A Work Song for Haitian Cane Cutters

Grade Level
4–6, 7–9, 10–12, C–U


Audio file
Tomazo na prale

Performers: Group of workers in Haiti 

Activity #1: Singing the Way to Tomazo
1. Listen to 'Tomazo na prale' (Volume 9: #9). Focus students' attention on the musical and textual features of the song via several questions: 

Q: How many singing male voices do you hear?
A: More than one: sometimes one solo voice, sometimes a small group.
Q: Do you hear any repeated melodic phrases?
A: Yes. There is a recurring, repeated phrase, sung by a small group. Later in the song, several other phrases are repeated.
Q: Beyond the singing voices, are there any other musical sounds?
A: There is one other musical source, a percussion sound of a repeated pattern that accompanies the singing.

2. Listen again to the selection (stopping at 38"), find the phrase, 'Tomazo o (e), Tomazo na prale'. In yet a third listening, invite students to count the number of times that this phrase is sung (6 times).

3. Describe the function of this song: To lighten the task of a climb by workers in the hills in a small Haitian town, in search of a site for which a group of men have been contracted for a manual labor job. As the work brigade arrives in the town of Thomazeau and look for the precise place on 'Goat Mountain' at which they will work in the sugar cane fields, they sing together.
4. Say 'Tomazo o (e), Tomazo na prale' (sometimes the men sing 'Tomazo o', while other times they sing 'Tomazo e'). Repeat the phrase multiple times, knowing its meaning, 'Going to Thomaseau'. 

5. Sing the following pitches, the melodic frame of the 'Tomazo' phrase:
d- m- s— d'— l— m- m- s— d- d— 
(Low d (do) pitches are at start and end; pitch 4 is the High d' (do).) 

6. Learn by listening to sing the 'Tomazo' phrase, and sing it every time it appears (up to 38"). 
d- m- s— d'—l—m- m- s— d- d—
To-ma-zo o o To-ma-zo pra- le

7. Clarify the order of the song, and where the 'Tomazo' phrase appears. Note that the 'Tomazo' phrase functions as an antecedent to the paired phrase that follows it. It provides unity and clarity to the song in its repetitions. In an intriguing manner, the 'Tomazo' phrase serves as a 'call', sung by the group, to the soloist's 'response'.

Tomazo o, Tomazo na prale
(Se Mon Kabrit o, Se Mon Kabrit nap monte)
Tomazo e! Tomazo na prale
(Se Tomazo, Tomazo na prale)
Tomazo o, Tomazo m prale
(Se etranje, Se etranje na prale)
Tomazo o, Tomazo m prale
(Bravo mesye! Se etranje, Se etranje na prale)
Tomazo o, Tomazo m prale
(Se Mon Kabrit, Se Mon Kabrit na prale)
Tomazo o, Tomazo m prale

For those who may not know French, in its sung Haitian accent, offer this translation:

Oh! Thomaseau! We're going to Thomazeau.
Here is Goat Mountain. We're climbing up Goat Mountain.
This is to Thomazeau. We're going to Thomazeau.
This is a foreign place. We're going to a foreign place.
Brave gentlemen! This is a foreign place. We're going to a foreign place.
Here is Goat Mountain. We're climbing up Goat Mountain.

Suggested Activity #2: Maintaining a Rapid Rhythm
1. Listen to 'Tomazo na prale' (Volume 9: #9), and use two hands to tap the recurring rhythm played percussively (and very rapidly):
// / /. Eighth, two quarters, dotted quarter 
2. Play the rhythm with two hands on a drum, or with two sticks on a metal or wood surface, while listening to the recording.
3. Tap or play the rhythm while singing the song's opening Tomazo Section (up to 38").

Suggested Activity #3: The Whys of a Work Song
1. List and discuss some of the purposes of singing: For celebrations, ceremonies, play, worship, and work. Ask students why music is traditionally wrapped into these various experiences.
2. Listen to 'Tomazo na prale' (Volume 9: #9), and discuss the function of the song to accompany work (and even the prelude to work: finding the precise place near a town called Thomazeau, up on the hill called Mon Kabrit (Goat Mountain)—where the men will commence their manual labor). Note that the singing of this work song provides energy to the workers, to keep them alert and focused on their task.
3. Note that the song, along with other work songs, was recorded in 1937 by Alan Lomax. He described a konbit, or work brigade, in the sugar cane fields of Haiti: 'The men stand along the three-foot green wall, ten or twelve feet apart. Five or six of them, tossing the cut cane in one or two irregular heaps; these piles, after half the field has been cut, form the center of activity for the men who bind ten to twenty pieces of cane into irregular bundles… ready for the mountain-high two-wheeled gigantic carts.'
4. Discuss how such manual labor could inspire singing, to energize and alleviate the burden and boredom of work.
5. Recall historic work songs 'I've Been Working on the Railroad', 'Erie Canal,' 'Hold On,' 'Paddy Works on the Railway.'

Designed by Patricia Shehan Campbell