I've been meaning to post about this for awhile, and now I finally have a chance.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a student about cultural business awareness. While we were talking about business culture in an Asian country she told me about her husband's experiences with the Japanese. Apparently he works with a lot of Japanese people in France and as a result has learned a great deal about Japanese culture and been invited to a lot of Japanese weddings. She told me that, among other things, one of the characteristics that her husband noticed they all had in common was that at every single Japanese wedding he had attended in 10 years, they all played the song "Cotton-Eyed Joe"
I'm not going to lie, I thought this was a little strange. But I wasn't too shocked because when I was on vacation in La Teste de Buch this summer in the south west of France we went to a little event at the port called "Les Mardinades." Every Tuesday of summer they would have a little festival complete with a live band and dancing. Imagine my shock when they played "Cotton-Eyed Joe." I genuinely thought this was a traditionally American song, and since in France they don't really like country music, I figured there would be no hope for American folk music. But there the Frenchies were, partying it up and dancing some crazy sort of dance (a conga line!) that only the Frenchies would do to a song like this.
I thought this was a once in a lifetime occasion to see foreigners enjoying "Cotton-Eyed Joe" but then I learned about the Japanese. So, I googled "Cotton-Eyed Joe" as I was truly puzzled by the spread of American folk music, and came to learn that while it is originally an American folk song dating back to before the Civil War, that it was recently (1994) remade by a Swedish band called Rednex (such an appropriate name) and that is the version most often played. Since it was a European band, of course it is known over here. In fact, it even made the French singles charts!
I've learned my lesson and I will never be surprised again to hear "Cotton-Eyed Joe" abroad, though I will continue to scratch my head at the way they dance to it. A conga line, really!?!