Tag Archives: Folk song

Καλαματιανός/Kalamatianos (Song)

Καλαματιανός (Kalamatianos) is a greek folk song that is performed alongside a folk dance with the same name. It is performed in a faster Syrtos, 4/4 rhythm.  It is commonly performed at festivals, parties, and Greek nightclubs.

“Καλαματιανός is a song with loose instrumentation, but more consistent lyrics that we’d dance to back in Greece.”

Μήλο μου κόκκινο, ρόιδο βαμμένο
Μήλο μου κόκκινο, ρόιδο βαμμένο
Γιατί με μάρανες το πικραμένο
Παένω κ’ έρχομαι μα δεν σε βρίσκω
Παένω κ’ έρχομαι μα δεν σε βρίσκω
Βρίσκω την πόρτα σου μανταλομένη
Τα παραθυρούδια σου φεγγοβολούνε
Τα παραθυρούδια σου φεγγοβολούνε
Ρωτάω την πόρτα σου, που πάει η κυρά σου;
Κυρά μ’ δεν είναι ‘δώ, πάησε στην βρύση
Κυρά μ’ δεν είναι ‘δώ, πάησε στην βρύση
Πάησε να βρει νερό και να γεμίσει

To mílo mou eínai kókkino, roz vamméno
To mílo mou eínai kókkino, roz vamméno
Dióti me pikría to pikró

Páo kai érchomai allá den boró na se vro
Páo kai érchomai allá den boró na se vro
Vrísko tin pórta sas kleidoméni

Ta paráthyrá sas lámpoun
Ta paráthyrá sas lámpoun
Rótisa tin pórta sou, poú pigaínei i kyría sou?

I kyría den eínai edó, pígaine sti vrýsi
I kyría den eínai edó, pígaine sti vrýsi
Pigaínete na vreíte neró kai gemíste to

My red apple, my maroon-red pomegranate,
My red apple, my maroon-red pomegranate,
Why have you turned me bitter?
I come and go, but can’t find you
I come and go, but can’t find you
I opened your door, and it always is locked.

Your windows are always lighted
Your windows are always lighted
I ask at your door, “Where’s your lady?”

My lady is not here, she is at the well
My lady is not here, she is at the well
She’s gone to drink water.

My informant was born in Anaheim, California, however, she spent most of her childhood on Greece’s Mainland, particularly in Thessaloniki. Both of her parents grew up and emigrated from Greece only twenty years ago. SK, my informant, learned this song from dancing to it at “glendis” (greek folk dance nightclub parties of sorts) in which this song was performed in a variety of different forms, but with similar lyrics. SK says that she believes it’s some sort of universal message and story based on unrequited love that no matter who you are, you can relate to.

This came from a friend of mine from church in Southern California. I got this folklore from a zoom call with her while she was quarantined back in Greece. I asked her to explain some traditional Greek cultural cornerstones she knows as she ate breakfast.

I personally agree with my informant that it is a Greek song based in this idea of unrequited love. It’s universal and can be put into any style of greek music you are doing to a Syrtos beat, whether it is more modern or traditional. The way it talks about chasing someone that you can’t seem to catch is something we see in so many different culture’s folklore as this idea of reaching for something that is just out of reach is a universal truth of life. The way greek people have interpreted it into a song like this one that is supposed to be danced to is absolutely fabulous.

Sindhi Folk Song Wah Wah Sindhi Wah Wah

Context: RP is a really close friend of mine. She currently lives in san francisco and works at Google. I decided to facetime her and ask her about any folklore. She is fascinated with songs and dancing and told me about this sidhi folk dance. 

YM: So tell me about this folk song

RP: When I was in India, I used to really enjoy dancing and listening to the Sindhi songs. Basically, they all are about being grateful to the Sindhu god – Jhulelal…And each caste in India has its own state. But Sindhi, our caste does not. Sindh, this state lies in Pakistan, since the India-Pakistan partition…I, at times, listen to these songs when I am here in the US, because I miss it so much. One of the songs is “Wah wah sindhi wah wah” which actually means Sindhis are the best, also it paragraphs detail about the specific traits of sindhi culture. I personally love hearing this one, since it reminds me of our Sindhi culture. 

RP: Also sindhu language is written like Urdu, starts from the bottom corner of the last page, in the reverse direction.

RP:  Basically the sindhi/Sufi songs have deeper meanings which make you realize how vast the universe is and to be grateful.

YM: In your culture what does this song signify? 

RP: I feel this song symbolises the pulse-beat of the nation you could say.. Like the consciousness of the Sindhi people that it manifests in this song or any other Sindhi song. The song has a spirit and you know it has life and vitality and it represents the people 

YM: That’s beautiful

Background info: RP was born and raised in Pakistan, she identifies herself as Indian and Sindhi folk songs have always been her favorite growing up. Sooner or later she plans  to go back to India, because she wants her kids to learn and imbibe the sindhi culture, which will be very difficult If she plans her future here. 

