Arabian riff

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The basic melody
The melody described as "Arabian Song" in La grande méthode complète de cornet à piston et de saxhorn par Arban, first published in the 1850s.[1]

"Arabian riff", also known as "The Streets of Cairo", "The Poor Little Country Maid", and "the snake charmer song", is a well-known melody, published in various forms in the nineteenth century.[1] Alternate titles for children's songs using this melody include "The Girls in France" and "The Southern Part of France".[2][3] The melody is often associated with the hoochie coochie belly dance.


1895 sheet music cover for "The Streets of Cairo"

There is a clear resemblance between the riff and the French song Colin prend sa hotte (published by Christophe Ballard [fr] in 1719), whose first five notes are identical. Colin prend sa hotte appears to derive from the lost Kradoudja, an Algerian folk song of the seventeenth century.[4][5]

A version of the riff was published in 1845 by Franz Hünten as Melodie Arabe.[6] The melody was described as an "Arabian Song" in the La grande méthode complète de cornet à piston et de saxhorn par Arban, first published in the 1850s.[1]

Sol Bloom, a showman (and later a U.S. congressman), published the song as the entertainment director of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. It included an attraction called "A Street in Cairo" produced by Gaston Akoun, which featured snake charmers, camel rides and a scandalous dancer known as Little Egypt. Songwriter James Thornton penned the words and music to his own version of this melody, "Streets Of Cairo or The Poor Little Country Maid". Copyrighted in 1895, it was made popular by his wife Lizzie Cox, who used the stage name Bonnie Thornton.[7][2] The oldest known recording of the song is from 1895, performed by Dan Quinn (Berliner Discs 171-Z).[8]

The song was also recorded as "They Don't Wear Pants in the Southern Part of France" by John Bartles, the version sometimes played by radio host Dr. Demento.

Travadja La Moukère[edit]

In France, there is a song which pieds-noirs from Algeria brought back in the 1960s called "Travadja La Moukère" (from trabaja la mujer, which means "the woman works" in Spanish), which uses the same riff.

Partial lyrics:

In popular culture[edit]


Since the piece is not copyrighted, it has been used as a basis for numerous songs, especially in the early 20th century:

  • "Hoolah! Hoolah!"
  • "Dance of the Midway" (in reference to the Midway Plaisance of the World's Columbian Exposition)
  • "Coochi-Coochi Polka"
  • "Danse Du Ventre"
  • "In My Harem" by Irving Berlin
  • "Kutchy Kutchy"[2]
  • ''Strut, Miss Lizzie'' by Creamer and Layton
  • In Italy, the melody is often sung with the words "Te ne vai o no? Te ne vai sì o no?" ("Are you leaving or not? Are you leaving, yes or no?"). That short tune is used to invite an annoying person to move along, or at least to shut up.
  • In 1934, during the Purim festivities in Tel Aviv, the song received Hebrew lyrics jokingly referring to the Book of Esther and its characters (Ahasaurus, Vashti, Haman and Esther) written by Natan Alterman, Israel's foremost lyricist of the time. It was performed by the "Matateh" troupe, under the name "נעמוד בתור / Na'amod Bator" ("we will stand in line").














Video games[edit]

From cartoons the song has been adapted to video games. It appears on following computer and video games:



Children's culture[edit]

The tune is used for a 20th-century American children's song with – like many unpublished songs of child folk culture – countless variations as the song is passed from child to child over considerable lengths of time and geography, the one constant being that the versions are almost always smutty. One variation, for example, is:

There's a place in France
Where the ladies wear no pants
But the men don't care
'cause they don't wear underwear.[2][3]

or a similar version:

There's a place in France
Where the naked ladies dance
There's a hole in the wall
Where the men can see it all.

Another World War II-era variation is as follows:

When your mind goes blank
And you're dying for a wank
And Hitler's playing snooker with your balls
In the German nick
They hang you by your dick
And put dirty pictures on the walls.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Benzon, William (2002). Beethoven's Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture. Oxford University Press. pp. 253–254. ISBN 978-0-19-860557-7. In compiling his collection of melodies Arban clearly wanted to present music from all the civilized nations he could think of. It is thus in the service of a truncated ethnic inclusiveness that he included an "Arabian Song"—or, more likely, the one-and-only "Arabian Song" he knew... Beyond this, the opening five notes of this song are identical to the first five notes of Colin Prend Sa Hotte, published in Paris in 1719. Writing in 1857, J. B. Wekerlin noted that the first phrase of that song is almost identical to Kradoutja, a now-forgotten Arabic or Algerian melody that had been popular in France since 1600. This song may thus have been in the European meme pool 250 years before Arban found it. It may even be a Middle Eastern song, or a mutation of one, that came to Europe via North Africa through Moorish Spain or was brought back from one of the Crusades.
  2. ^ a b c d Elliot, Julie Anne (2000-02-19). "There's a Place in France: That "Snake Charmer" Song". All About Middle Eastern Dance. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  3. ^ a b "France, Pants". Desultor. Harvard Law School. January 21, 2004. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  4. ^ Fuld, James J. (2000). The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. 276. Courier Corporation. ISBN 978-0-486-41475-1. The opening five notes, including harmony and meter, are identical to the opening five notes of the song Colin Prend Sa Hotte in J.B. Christophe Ballard, Brunettes ou Petits Airs Tendres (Paris, 1719)....In J.B. Wekerlin, Échos du Temps Passé (Paris, 1857), ...the song is represented as a 'Chanson à danser' with the comment that the first phrase of the melody resembles almost note for note an Algerian or Arabic melody known as the Kradoutja, and that the melody has been popular in France since 1600. No printing of Kradoutja has been found.
  5. ^ Adams, Cecil (2007-02-23). "What is the origin of the song 'There's a place in France/Where the naked ladies dance?'". The Straight Dope. Creative Loafing Media, Inc. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  6. ^ Hünten, Franz (1845), Fantaisie arabe pour le piano sur l'air Kradoudja op. 136, Meissonnier
  7. ^ Thornton, James (1895). "Streets Of Cairo or The Poor Little Country Maid". JScholarship, Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  8. ^ Settlemier, Tyrone (2009-07-07). "Berliner Discs: Numerical Listing Discography". Online 78rpm Discographical Project. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  9. ^ Sinclair, James B. (1999). A descriptive catalogue of the music of Charles Ives. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07601-0. OCLC 39905309.

External links[edit]