USC Digital Folklore Archives / Musical
Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mother’s Holiday

Mother’s Birthday Celebration

“My mother passed away of old age four years ago. In her life she accomplished many things, and touched many people. She had a huge family, ten grandchildren, and, being the matriarch of the family, left a big hole when she passed away. To commemorate her life, I decided to hold her birthday celebration as usual the year after she died. We had always celebrated hers in style, with up to a hundred guests, all on the veranda of our dacha (summerhouse) on the outskirts of Moscow. There was always a lot of food- Russian traditional dishes- people recited poetry in her honor, and we put on charades. She helped many invalids as a philanthropist in her life, and at least five came every single year from wherever they lived, some traveling over two hundred kilometers. Her peers from life dwindled every year, but the number of those attending always managed to stay the same. The year after she died, I decided to keep on the tradition. I invited all the guests, only this time we were celebrating her memory without her. The first time, there were more people than had ever been. Yet the celebration stayed the same- we ate the same food, sang the same songs, people recited poetry in her honor, shared memories of her, and in the end we played charades. It felt like she was still with us. Since then, for the past four years, we have had the same birthday celebration in her honor without her present, and the numbers have so far not dwindled at all. All her close family, friends, and those she helped in her eighty four years of life try their best to come and remember her by celebrating.”

 

Background: This is performed by a 54 year old Russian Woman, in Moscow, Russia, and her family and the friends of her mother.

Analysis: This is a version of a holiday in the name of a person: the only difference, here this person was not famous or a political leader, but was simply very influential in her community. This is not uncommon in Russia, as communities are often very close together, and people value their ties very much. Birthday celebrations in general, at least for older people, are rather formal occasions: many guests might be invited, there will be presents and singing and games. Ekatherina’s mother was from the intelligentsia class, as well, which often has ties to the upper class at least in the ways in which it acts and celebrates. This holiday is also an excuse for a big group of people to get together and reminisce about a common group they used to belong to, and perhaps still do. It is also an excuse for the older generation, in their seventies and eighties, to get together and impart stories and recollections of the past.

Musical

El Carbonero

The informant, EM, grew up in the San Miguel neighborhood of San Salvador, El Savador. Growing up, he had a great interest in music and learned to play many instruments, as well as singing in a choir. Here he fondly remembers a folk song that is a great source of pride in his country that he learned growing up:

 

The song is called “El Carbonero”. This is considered by Salvadorans as almost a second national anthem. It translates to “The Coal Merchant”, and it tells the story of this guy who comes down from the mountains to sell coal.

This song is pretty much performed everywhere for different events, like Independence Day, or any cultural event where kids from schools- starting in elementary school all the way up to high school- whenever they want to perform something that represents who you are as a Salvadoran. Basically everyone would know the lyrics and know how to dance the song. In that sense it’s pretty popular and people know it. If a famous singer comes to perform in El Salvador- let’s say…Shakira! – or someone like that, then they would include “El Carbonero” as part of their set and the audience will go crazy. Artist try all kinds of different versions. It’s pretty much done by every foreign performer who comes.

From an ideological point of view, the lyrics of the song- it’s letting you know that, this is what we do, and we work hard. You know, being a coal merchant is kind of a messy, dirty job. All the people who dedicate themselves to it- even their faces are black, and their hands…everything is black from the coal. It also tells you something about the country and its origins. There’s an analogy in the song- the coal is something that el Carbonero is bringing to you that will light up your house and keep you warm. Coal has a positive connotation here since its good for you family and good for your home, and you identify with the hard working people.

The song begins with the verse

“soy carbonero que vengo
de las cumbres si señor
con mi carboncito negro
que vierte lumbre de amor.”

Which translates to

“I am a coal merchant who comes

fromthe high places, yes sir,

with my black coal

that turns to lights of love.”

 

My thoughts: Folk songs can often be seen as sources of nationalistic pride, as seen in the documentary Whose Song Is This? The song, El Carbonero, reflects that Salvadorans are proud of the working class- the country has a long history of economic hardship and poverty, so the working class is celebrated as opposed to the wealthy. The song also takes pride in the rich natural resources of the country, celebrating the coal that is brought down from the mountains. Even though these things may not seem glamorous to outsiders, they are symbolic of the endurance of the country’s people through a turbulent history. The informant also mentions how folk songs evolve over time and may be interpreted by established artists and transformed to different genres for popular consumption.

