Red_Dawn

Rebecs in the Caribbean

12 posts in this topic

Hope I'm asking this in the right section.

One of my pirate characters is a free black Haitian woman who was a street musician before she went to sea. I asked about suitable period instruments on another forum and one of the suggestions was a rebec. From what I could find out, it was fading in popularity, but still in use. In the right hands, it doesn't sound half bad. I'm kind of leaning toward it, since it fulfills most of my requirements (portable, cheap, gender/race-neutral, etc.). Problem is, while I know it was readily available in Europe, I have no idea if they were readily available in the Caribbean. Why not switch her to a violin, you ask? Because I've heard it wasn't consider a woman's instrument at the time.

Does anyone here know about rebec in the Caribbean? Thanks!

P.S. By the way, how'd they treat street musicians back then, male or female? Thanks again!

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Hope I'm asking this in the right section.

One of my pirate characters is a free black Haitian woman who was a street musician before she went to sea. I asked about suitable period instruments on another forum and one of the suggestions was a rebec. From what I could find out, it was fading in popularity, but still in use. In the right hands, it doesn't sound half bad. I'm kind of leaning toward it, since it fulfills most of my requirements (portable, cheap, gender/race-neutral, etc.). Problem is, while I know it was readily available in Europe, I have no idea if they were readily available in the Caribbean. Why not switch her to a violin, you ask? Because I've heard it wasn't consider a woman's instrument at the time.

Does anyone here know about rebec in the Caribbean? Thanks!

P.S. By the way, how'd they treat street musicians back then, male or female? Thanks again!

I don't know about the Caribbean but I can confirm that they were still around well into the 18th century as a folk instrument mainly used for dance music. Here is a site with the history of the rebec. Here is a relevant quote:

A similar ordinance over a century later from Guignon in 1742 resticts the "amusement of the people in the streets and the public houses" to the "three stringed rebec" and especially forbade the playing of the noble four stringed violin.

I'm not sure why a violin would not be considered a woman's instrument. There are paintings of women playing other stringed instruments such as the Viole da Gamba. Here is one from the second half of the 17th century. Here's another. But a viole would be too expensive (to say nothing of too large and heavy) for a street musician.

A couple of notes about the rebec. By this period they were made from shaped strips like a lute instead of being carved from a single piece of wood. The earlier paintings show it played from the shoulder but I find it easier to play from the arm.

Mark

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The West Indies were colonies of France, Britain, Spain and Holland. Therefore, what was in fashion in that time in the mother country, arrived to the colonies 1 year later too! Including musical instruments.

Red Dawn, I would like to know more about your Haitian pirate... I might find her a place aboard the "Caribbean Siren" if you want to spend some time with us "Before the Mast" ;) .

Edited by Elena

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Hi,

I'm not sure about how they treated street musicians, and someone else has answered the question about wether or not the rebec is OK for your place and time. The why of certain instruments, as far as wether or not women were supposed to play them, basically comes down to what was deemed appropriate for a "lady". A violin distorts the woman's form, and was therefore considered unattractive. Any instrument that needed to be held between the legs to play it was considered suggestive. An instrument that was blown was also considered unattractive because one puffs out the cheeks and distorts the face (recorder, trumpet). This info comes from a lecture I attended many years ago, and it might be appropriate to examine it further, as new information might have come to light since then.

You may want to email David and Ginger Hildebrand, who have done a lot of research on period music, and see what they say. They're nice folks. http://www.colonialmusic.org/d&gstud.htm

Hope this helps!

Mistress Dobyns

Hope I'm asking this in the right section.

One of my pirate characters is a free black Haitian woman who was a street musician before she went to sea. I asked about suitable period instruments on another forum and one of the suggestions was a rebec. From what I could find out, it was fading in popularity, but still in use. In the right hands, it doesn't sound half bad. I'm kind of leaning toward it, since it fulfills most of my requirements (portable, cheap, gender/race-neutral, etc.). Problem is, while I know it was readily available in Europe, I have no idea if they were readily available in the Caribbean. Why not switch her to a violin, you ask? Because I've heard it wasn't consider a woman's instrument at the time.

Does anyone here know about rebec in the Caribbean? Thanks!

P.S. By the way, how'd they treat street musicians back then, male or female? Thanks again!

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Something I should warn you about. I've played both the rebec and the wipplestix (a good substitute for a dance master's fiddle) in public. No one listens to you playing. They want to ask about the instrument.

Sometimes historic accuracy can be distracting. A violin will be less distracting than a rebec even if it is less accurate.

Mark

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Check out the dancing master pochette....it's the child of the rebec.....

Also, since you're a Black Haitian Creole, you have the perfect opportunity there to use a strum-strum/banjar (the early gourd banjo that developed in the caribbean, mixing African and European forms). It took 100 years for it to slowly seep into the white population, but I bust one out sometimes when doing an indentured servant or sailor from a slaver.

Cheers,

Adam C.

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Thanks, guys! This helps a lot.

A couple of notes about the rebec. By this period they were made from shaped strips like a lute instead of being carved from a single piece of wood. The earlier paintings show it played from the shoulder but I find it easier to play from the arm.

Thanks, MarkG. Good to know for descriptions.

Something I should warn you about. I've played both the rebec and the wipplestix (a good substitute for a dance master's fiddle) in public. No one listens to you playing. They want to ask about the instrument.

Sometimes historic accuracy can be distracting. A violin will be less distracting than a rebec even if it is less accurate.

^_^ So true! It would be easier to write "violin" than to explain what a rebec is. And I could technically get away with having her play a violin, since I'm writing cheese and she's not exactly lady-like. Still, I wanted to look at other options.

