USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘folk music’


  1. The main piece: Antakshari

“Antakshari is like a song game, right? That we, it’s an Indian thing… uh… let me see. Uh, so what happens is, we sing a song. It’s a group thing, we used to play in the bus, on picnics, going somewhere, in the evenings. You start a song, let’s say it starts with the letter a.

[informant sings] “‘Aaja sanam, Madhur chandni me hum tum.’

“So tum means it ends in ‘m’. So you have to pick a song that starts with ‘m.’ These are all Bollywood songs, I guess. So it’s the Indian consonant that ends that syllable or whatever. So ‘m.’ Uh… [long pause] I can’t think of any songs. So, you can have any number of contestants or players, and typically we only sing the first verse of the song. And then whoever can sing whatever they know, and if you can’t think of it starting with their last syllable, you’re out of the game. Antakshari, it literally means last letter. Akshara means letter, anta means end.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does if mean to them? Etc.

“I mean, it’s—it’s—everyone plays it in India. So all my friends around me played it. It’s been there for generations. You play it with your family, you play it with friends, you play with classmates.”

  1. The context of the performance

“Anytime we went on picnics, we used to play this. Because it’s easy to play on the bus. Like kids on schoolbus, late at night during a bonfire or sitting outside, relaxing, people play this game.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This song game is an interesting combination of folk music and folk games. Since Bollywood songs are generally used, but are changed to fit the needs of the game, Antakshari can be seen as turning authored music into folk music—in fact, the game creates mashups, a form of folk music. Music is an easy way for people of all ages to bond when they have little else in common, and creating unique folk music mashups together during trips and parties clearly helped build a strong sense of community in the informant’s childhood.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.


This game was actually adopted into an Indian television show from 1993 to 2007—this show was called Antakshari and was a musical game show. The following news article describes the show’s popularity and some of the main actors:


“Love the Life You Live”

My friend Razi went to a Quaker summer camp in Virginia called Shiloh Quaker Camp for several years as a kid. She learned a number of folk songs with Quaker themes as a camper there. The following is a recording of Razi singing one of these songs, along with the lyrics. She doesn’t remember what the song is called, so I’m referring to it by the first line.

Love the life you live with all your
Heart and all your soul and all your
Mind and love all human-
Kind as you would (clap) love yourself!

Love the life you
Live with all your
Heart and all your
Soul and mind to (clap) let your love flow!

We’ve got all our lives to live
We’ve got all our hearts to give
We’ve got love inside our souls
And it will make us whole!

This song celebrates Quaker values that non-Quakers can appreciate as well. It is optimistic and cheerful, and makes no specific reference to God or religion, so it can be embraced as a secular folk song. Quakerism is a particularly open religion in terms of its acceptance of other religions, so songs that come out of the tradition can often be sung with the same conviction by people who have to particular affiliation with the religion. Razi is Jewish and agnostic, but she agrees with many of the values taught at Quaker camp, so songs like this one have stuck with her.


She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain

“She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes,

She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes,

She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain,

She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain,

She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes,

Oh we’ll all go out to meet her when she comes,

Oh we’ll all go out to meet her when she comes,

Oh we’ll all go out to meet her,

Yes, we’ll all go out to meet her,

Oh we’ll all go out to meet her when she comes, hi Babe! (*makes waving motion*)

We’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes,

We’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes,

We’ll all have chicken and dumplings,

We’ll all have chicken and dumplings,

We’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes, Yum-yum! (*rubs stomach*)

We’ll have to sleep with Grandma when she comes,

We’ll have to sleep with Grandma when she comes,

We’ll have to sleep with Grandma,

We’ll have to sleep with Grandma,

We’ll have to sleep with Grandma when she comes, Scoot over!” (*makes nudging motion*)


“I probably learned this one from my Dad. It was another one we would always sing in the car, because you can keep adding onto it. We would sang the 10 lines we knew, and then we would take turns making up verses. Our favorites were always the ones with funny gestures!”

As a folk song, this piece both hearkens from a certain point in history, but is fluid enough to change over time (while still retaining enough of the original structure to be recognizable. With this particular song, it seems that much of the joy contained within in the song is focused on the performance of the piece. Though the roots of this song can be traced back to an African-American spiritual about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, it seems to have changed to the point where that is no longer an integral part of the songs meaning. Rather, the song has morphed into what seems to be (at least in the instance) a celebration of family, and the act of family coming together. This can be shown both in the particular lyrics cited above, and it’s typical performance within a family setting.

