Musical

Tum Balalaika

Yiddish Transcription:

Shteyt a bocher uner tracht,
Tracht und tracht di gantze nacht,
Vemen tsu nemen, un nit farshemen,
Vemen tsu nemen, un nit farshemen.

Chorus
Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
Tum balalaika, Shpil balalaika,
Tum balalaika, freylich zol zayn.

Meydl, meydl, ich vil bay dir fregn,
Vos ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
Vos ken brenen un nit oyfheren?
Vos ken beynkn, veynen on treren?

Chorus

Narisher bocher, vos darfst du fregn,
A shteyn ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
A Jibe ken brenen un nit oyfh eren,
A hartz ken beynken, veynen on treren.

Chorus

English Translation:

A young man is deep in thought,
And he wonders whom he ought,
To take as wife for all of his life,
To take as wife for all of his life.

Chorus
Play ‘bala,’ play ‘bala,’ play ‘balalaika,’
Play ‘bala,’ play ‘bala,’ play ‘balalaika,’
Play ‘balalaika,’ play ‘balalaika,’
Play ‘balalaika.’ Let there be joy.

Tell me, maiden, I’d like to know,
What it is needs no rain to grow?
What’s not consumed although it’s burning?
What weeps no tears although it’s yearning?

Chorus

You foolish boy, didn’t you know,
A stone does not need rain to grow?
A love’s not consumed although it’s burning,
A heart weeps no tears although it’s yearning.

Chorus

Going through my family attic, I came across a box of tapes hand-labelled “Yiddish Yodel 1992-95.” From asking around, I learned that a group of relatives and family friends kept up a tradition of singing together every year, to practice their traditional language and reconnect over their immigrant ancestry; most were second-generation. This song is a well-known Yiddish folk lullaby, but to figure that out, I had to take the tape to one of only two surviving participants in the ‘Yiddish Yodels’, who provided me with my transcription and translation. These days you can just search “Tum Balalaika” online, and see hundreds of results helping carry the tradition, but hearing it on the tape and it resung live by my informant made the traditional nature of the song feel much more real to me.

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