Customs
Musical

Amici

 

  • Since joining Phi Kappa Psi in the fall of 2015, we sing this song every Monday night before we begin eating. We all stand up and form a big circle linking linking our shoulders, kind of like a big huddle that you would see at a football game or something. We do a little sway back and forth as we sing and then once we are done we can eat. This song is important to me because it signifies the long lasting friendships that I have formed in the fraternity. Singing this song makes me really feel like I am part of something bigger, because people in different Phi Psi chapters are singing it all over the country, and have been for years. I first had to  learn the song before I became an active member of the house. One of our house mottos is “continuing our friendships until death”, which is emphasized in the lyrics “Amici, usque ad aras” which means “Friendship ongoing until death”. I think it’s very interesting that if I were to meet other Phi Kappa Psi brothers from different schools, they know all the same stuff that has been passed down and we immediately share a bond. Knowing how strong my bond is with my friends that I have made here is truly inspiring and the elements of loyalty expressed in a song that we sing together weekly, lead me to believe that I really will be close with my brothers for the rest of my life. 
  • Lyrics to Amici
    (“Friendship”)
    Our strong band can ne’er be broken
    Formed in ole Phi Psi
    Far surpassing wealth unspoken
    Sealed by friendship’s tieChorus:
    Amici, usque ad aras
    (“Friendship, ongoing until death”)
    Deep graven on each heart
    Shall be found unwav’ring true
    When we from life shall partCollege life at best is passing
    Gliding swiftly by — Then
    Let us pledge in word and action
    Love for old Phi Psi
  • For more information see video of Brothers from California Gamma, California Beta and California Iota join one another to sing Amici.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWxWXQl16vo

ANALYSIS:

Being a part of a the greek community myself, i share the feeling of belonging and community that comes along with learning a song that is special to your chapter yet has been passed down within the house for many many years.

Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Holidays
Magic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nigerian Masquerades

Description: “In Nigeria a masquerade is basically, so here we have masquerades but they’re lie people in suits to represent what the masquerade looks like. And So like there’s these spirits that embody this certain emotion or spiritual energy or whatever. When you look at the mask it’ll be a mask and a bunch of colored rafia and like pieces of wooden jewelry. Depending on the different mask they may carry a fan or a machete or something. But like in Nigeria all of your parents would tell us stories about masquerades but that were like legitimate spirits not like a dude in a suit but people who would be around the masquerade when it was coming through villages dancing were people who believe in the masquerade’s power like and culturally you could not get close to a masquerade you’re not allowed to but nobody really wants to unless you’re like following the masquerade. Cause that’s some scary shit. My mom told me about this one that she saw when she was a little girl. First of all, you’re only supposed to watch from a distance like you can’t get close or anything like that unless you’re like a man who’s authorized to be next to the masquerade or something like that. I wouldn’t say it’s like a priest. It’s just like men dancing and chanting. It’s just a patron of that spiritual culture. Somebody who’s like apart of it. But you have to be a man and you have to be old enough. You can’t just be like a teen boy or a woman. And so what she was telling me about this one and all these men were dancing around the masquerade you know like shouting and dancing or whatever. And the masquerade was like, it looked like it was a person under a white sheet. Just walking and dancing along, Doing these weird like movements. And then instantaneously it would fall flat like a sheet. And then continue moving. And then reform. And then fall flat. And this is the thing like this is rural Nigeria like it’s like a rural town in America so just like low tech. They don’t have the technology of special effects to make this construct like inflate and deflate. Exactly they just can’t do that. So, like the fact of the matter is – well I can’t even say fact because I haven’t seen it but it’s something that our parents do not mess around with. It’s like a serious thing. So when she saw this thing it like blew her mind because like oh my god this is real. You know? And like that’s Masquerades.  They’re not all like they’ll be one form and then they’ll lose form the next . Some are just like beast or whatever. But always there’s like a chant or a dance that’s like associated with each masquerade.”

2. This piece was very personal to my friend. He’s spoken several times about how his mom doesn’t joke around with this stuff. He said that his family talks about festivals like these all the time. That’s how he found out about it.

3. I went into his dorm room and asked him to tell me some Nigerian folklore. He got really excited and then told me this one. His eyes got really big and he started talking fast.

