco, è il modo in cui veniva pronunciata la parola “Master”.

[3] Alla lettera: “Me lo leggeva negli orecchi”, chiaramente per il fatto che chi ascoltava non sapeva leggere.

[4] Si riferisce ai suprematisti bianchi ribellatisi contro l'Atto di Emancipazione.

2019/4/14 - 08:56



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