The West Indies were colonies of France, Britain, Spain and Holland. Therefore, what was in fashion in that time in the mother country, arrived to the colonies 1 year later too! Including musical instruments.

Good point, Elena. It wasn't exactly a new instrument at the time, either.

The why of certain instruments, as far as wether or not women were supposed to play them, basically comes down to what was deemed appropriate for a "lady". A violin distorts the woman's form, and was therefore considered unattractive. Any instrument that needed to be held between the legs to play it was considered suggestive. An instrument that was blown was also considered unattractive because one puffs out the cheeks and distorts the face (recorder, trumpet).

So some instruments would make her look "ugly" and others might get her labeled as a tramp. I'll have to keep that in mind, Mistress Dobyns.

You may want to email David and Ginger Hildebrand, who have done a lot of research on period music, and see what they say. They're nice folks.

Hmm, they mention guitars on their site. I almost gave here a guitar, but I didn't know if the lower classes could use or afford one. I may have to make a more generalize instrument thread.

Also, since you're a Black Haitian Creole, you have the perfect opportunity there to use a strum-strum/banjar (the early gourd banjo that developed in the caribbean, mixing African and European forms). It took 100 years for it to slowly seep into the white population, but I bust one out sometimes when doing an indentured servant or sailor from a slaver.

Actually, Adam C., it's not for re-enactment; it's for a story. I think people would object to me putting on dark makeup and dancing around with a banjo. ^_^ Still, it's something to look into for my character. ^_^

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Also, since you're a Black Haitian Creole, you have the perfect opportunity there to use a strum-strum/banjar (the early gourd banjo that developed in the caribbean, mixing African and European forms). It took 100 years for it to slowly seep into the white population, but I bust one out sometimes when doing an indentured servant or sailor from a slaver.

Actually, Adam C., it's not for re-enactment; it's for a story. I think people would object to me putting on dark makeup and dancing around with a banjo. ^_^ Still, it's something to look into for my character. ^_^

Oh dear, sorry about the confusion. I've heard some people refer to their persona as their character in the past (usually those with theater backgrounds), so just thought that was what you meant. On a lighter note, there's some good info out there on the gourd banjo (and a lot of research still needing to be done) including a 1690's sketch of one and some good written sources regarding construction and sound.

As for doing blackface, yes it's generally frowned upon. Having said that, back when I was doing civil war stuff, we had a few guys who after hours and just for us in the camp (we did first person 24/7, campaigned when out in the field, etc. etc.) put on black face minstrel shows....and when done properly really enhanced the experience and was quite enjoyable when approached from a period mindset. But definitely not PC by todays standards. Like it or not, it was part of our history, and repressing the knowledge of it doesn't make it go away (Examples: "Bamboozled" in 2000, and the 1958-78 "The Black and White Minstrel Show").

Cheers,

Adam

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Forgot to mention above.....but a guitar is perfectly acceptable for your character. There are pictures of lower class Spaniards of various ethnic extractions in the Casta paintings playing baroque guitars and vihuelas. I don't check this forum as frequently anymore as I probably should, and I don't have the time right now to gather and post a bunch of links, so feel free to shoot me an email or something if you're interested in the period guitar option. I haven't looked at any materials for Santo Domingo specifically, but you can almost guarantee that they were present there on the island....afterall, we had Vihuelas and Guitars here in La Florida on the Spanish frontier from the 1570s on up, and they were extremely popular in other parts of the Spanish empire.

Cheers,

Adam (who is currently building a 1570s Vihuela)

Edited by Slopmaker Cripps

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Forgot to mention above.....but a guitar is perfectly acceptable for your character. There are pictures of lower class Spaniards of various ethnic extractions in the Casta paintings playing baroque guitars and vihuelas. I don't check this forum as frequently anymore as I probably should, and I don't have the time right now to gather and post a bunch of links, so feel free to shoot me an email or something if you're interested in the period guitar option. I haven't looked at any materials for Santo Domingo specifically, but you can almost guarantee that they were present there on the island....afterall, we had Vihuelas and Guitars here in La Florida on the Spanish frontier from the 1570s on up, and they were extremely popular in other parts of the Spanish empire.

Cheers,

Adam (who is currently building a 1570s Vihuela)

I agree with this too. I know they were. My pirate captain, Sol, who is from Veracruz, is playing the local requinto jarocho, a smaller, 4-chord guitar, and another South American character of mine, a mercenary, Chago (born in Nueva Granada - now Venezuela) is playing a similar local small 4-chord guitar, cuatro llanero.

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So guitars were an option after all. Thanks! (Though a rebec/violin bow would come in handy for smacking away stray hands. :rolleyes: )

No vihuelas, though. Too closely associated with mariachi music. >.<

Oh dear, sorry about the confusion. I've heard some people refer to their persona as their character in the past (usually those with theater backgrounds), so just thought that was what you meant.

No harm done. At least now I know I should let people know right off the bat if the question's for my stories.

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No vihuelas, though. Too closely associated with mariachi music. >.<

Wrong Vihuela.....I should have been clearer. The modern Vihuela is nothing like the period one, which is more accurately known as the Vihuela de Mano. If you want an amazing source on early guitars and vihuelas, check out http://earlyguitar.ning.com/ . I'm not a big fan of wikipedia, but their entry for Vihuela sums up the basics quite well and makes a nice spring board when you get among enthusiasts (like on the Ning site): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vihuela . Also, a search of Vihuela de Mano on youtube will turn up guys playing repro ones.

Cheers,

Adam

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