Analysis: This song seems to represent the culture of the Sindhi people. It is folk song and music that is ethno, meaning it is outside of westorn music (foreign musicology.) Sindhi songs and music are usually danced predominantly with your hands, not much leg movement is done. It appears to also represent the consciousness of the nation as a whole, I imagine that when sindhi songs are danced or heard one experiences a sense of identity and individuality. And of course it is a form of self expression for Sindhi people. 

Red River Valley Folk song (lullaby)

Context: Context: SF is a USC sophomore studying journalism and he’s also my classmate in Anthropology class. I decided to have a zoom meeting with him and talk about some folklore from vermont. 

YM: Tell me some folklore 

SF: My mom use to sing a lullaby that her pops sang to her 

YM: Let’s hear it, how does it ? 

SF: Down in the valley, valley so low

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow  

Hear the wind blow blow 

Hear the wind blow

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow  

YM: Aww thats nice, do you know where it comes from ?

SF:I think it’s from the south west.. It’s definitely a folk song

YM: Does it have a name ?

SF: Yeah it’s called Red River Valley

YM: Awesome

Background info: SF was born and raised in Vermont. He’s from Irish, Scotish and German descent  and for the first years of his life his mom sang him a folk song to go to sleep. 

Analysis: This sounds like a typical soothing lullaby one would sing to a baby. It also runs in the family, SF’s mother who sang it to him used to hear it from her father and I imagine he also heard it from a parent. After having done some research this is a folk song  that goes by two names: Down in the valley, and Birmingham Jail. The song is an american folk song and a ballad. It’s interesting that this was passed down as a lullaby in SF’s family. The origin of the song is said to come from a Guitarist named Jimmie Tarlton who was incarcerated in an Alabama jail in 1925. Like all folk songs, the lyrics are sometimes changed depending on the artist that decides to record. For examples instead of using, “Hang your head over, hear the wind blow, “ artists have used, “Late in the evening hear the train blow.”  ****

For another version of this song, please visit, https://www.balladofamerica.org/down-in-the-valley/

The Crooked Man- Nursery Rhyme

Main Piece:

Subject: (Singing) There was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked six pence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse. And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

Interviewer: That is so spooky… where did you hear this?

Subject: My mother would sing it to me before I went to sleep when I was younger and I never forgot it.

Interviewer: Did that make you scared?

Subject: Um… no not really. I didn’t notice any, uh, I guess, sinister tones in the lyrics or the purpose of the song until I got older. Then I sung it again and I was like wait. That’s pretty creepy.

Interviewer: Yeah like the same thing happened to me. Something about it is just weird.

Subject: Yeah it’s amazing what we don’t pick up on when we’re kids right?

Context: The subject is my 17-year-old younger brother in his senior year of high school. We have been quarantined together due to the Coronavirus pandemic and staying at our home in Charleston, South Carolina. After dinner, we were sitting in the dark in the living room and I asked him to tell me any folklore he learned when he was a child. He proceeded to sing this nursery rhyme.

Interpretation: I am familiar with this particular nursery rhyme in the same way my brother is. My mother used to sing it around the house. When I got older and recounted it with my siblings, we all had the same realization that it was quite an unsettling tune. We clearly are not the only one to pick up on its creepiness, because the nursery rhyme was featured in the horror film “The Conjuring 2” in 2016. And later in the same year, the nursery rhyme actually got a movie solely inspired from it, titled “The Crooked Man”, about a nursery rhyme that awakens a demonic figure. So I was curious about the origins of the nursery rhyme, what the lyrics are really about, and if they intended to be creepy. Upon research, I discovered the rhyme is actually about Scotland gaining political and religious freedom England. The “crooked man” is about the general who signed the agreement and the “crooked stile” supposedly refers to the border between England and Scotland. I found it super fascinating that a nursery rhyme about a historical event could be interpreted and appropriated so differently as a horrifying tune.

Alouette: French Nursery Rhyme

Context CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood CW was raised French and attended a French immersion school. The atmosphere is calm, the air is calm and the room is mostly quiet in between stories.
———————————————————————————————————————Background: CW learned Alouette in preschool, from their teachers. It’s meaning is rooted in a nostalgic warmth for their youth, also they think the song is “pretty cute I guess, but it’s kinda fucked up”. CW doesn’t necessarily like it so much as believes it is very deeply ingrained in their person.


