An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
"The Cockeyed World" - Minnie Wallace
Set Four: The "Lost" Volume; Disc Two; Track Eleven: "The Cockeyed World" performed by Minnie Wallace. Recorded in Jackson, Mississippi on October 12, 1935.
No biographical information on Minnie Wallace was available as of this writing. If anyone has any information to share, please leave a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minnie Wallace was a known associate of the Memphis Jug Band, so it may be presumed that she lived and worked in Memphis, Tennessee for at least part of her career.
"The Cockeyed World" is a blues that makes reference to the Italian invasion of the Ethiopian Empire on October 3, 1935, just nine days before this recording was made.
Italian Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini wanted to establish an Italian Empire to rival that of the Romans. He also sought to avenge the defeat the Italians suffered at the Battle of Adowa, which had ended the first Italo-Abyssinian War in 1896. In 1935, Ethiopia was one of only two independent nations in Africa. Subduing Ethiopia would strengthen Italy's imperialist presence on the continent.
The Italian invasion was brutal. The Ethiopian army, while larger than the invading Italian force, was armed with antique rifles (capable of firing only one shot), swords, knives, and spears. Many Ethiopian soldiers fought barefoot. The Italian forces consisted of approximately 595 planes and 795 tanks. The Ethiopian army, by contrast, had approximately three planes and as many tanks. Most controversially, on December 26, 1935, the Italian generals in charge of the invasion received permission to use mustard gas and other chemical warfare agents. The war was one-sided and extremely short. By the time Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I had fled to British Palestine on May 4, 1936, approximately 275,000 Ethiopians were dead and more than 500,000 wounded.
On June 30th, Selassie addressed the League of Nations, asking for them to condemn the Italian invasion and support a resistance movement. He concluded by warning, "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow." The speech was a memorable one, and was viewed around the world via newsreel. But it failed to motivate the League of Nations to action. The League recognized Italy's sovereignty over Ethiopia, as did Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Great Britain and France. Only the United States, the Soviet Union, the Republic of China, Mexico, and New Zealand refused to recognize the legitimacy of Italy's invasion.
Italy occupied Ethiopia until 1941, when British forces retook Addis Ababa. Ethiopia was formally recognized as an independent nation in 1947 with the signing of the Treaty of Peace with Italy, and Emperor Selassie was restored as its ruler.
In the Americas, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia had a profound affect on people of African descent. As mentioned above, Ethiopia was one of only two independent nations in Africa. The invasion inspired strong feelings among black Americans as well as West Indians. Many black Americans volunteered to fight for Ethiopia, although few made it over there. In addition, it was during this period that the Rastafarian movement was born in Jamaica. I woke up this morning feeling mighty bad. I woke up this morning feeling mighty bad. 'Twas the worst old feeling that I ever had.
It's war on Ethiopia and mama's feeling blue. It's war on Ethiopia, mama's feeling blue. I tell the cockeyed world, I don't know what to do.
They say that Ethiopia is a long ways from here. They say that Ethiopia's a long ways from here. They're trying to steal my man and carry him over there.
I love my man, tell the cockeyed world I do. I love my man, tell the cockeyed world I do. It's coming up tight but he sure loves me too.
This old cockeyed world will make a good man treat you mean. This old [cock]eyed world will make a good man treat you mean. He will treat you just like a poor girl he's never seen.
It's war on Ethiopia and the man overhead. It's war on Ethiopia and the man overhead. I tell the cockeyed world the things my baby said.
It's war on Ethiopia. Baby, please, please behave. It's war on Ethiopia. Please, please behave. I'll tell the cockeyed world, I'll follow you to your grave.
"The Cockeyed World" is likely the most topical song on this already fairly topical volume of the Anthology, commenting as it does on world events that were transpiring even as the music was being committed to wax. It also points ahead to an event that was to come: The Second World War, an event that, along with the Great Depression, would effectively end the world of the Anthology. The United States would emerge from the crucible of war and economic turmoil an entirely different nation; a nation that would dominate the world as one of only two Super Powers; a nation that possessed the power to destroy all life on earth; a nation that would wield unprecedented political and economic influence over the globe, an influence that only today is beginning to recede.
The recording itself is ebullient, in stark contrast with the heavy lyrical content. Minnie Wallace's vocal is strong and rough, and is definitely of a piece with that of Memphis Minnie. Joining Wallace on this recording are Will Shade on harmonica, Ernest Lawlers on guitar, Robert "Tim" Wilkins on second guitar, Kid Stormy Weather on piano and "Spoons" on the spoons.
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Here's a short video that describes the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the galvanizing affect it had on American and West Indian blacks.