My Grandma (the informant) stated that her favorite part of the song was the fact that she and her family could easily make up new lines to add onto the song once all the known lines were sung. This focus on collective performance and alteration could also be seen as a family-centric ideal. Singing such a song within the family environment could be viewed as a way to bolster both familial closeness and participation (especially important in my Grandma’s situation; she had 7 siblings).


For another form of this song:

Seeger, Pete. American Folk, Game & Activity Songs for Children. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2000.


I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

“I’ve been working on the railroad,

all the live-long day,

I’ve been working on the railroad,

just to pass the time away,

Can’t you hear the whistle blowin’”

rise up so early in the morn’,

can’t you hear the captain shouting

Dinah blow your horn.

Dinah won’t you blow,

Dinah won’t you blow,

Dinah won’t you blow your horn.

Dinah won’t you blow,

Dinah won’t you blow,

Dinah won’t you blow your horn.

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,

someone’s in the kitchen I know.

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,

strummin’ on the old banjo.

Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o,

fee, fie, fidlly-i-o-o-o-o

Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o,

strummin’ on the ol’ banjo.

“This song is a lot of fun, and is another one I learned at girl’s camp. I like it because you can really add a lot of different things into the song, and keep it going. When I taught 4th and 5th grade, I taught this song to my students while we were learning American history. They all seemed to enjoy it.”

Like other folk songs, it seems that much of the meaning and joy that this song evokes in the performer is it’s adaptability. It can change while still retaining the core identity of the piece. With a song like this, which is deeply routed in American history, this change is important. It allows the song to remain relevant and even novel to later generations, which is crucial to the survivability of a piece of folklore.



“If there were witchcraft, I’d make two wishes,

a winding road that beckons me to roam,

and then I’d wish for a blazing campfire,

to welcome me when I’m returning home.

But, in this real world there is no witchcraft and golden wishes do no grow on trees.

Our fondest day dreams must be the magic that brings us back our happy memories.

Memories that linger, constant and true,

memories we’ll cherish, Camp Lo-Kai of you.

“I would sing this song at camp, always around a fire. We usually closed each night at camp with a big bon-fire. This would be the last song we’d sing before we headed to our cabins for the night! My friends and I just found out recently that the lyrics actually say “If there were wish craft”, so we’d been singing it wrong all this time! We do think the actual lyrics do make a little bit more sense than what we had been singing.”

Songs are an integral part of many camping experiences. In my mind, these songs help form a sense of community among the campers. This song in particular seems to evoke a certain nostalgia, a fondness for memories and a hope that the memories made during camp will last a lifetime. Indeed, this does seem to be the case for the informant, as she still meets with some of her camp friends, often singing this song when they do.

I found the shift in the lyrics interesting, especially given the fact that the informant and her friends came to like what was supposedly the original script of the song. This illustrates the change that is characteristic of folklore, but also brings up an important nuance: that this change is not always unidirectional, and can change back and forth depending on the sensibilities of the performer.


Horsey, Horsey

“I like to take my horse and buggy,

as I go traveling through the town,

I like to hear ol’ Dobbin’s clip-clop,

I like to feel the wheels go ‘round”.

“Horsey, Horsey, on your way,

we’ve been a’travelin for many a day,

so let your tail go swish and your wheels go round,

Giddy up! We’re homeward bound.”

“Music was always a big part of my life. My Mom loved to play the piano, and my family would always sing whenever we traveled. This one of the songs that my Mom taught to me, and I ended up teaching to my grandchildren. I believe I also heard the song at girl’s camp when I was a bit older; it was a song that many people seemed to know back then. I still sing the song when I get together with old camp friends. I think the song is a lot of fun to sing, because both the verses are sung at the same time by different singers, so it takes a bit of timing to get it right.”

My Grandma (the informant in question) taught this song to my sisters and I when I was young. My grandma loved to travel, a passion she instilled in myself and my siblings. As was the case when she sang the song with her siblings, we often sang it while on long road trips. Like my Grandma, I found that the song was most fun to sing as a round, as this required a mild degree of musical cooperation.

As it turns out, this song is actually a copyrighted piece with an established author. However, what I found to be interesting is that the lyrics I was taught differ slightly from the original script. The original song makes no mention of “Dobbin” (which, according to my Grandmother, is the name of the horse in question).

This song, at least in the course of my family’s use, was often performed while traveling. The lyrics themselves seem to invoke the joys of traveling, of moving from one place to another. I think this is particularly interesting because of the antiquated form of travel featured in the song. Though horse and buggies are not commonly used for travel (at least not in the US and other developed countries), there is a commonality which makes the song relevant even to those traveling in an automobile.