4. There’s so much content to digest with this one. First of all, he has the first hand account of his mother that’s really fascinating. Not only does he have a cultural idea that he can take with him everywhere he goes, but he has a first hand account from one of the  most trusted people in his life to believe in. This post give great insight into the Nigerian value and fear of spirits as well. They consider it a great honor to be able

Musical

Oom, Plucky, Plucky

MS used to go to summer camp every year. Her camps had many interesting traditions and funny pieces of folklore that she often brings back and performs for me. Her favorite pieces are the songs, of which there are many. Here is one:

She sat on a hillside and strummed her guitar
strummed her guitar, strummed her guitar
She sat on a hillside and strummed her guitar
strummed her gui-ta-a-a-ar

Oom, plucky, plucky, oom, plucky, plucky, oom, pluck, pluck, pluck, ZING!
Oom, plucky, plucky, oom, plucky, plucky, oom, pluck, pluck, pluck, ZING!

He sat down beside her and smoked his cigar
He said that he loved her but, oh! How he lied
They were to be married but somehow she died
He went to her funeral but just for the ride

He went to her grave site and laughed ’til he cried
The grave stone fell over and squish-squash he died
She went up to heaven and flittered and flied
He went down below and sizzled and fried
The moral of this song is: never tell lies

M explains the song as being a “harsh lesson about love.” She elaborates, “But really it was just some fun thing we all sang around the campfire.” I commented on the graphicness of piece. M response was, “That’s what I love about it. We didn’t screw around at my camp. Everyone thinks girls’ summer camp is like pretty princesses and stuff, but no, we were intense and gross. We sang about death.” She laughs.

Every time she performs this song for me she has a lot of enthusiasm. There are very specific hand gestures that accompany the song as well. M explains how nothing is written down for the song. Each year the older girls pass all the traditions, songs, and stories down to the younger kids by singing the songs together.

The song tells an entertaining story. The contents of the story, as well as the melody, aid in memorizing the lyrics. In this sense, a folk song is really just a folk tale. There are similar elements and tools that aid in performance. For example, each line is repeated many times (it doesn’t show this in all of the lyrics above for brevity’s sake).

Furthermore, one can see how this song in particular would be popular for a girls’ camp. The story is about a man getting his come-uppance for lying to the girl about being in love. She goes to Heaven, but he goes down to Hell. The song is empowering to women. It doesn’t condemn the girl for whimsically falling in love. In fact she still goes to Heaven. The man, however, burns for lying about love. That is the sin. The last line even reinforces this with “The moral of this song is: never tell lies.”

 

A published version of this song, along with many other classic camp songs, can be found in Jack Horntip’s Camp Meriwether Camp Song Book.

Musical

Barges

MS used to go to summer camp every year. Her camps had many interesting traditions and funny pieces of folklore that she often brings back and performs for me. Her favorite pieces are the songs, of which there are many. Here is one:

Barges, I would like to go with you
I would like to sail the ocean blue
Barges, have you treasures in your hold
Do you fight with pirates brave and bold?

Out of my window, looking in the night
I can see the barges flickering light
Starboard’s glowing green and port is glowing red
I can see the barges from my bed

Barges, I would like to go with you
I would like to sail the ocean blue
Barges, have you treasures in your hold
Do you fight with pirates brave and bold?

How my heart longs to sail away with you
As you sail across the ocean blue
But I must sit beside my window clear
As the barges sail away from here

Barges, I would like to go with you
I would like to sail the ocean blue
Barges, have you treasures in your hold
Do you fight with pirates brave and bold?

Out of my window looking in the night
I can see the barges flickering light
Taking their cargo out into the sea
How I wish that someday they’d take me

 

M describes this song as one of longing. “It’s actually much more depressing than most of the other songs we sing,” she elaborates. Most of the camp songs are silly and lighthearted, but this one touches on serious themes of growing up and flying free. She says that the girls would be very moved whenever they sang this song. It seems to me that it is a song that allowed the girls to reflect. M describes camp as wild, hectic, and sometimes overwhelming. But, as she says, “The whole camp was at peace when we sang this.”

M explains how nothing is written down for the song. Each year the older girls pass all the traditions, songs, and stories down to the younger kids by singing the songs together. Music is an excellent way to pass on folklore because the contents of the story, as well as the melody, aid in memorizing the lyrics. In this sense, a folk song is really just a folk tale. There are similar elements and tools that aid in performance. For example, there are phrases that are repeated throughout.

 

A published version of this song, along with many other classic camp songs, can be found in Jack Horntip’s Camp Meriwether Camp Song Book.

