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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fuse 8 n’ Kate: Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger, ill. Michael Hays

I am so excited to talk about this book today. I thought I knew how this story was going to end, and it definitely took a hard right turn that I was NOT expecting. We’re talking about Pete Seeger’s Abiyoyo, a title I first encountered as a child on Reading Rainbow. But what looks at first to be a simple case of cultural appropriation turns into something a bit more complicated. There are all kinds of twists and turns in our discussion today, and many of my assumptions walking in were upended. We talk scofflaws, why Abiyoyo is the opposite of Steven Universe, how this book is like that episode of The Twilight Zone called “It’s a Good Life”, whether monsters like to waltz, and the Red Scare. You know. Abiyoyo stuff!

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, PlayerFM, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

The Michael Hays website is a pretty darn good source of information so check it out for the background story I mention in the podcast.

This wand is clearly just a COEXIST bumper sticker in the making.

So let’s talk a little bit about why pages like this simply don’t work. It is clear that the concept of this book was to have the story take place in a village where it’s filled with people from different cultures, races, religions, etc. And that’s a noble idea. The trouble comes when it crosses that delicate line from homage into caricature. And unfortunately, there are a couple images in this book that don’t just cross that line but fall flat out onto it.

I make mention of At the Zoo, the picture book by Paul Simon that is one of the sillier adaptations of a famous song out there. The most egregious moment? Well, if you remember the line about the zookeeper being very fond of rum, in this book you see that the “Rum” in question is Rum the Raccoon. heh.

A bit o’ Sasquatch to this silhouette, don’t you think?

I don’t care who you are, but this shot is terrifying. The angles just make it scarier for me.

Got a bit of a Biblical look going on with this guy.

OshKosh b’ Oh My Gosh! That’s what Kate thinks when she sees this guy’s overalls.

Okay is this actually a waltz? Help us out here, people.

We suspect Abiyoyo is attempting to do a box step here. This would explain why precisely he falls down as he goes faster. That thing’ll kill ya.

Not much about this book feels 1986, but this image does to me. There’s something about it that feels like an album cover.

We’re always fascinated by why an illustrator would put their name and the year on the page. It’s not really done today. Why was it done originally?

Here’s the article with the couple that named their toy store Abiyoyo. When I read it I noticed that it was first place where Pete Seeger said something about crediting where he got the Abiyoyo story. This, in turn, made me curious enough that I started digging.

Okay, so here is the book that gave me the MOST information about Pete Seeger and his relationship, as it changed, to Abiyoyo.

I need to give you some context here. In Pete Seeger’s regular column “Appleseeds” in Sing Out! magazine, he did a piece on “The Committee for Public Domain Reform,” 2001-2002. In this Fall 2001/Summer 2002 piece, Pete begins by explaining that in 1991 a man who wrote ten words in Seeger’s “Wimoweh” song (George Weiss) won a court case against the Weavers’ publisher. And here is what Pete wrote:

“At first I was bad-mouthing George, and then I looked through my own songbook and found I’d done the same thing on a lot of songs. What to do? Well, you have to start somewhere. One of my publishers is rewriting the contract on the story-song “Abiyoyo.” Some of the royalties will go to me for writing the story, but some will now go to a nonprofit fund of the Xhosa people in South Africa, because it was a traditional Xhosa lullaby.”

And my favorite quote a little later:

“Joseph Shabalala (of Ladysmith Black Mambazo) told me with a rueful smile several years ago, “I’ve found that when the word ‘traditional’ is used about a song, it means that the money stays in New York.”

So this is a situation where a songwriter realized late in the game that he owned something to the people he’d taken Abiyoyo from, and tried to do better. Did he work with the Xhosa people to determine if this is what they actually wanted? The book doesn’t say, so one hopes so. At least it’s something he was thinking about in the early 1990s. As he says later, “All I know is that there are thousands of truly beautiful melodies still uncollected in small poverty-stricken communities around the world. Sometime later this century they will be collected and new words put to them in some wealthy city somewhere. The poverty-stricken villages will stay poverty stricken.”

Also, apologies to Abiyoyo Returns. Because technically it does exist and technically I didn’t mention it during the podcast. Technically.

Now, we’re in luck with this one. There really is a full Reading Rainbow episode with Abiyoyo available on YouTube. But clearly my memory of this one was flawed because I completely forgot that Lionel Ritchie and Run DMC make appearances of one sort or another (to say nothing of Tears For Fears and more). This is an amazing deep dive into late 80s 80snesses. Best thing you’ll see all day:

Betsy Recommends: The Helen Yoon Instagram feed. Also the second season of Marlon and Jake Discuss Dead People.

Kate Recommends: One Simple Wish.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Heather D says

    Hello Ladies,
    Ahem…  It was Animalia.  Animalia!  ANIMALIA!   The book that had a signature on every page was Animalia!  Episode #160 for Animalia by Graeme Base.  Kate mentioned that there was an autograph on the first (A) page.  Betsy agreed & speculated that it was because the author / illustrator intended to sell the art
    Whew!  Rant over. Figuratively picks chair up off the floor.  Sets furniture gently into a Time Out corner a la Lilly.  Wistfully sends an apology to the memory of late father in law.  I get it now.  Even though the game was thousands of miles away, the players can’t hear the crowd, & events have already happened because it was recorded at an earlier time… One simply HAS to cry out the answer at full volume.   Anyone else have this response?  No?  Just me?  Ah well.
    To end on a more positive note.  Thanks for all the added info regarding Seeger’s efforts to share recognition & royalties.  Hearing that story was a very worthy investment of Betsy’s time & researching skills.

