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Snake Charmer

The ‘Snake Charmer’ is a popular melody for evoking the Middle East. Here it is in the key of E minor.

The Snake Charmer melody comes from a song called “The Streets of Cairo” written by showman and congressman Sol Bloom. Bloom was the entertainment director of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and improvised the tune based on an old folk melody. Ever since, the first twelve notes have been used in countless songs, cartoons, and on the streets and in the schools, as a shorthand for snake charmers and camel rides, right up there with the Oriental Riff and the cowboy’s Jew’s harp, that forms the foundations of our limited enthnomusic vocabulary.

The Snake Charmer heralded the age of belly-dancing for a tightly-corseted populace, and popularized a scandalous dance craze known as the “kutchy kutchy”. The version I first encountered in Elementary School was a variation of the Dr. Demento parody involving naked French ladies. The original lyrics could very well be a parody itself, with a “poor little maid” who puts “all the dudes in a flurry.”

Click on the score to play/stop and drag over the chords.

As a child, this song led me to believe France was an exotic place of cheap French whores and glory holes in the walls, and I knew that I must go there, no matter what the costs, I would be a weeaboo for France, l’ouiabeaux, for France—always France!

The playground version probably didn’t jump up a fourth like that, but it serves as a nice hat tip to the original, and displays a kind of folk simplicity we value here at snakes dot com.

So to sum up, a century-old joke song about loose foreign women was imported from Eastern lands via France to the New World, where it became a cartoon cliché, disneyfied and eroticized by the savage American public.

Hey Snakecharmer, don’t mothers make good fathers?