Musical

Nigerian Udara Song

This is a recording of my informant’s mom singing a Nigerian folk song about the Udara, a fruit common in Nigeria. Her mom would sing it to her often when she was younger. The story behind it contains the classic evil stepmother and a magical element. The translation is as follows:

My udara, produce fruits

produce fruits, produce fruits, produce fruits

produce fruits for the motherless

produce fruits for the fatherless

My father’s wife bought Udara from the market

Ate all with her children

Gave none to the motherless

gave none to the fatherless

This life is vain

one is born

one is gone

It is from a story about a boy whose mother dies and is left with a stepmother that buys fruits for her children but not for him. He finds an udara tree and begins singing to it, and it produces fruit for him. The stepmother sees this, so when he is gone one day they come and try to sing to the tree and get its fruit. He catches them, and sings to the tree that it carries the one of the children up far away. The stepmother and other children apologize and agree to treat him well in the future, so he sings again and the  tree brings the other kid back down. They never treated him bad again.

 

For the published version of this story and a longer version of the song, see:

Ebegbulem, Celestine. African Stories by Moonlight. S.l.: Authorhouse, 2014. Print.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk speech
Life cycle
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chaldean Ululation

Title: Chaldean Ululation

Ethnicity: Chaldean

Age: 21

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): The interviewee and I are sitting in a coffee shop in San Diego, taking a break from our daily activities to have some coffee midday and talk about some of his and his families traditions.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “So within my family, and really most Chaldean families, we have this practice of, I think it’s called ululation in English, not sure about that. And so what we do is we make this high pitched noise, and then we use our tongues to make it stutter, and it sounds really cool.”

Interviewer- “When do you make that sound?”

Interviewee- “Special occasions mostly. We don’t go around doing it at Wal-Marts and stuff! I think that would seriously throw most people off and probably even scare some other people. It can get really loud. So once example is we always do them at weddings. Always. And it is usually the women that do it, and they love doing it, especially if they have been drinking a bit. They go, and they get the wife, and they go off and do the thing, and everyone cheers them on. Really it’s more of letting emotion and happiness out, it’s something that we use to show that we are really emotional about something.”

Analyzation:

This practice is unique to Middle Eastern countries and peoples, and it is something that has carried on into the United States when those families immigrated here. This cultural practice has not ceased, and if anything, has grown even more predominant in these families because it reminds them who they are, where they are from, and how they should live their lives, according to their culture.

Tags: Chaldean, Ululation, Ceremony

Childhood
Customs
Musical

Las Mananitas

Las Mañanitas

Instead of the english birthday song, every time it was a kid’s birthday in my elementary school class we would sing Las Mañanitas before taking turns hitting a piñata. It’s a traditional mexican birthday song sung at parties. YOu usually replace “mi bien” with the person’s name.

 

Lyrics:

Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el rey David.

Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti.

 

Despierta mi bien, despierta, mira que ya amaneció

ya los pajarillos cantan la luna ya se metió.

 

Qué linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte

venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.

 

El día en que tu naciste nacieron todas las flores

y en la pila del bautismo cantaron los ruiseñores.

 

Ya viene amaneciendo, ya la luz del día nos dio.

Levántate de mañana mira que ya amaneció.

Translation:

 

This is the morning song that King David used to sing.

Today being the day of your saint, we sing it to you.

 

Wake up my dearest, wake up, see now that the day has dawned

the sparrows are singing, the moon has finally set.

 

How lovely is this morning, when I come to greet you

we all come with joy and pleasure to congratulate you.

 

The very day you were born all the flowers first bloomed

and in the baptismal font all the nightingales sang.

 

The dawn has come my darling, and the sunlight is here for us.

Rise up and shine with the morning and you’ll see that here’s the dawn.

I do know of similar things before, as where I went to for middle school in San Antonio, Texas also had similar traditions where they sang long spanish birthday songs. Having never learnt Spanish however, I never knew what the lyrics meant.

general
Musical

“Three Prominent Bastards Are We” Song from 1930s

The informant has the lyrics to a popular folk song of the 1930s that his father would sing to him. The lyrics were written on an old piece of paper for years (which has survived due to lamination). The following are lyrics to a poem that expresses public cynicism towards  bankers and politicians after the 1929 Great Crash of the United States economy and the subsequent Great Depression. The poem was never formally published and copyrighted, but the lyrics spread by word of mouth and performances. It has never been confirmed, but popular assumption is that the song was written by Ogden Nash and is called “Three Prominent Bastards Are We!” (although the informants’ lyrics were labeled “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker”.


 

Where did you find this song?