    Also, I loved the LadySmith Black Mambazo nod.  I’ve been lucky enough to see them perform live.  For the folks who haven’t had the pleasure– here’s a fun alphabet song from them featuring Kermit

    https://youtu.be/zl8pxaxxReo

    Hope this makes up for disrupting the class since I can’t send apology treats to everyone.  Heather D

    • ANIMALIA!!!!! All right, I need to figure out a prize for that one. A cookie? Seems insufficient. But you definitely win that one. Thank you!!

      I saw LadySmith Black Mambazo perform at my college all those years and years ago. Was a bit of a thrill to get to mention them in this most recent episode.

      • Heather D says

        HI Betsy,

        Thanks for your patience. No cookie is necessary. I’m just grateful to have someone around who can put up with my extreme moments of random.

        BTW I intend to send along a follow up comment at a later time. It has to do with Animalia art, Twilight Zone and copy right law. To be continued…. (cue ominous music) Heather D

  2. Heather D says

    Hello Ladies Part2
    Heather D again.  I thought I should mention a rather spooky moment of serendipity. I find it an interesting coincidence that this episode would bring up the Twilight Zone, intellectual property rights and Animalia.  Bear with me folks.

    Betsy mentions an episode of the Twilight Zone. In “It’s a Good Life” a young Billy Mumy bullies  the entire town with the threat of using his powers to “disappear” people.  This classic episode was so memorable that the franchise revisited the character by inviting  Billy Mumy and his daughter Liliana to star in “It’s Still a Good Life”  in which the father & child both have the ability to alter reality. 

    I bring this all up because it loops back to Animalia with Kate and Betsy speculating about Gremlins and copyright law.  The first time I saw an American gremlin was in the Twilight Zone episode; “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.  In the original (there are remakes) William Shatner plays a man with areophobia who is stuck in the window seat of a plane.  The Twilight Zone aspect kicks in when it becomes evident that Will is the only person who can see the gremlin on the wing tearing at the plane’s wiring.  I still remember the first time I encountered that episode.  Despite watching it in full daylight during summer reruns–  it still scared me witless.   Something about that gremlin- even in black and white- was terrifying. What is it with American’s having to supersize everything?  The traditional gremlins of WWII are scary enough thank-you-very-much. 

    How gremlins made their way to the States is where copyright law comes into all of this.  The wee beasties snuck over with Roald Dahl early in the 1940s. Flight Lieutenant Dahl was working for the British Embassy in Washington D.C when he started writing about a pilot dealing with a gremlin infestation.  For years the critters had been blamed for all sorts of mechanical error on the planes and equipment for the RAF.  A fact Betsy mentions briefly in the Animalia episode.

    One thing led to another and a Dahl story featuring gremlins made its way to Walt Disney’s desk. Dahl and Disney spent almost a year trying to put together a movie featuring gremlins. The main impediment was intellectual property law.  Since the gremlins were a folktale– they couldn’t be copyrighted.  Also, Dahl and the British Air Ministry were reluctant to allow Disney full intellectual custody of the RAF gremlins.  In the end it was decided (quite correctly) not to set them loose on the big screen without supervision.

    Eventually Disney and Dahl’s work was published in a limited run of a small book
    https://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/stories/f-j/the-gremlins#:~:text=The%20Gremlins%20has%20a%20very,in%20the%20Saturday%20Evening%20Post.

    So, we’re safe from gremlins right? We’re all free to move about the cabin. Not so fast, there’s one thing stronger than copyright law (at least for now); time combined with individual inspiration and innovation.  That’s where works like Animalia, Simpson Halloween specials and 80s movies come in.  Someone is inspired to take a concept and go into a new direction. 

    Now I’m sure that many Fuse8 n Kate folks are wondering what all this has to do with Abiyoyo…  Which is this week’s title and the rule is to look at the book in front of you.  I confess,  I’m just not into this one.  However, Betsy felt that it deserves a 5. So I listened to the podcast a few times and watched the Reading Rainbow link. I read the foreword to try to understand Pete’s intent.  I appreciate that Pete Seeger made some attempts to offset the appropriation. Yet– holy stereotypes Betsy fans– those illustrations are dated.

    Fun fact folks, Animalia and Abiyoyo were both published in 1986.  So, which book best holds up to the passage of time?  Which is a classic that shows innovation and inspiration? To be honest, I’m with Kate– not a classic.

    Respectfully,

    Heather D

    PS Another famous character in Animalia is on the “T” page. Toad of Toad Hall (Wind in the Willows) is riding a tricycle.  I guess Disney didn’t get the copyright on our friend Toad when they made the short film.

  3. Heather D says

    Comment the fourth…

    Pssst…. Hey Betsy. Is Kate the Great around? No, she got bored back on Heather’s comments Part 1? Ok, cool,cool,cool.

    So, regarding fourth of July titles. I would bet, given past preferences, that you would go for; “The Star Spangled Banner” by Peter Spier (endorsed by Reading Rainbow & Westin Woods). Also, I would hazard a guess that most libraries will have Bethany Roberts “Fourth of July Mice” on display.

    Now if you wanted to generate a big ol “Heck No! Nope! No Way!” from your dear sister there’s always : “Berenstain Bears God Bless Our Country” , “Curious George Parade Day”, or “Eloise and the Big Parade”. However, I like your dear sister and would rather not upset her.

    My final (favourite) Fourth of July vote is for “Apple Pie 4th of July” by Janet S Wong & Margaret Chodos-Irvine . I know it’s not quite old enough to qualify. However, you’ve made exceptions in the past. Here’s to “Apple Pie 4th of July”– a 21st century classic 🙂

    Heather D