For another form of this song:

101 Childrens Songs & Nursery Rhymes. Pegas, 2001. MP3.


There’s a Daisy on my Toe

There’s a Daisy on my Toe

Personal Background:

Jack is a sophomore at California State University, Long Beach and is studying aerospace engineering. He is part of the Air Force branch of ROTC and is from Huntington Beach, California. He has grown up in a family that is also from southern California, and he considers himself someone who has a lot of “American values.”

Folk Song:

            “There’s a Daisy on my toe/ It is not real, it does not grow./ It’s just a tattoo of a flower/ So I look good taking a shower/ It’s on the second toe of my left foot./ If you ask me it looks real good./ There’s a daisy on my toe/ It is not real, it does not grow.”

This is a song Jack learned when he was at Camp Shalom in the Santa Monica Mountain Institute in Santa Monica, California for his AP Environmental Science Class. This is a song that the camp counselor taught his group one day when they were on a hike so they could pass the time. It was a song only his hiking group knew, and when everyone would get together, his group would sing the song the other groups did not know. Even though it was only taught to his group, he calls them “The Sunshine Bears,” other people from other groups said they had heard the song at other camps.

To Jack, this song is a reminder of his friends, The Sunshine Bears, he had while he was at camp. He was able to have this connection with only his group, and it is something he is able to take with him. It brings him a sense of happiness that he had a great time at the camp, and he also loves the fact he was able to mock the other groups who did not know the song.


What makes “Daisy on my Toe” a folk song is the fact that it is not copyrighted. It is something that is made for young kids to sing and have fun with. It has a simple enough rhythm that is slow, and has very simple lyrics, making so anyone can learn it. It is the perfect for children. It is part of a culture that is surrounded by camp and young kids, yet they do not need to know anything about the song to enjoy it the most. To me, it was a way Jack was able to feel like a kid again, even though he was in high school. He was able to be weird and crazy in the Sunshine Bear group. A song about a daisy tattoo can have a much deeper connection that originally thought.


“The Story of Maui”


            The informant is from Honolulu, Hawaii and she first heard the myth in elementary school, where she explained she learned most of the folklore and traditional stories related to Hawaii due to the inclusion of what she called “cultural education” in classroom curriculum. A practicing Hula dancer, the informant also picked up stories during her dance classes as a child. The informant also explained that the myth was authored into a song by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a popular Hawaiian folk singer who encouraged Hawaiian sovereignty by reviving and popularizing traditional Hawaiian stories.


             Maui―like the island―was a demigod. Well, he was better than a person but he wasn’t a deity. He was a super trickster kind of guy; he was fun, and sneaky, like a hero. Maui is actually in a lot of Hawaiian stories, but one of the popular ones that a lot of kids know is that he was canoeing with his brothers when he received a message from a god. It might’ve even come to him in a dream, but it had definitely come from a god. The message was that if he went fishing, he would pull up a huge catch, um, but he couldn’t turn around to look at it or he would lose his catch. So he and his brothers are paddling, and Maui feels his line go taut. He pulls it, it’s really heavy, but he keeps pulling as the canoe moves forward. One of his brothers, the story goes, turns around, and because the brother looked the line snapped. Turn out, Maui had actually pulled up the Hawaiian islands. That’s why Hawaii is shaped like a chain, with the big island and the small ones trailing behind it. They descend in size because that’s what they looked like coming out one by one from the ocean. It’s actually said that there would have been more Hawaiian islands. . .but somebody looked.


            The story the informant retold bears all the classic indicators of a myth. It takes place in a pre-world (or, in this case, “pre-Hawaii”) setting, the characters involved are of divine or semi-divine importance, and it describes the genesis of a land and its people―the story of Maui is, more narrowly, a creation myth.

            The myth’s presence in Kamakawiwo’ole’s song immediately reminded me of stories about Hercules. The lyrics retell a string of Maui’s heroic deeds much in the same way books on Greek mythology usually dedicate a chapter or more to describe the (lengthy) list of Hercules’ achievements. The informant explained that Kamakawiwo’ole encouraged a resurgence of a Hawaiian identity movement through his music, and his lyrics clearly illustrate the pride Hawaiians should have in their land and culture. For Kamakawiwo’ole’s musical rendition of the myth, please see his “Maui Hawaiian Sup’paman,” produced  by Big Boy Records.