TS: My father took me out…. when I was young…and we heard this song. I asked him what it was about, and he told me, then wrote down the words.

How long have you had that piece of paper with the lyrics on it?

TS: Oh, that’s not the original one. The original one was very worn, so my mother rewrote it on another paper. I wish I had the original one though. Would’ve meant a lot.


 

Verse: I’m an autocratic figure in these democratic states,

A dandy demonstration of hereditary traits.

As the children of the baker bake delicious breads,

As the sons of Casanova fill the most exclusive beds,

As the Barrymores and Roosevelts and others I could name

Inherited the talents that perpetuate their fame,

My position in the structure of society I owe

To the qualities my parents bequeathed me long ago.

My father was a gentleman and musical to boot.

He used to play piano in a house of ill repute.

The Madam was a lady and a credit to her cult,

She enjoyed my father’s playing and I was the result.

So my Daddy and my Mummy are the ones I have to thank

That I’m Chairman of the Board of the National Silly Bank.

 

Chorus: oh, our parents forgot to get married.

Our parents forgot to get wed.

Did a wedding bell chime, it was always time

When our parents were somewhere in bed.

Then all thanks to our kind loving parents.

We are kings in the land of the free.

Your banker, your broker, your Washington joker,

Three prominent bastards are we, tra la,

Three prominent bastards are we!

 

Verse: In a cozy little farmhouse in a cozy little dell,

A dear old-fashioned farmer and his daughter used to dwell.

She was pretty, she was charming, she was tender, she was mild,

And her sympathy was such that she was frequently with child.

The year her hospitality attained a record high

She became the happy mother of an infant which was I.

Whenever she was gloomy, I could always make her grin,

By childishly inquiring who my daddy could’ve been.

The hired man was favored by the girls in Mummy’s set,

And a traveling man from Scranton was an even money bet.

But such were Mother’s motives and such was her allure,

That even Roger Babson wasn’t sure.

Well, I took my mother’s morals and I took my daddy’s crust,

And I grew to be the founder of the New York Blanker’s Trust.

 

Chorus: oh, our parents forgot to get married.

Our parents forgot to get wed.

Did a wedding bell chime, it was always time

When our parents were somewhere in bed.

Then all thanks to our kind loving parents.

We are kings in the land of the free.

Your banker, your broker, your Washington joker,

Three prominent bastards are we, tra la,

Three prominent bastards are we!

 

Verse: In a torrid penal chain gang on a dusty southern road

My late lamented daddy has his permanent abode.

Now some were there for stealing, but my daddy’s only fault

Was an overwhelming tendency for criminal assault.

His philosophy and quite free from moral taint;

Seduction is for sissies, but a he-man wants his rape.

Daddy’s total list of victims was embarrassingly rich,

And one of them was Mother, but he couldn’t tell me which.

Well, I didn’t go to college but I got me a degree.

I reckon I’m the model of a perfect S.O.B.,

I’m a debit to my country but a credit to my Dad,

The most expensive senator the country ever had.

I remember Daddy’s warning—that that raping is a crime,

Unless you rape the voters, a million at a time.

 

Chorus: oh, our parents forgot to get married.

Our parents forgot to get wed.

Did a wedding bell chime, it was always time

When our parents were somewhere in bed.

Then all thanks to our kind loving parents.

We are kings in the land of the free.

Your banker, your broker, your Washington joker,

Three prominent bastards are we, tra la,

Three prominent bastards are we!

 

Verse: I’m an ordinary figure in these democratic states,

A pathetic demonstration of hereditary traits.

As the children of the cop possess the flattest kind of feet,

As the daughter of the floosie has a waggle to her seat,

My position at the bottom of society I owe

To the qualities my parents bequeathed me long ago.

My father was a married man and, what is even more,

He was married to my mother—a fact which I deplore.

I was born in holy wedlock, consequently by and by.

I was rooked by bastard who had plunder in his eye.

I invested, I deposited, I voted every fall,

And I saved up every penny and the bastards took it all.

At last I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m on the proper track,

I’m a self-appointed bastard and I’M GOING TO GET IT BACK.

 

Chorus: oh, our parents forgot to get married.

Our parents forgot to get wed.

Did a wedding bell chime, it was always time

When our parents were somewhere in bed.

Then all thanks to our kind loving parents.

We are kings in the land of the free.

Your banker, your broker, your Washington joker,

Three prominent bastards are we, tra la,

Three prominent bastards are we!

 

 

A recorded version of the song can be heard here

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