CW: Alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais la tête/ je te plumerais la tête/ et la tête et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le bec/ je te plumerais le bec/ et le bec et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le cou/ je te plumerais le cou/ et le cou et le bec/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais les ailes/ je te plumerais les ailes/ et les ailes et le cou/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le dos/ je te plumerais le dos/ et le dos et les ailes/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais


Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your head/ let me pluck your head/ and your head and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your beak/ let me pluck your beak/ and your beak and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your neck/ let me pluck your neck/ and your neck and your beak/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your wings/ let me pluck your wings/ and your wings and your neck/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your back/ let me pluck your back/ and your back and your wing/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/

Analysis: The song is something of a memory game, that used to teach children in France new words like neck, back, beak, and head. Much like the hokey pokey, this song serves the dual purpose of keeping children occupied and teaching them the language to express the parts of their own body. The song appears in lists across the internet like “5 Magical Songs For Teaching French To Preschoolers” indicating that as globalization has spread the ability to teach and learn language so too has this element of folklore spread into countries where French isn’t the dominant language to serve as a teaching tool. The way the song burrows its way into the mind of the performer too allows for its performance to gain meaning as a cultural object, the knowing of Alouette, a marker of exposure to French culture and a way to connect with other people

Moonlit Lakes and the Lies Men Tell: Indonesian Folk Song


SL: “So another like, poem, I guess you could call it, that my grandma taught me was this one – it’s um –

Terang bulan, terang di kali
Buaya timbul disangkalah mati
Jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki
Berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati”

SL: “So it starts off like really poetic – the moon is really bright in the ocean, or the lake, the crocodiles are sleeping and they’re like so still that you think that they’re dead essentially, um, and it goes into the actual like part of the poem – it says “jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki”so “don’t listen to things that guys tell you” (laughter) because “berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati” so they’re willing to tell you all these things but they’re not like – they’re really scared of just dying (laughter). So my grandma told me this because she’s like you need to not like focus on guys, you need to like focus on your studies and not get distracted. Um, but she’s also told a lot of my cousins this. And I guess it’s actually a pretty famous poem but um, she presented it to me as if she came up with it so I don’t know.”

MS: “What age were you when you first heard this?”

SL: “I think it was like – probably as a sophomore or junior in high school?”



The informant is an Indonesian-Chinese-American college student, who has lived in California her whole life. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world.



This poem seems to be an instructional note from an older generation to a younger generation. Based on preliminary googling the informant was actually referring to an adapted folk song from the French “La Rosalie” which was popular in 1920s and 1930s Malaysia. This seems to indicate that the song is a means for the informant’s grandmother, and more generally the older generation, to recount the past and communicate culture as they knew it. The song the informant mentioned was also modified from the version I was able to find online, which means it was probably adapted specifically to become instructional to a teenager as opposed to the original meaning which seems to not be about the lies that men tell women but that people tell each other in general.



The article The Politics of Heritage by Marshall Clark (2013, Indonesia and the Malay World 41:121, 396-417), talks more about contestation about the roots of this melody, and its relevance for the Indonesian and Malay cultures.

Duck Girl Song

[The subject is CB. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: CB is one of my friends, and a sophomore student in college. Both of her parents are lawyers in the military, so she was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has also lived in Germany, Kansas, and Oregon. The following is a song that she learned when she was nine or ten years old from an American Girl Scout camp in Germany called Camp Lachenwald, which translates to “laughing woods.”

I’m an old duck rover from out in Montana
Round up them duckies and drive ‘em along
To a flooded corral where we bulldog and brand ‘em
Mosey on home just a-singin’ this song

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
Quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

On Saturday nights, I ride into town
On my short-legged pony with my hat pulled way down
But the boys don’t like duck girls and I can’t figure out why
No cowgirl could be more romantic than I

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
And quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

Thoughts: This song was sung entirely in an exaggerated Southern accent, which I thought was interesting especially because CB learned it while she was in Germany, albeit from other Americans. One thing I noticed was that the song was specific to a gender, but it led me to realize that most of the children’s folk songs I knew growing up were generally sung by girls more often than boys, even when the songs didn’t specify whether the singer was supposed to be a boy or a girl. I also feel that ducks are a common motif in children’s songs and games, like duck-duck-goose and the Five Little Ducks song. Ducks seem to be a symbol that adults associate with children because pictures of them commonly appear on baby clothes, but I suppose children also associate ducks with themselves because the songs they sing and the games they play often involve them.


Main Piece:

“Aquel caracol

Que va por el sol

Que en cada ramita lleva una flor

Que viva la vida

Que viva el amor

Que viva la gracia de aquel caracol”


That snail

Going by the sun

That in each twig bears a flower

Long live the life

Long live love

Long live the grace of that snail



The informant is a 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. He learned this rhyme from his primary school. They learned many songs like this one. He believes that they were taught these songs in order to encourage the children to sing in front of their peers and to not be shy.

Birthday Dirge


“Oh happy Birthday, Oh happy Birthday
Worms and germs are in the air
People dying everywhere
Oh happy Birthday, Oh happy Birthday”

Genre: Folk Song

Background: The interviewee, KP, is an American man nearing his mid-fifties. KP resides in northern California, and his family has been in the states since the second ship after the Mayflower.He also states that he doesn’t know its exact origins, but assumes they are from the South (where he and his ancestors grew up). KP notes that the birthday song was originally passed down orally by his mother. The conversation was brought up after overhearing this song at a family birthday celebration, where he states the song is traditionally sung at since others cultures may not approve of such dark and depressing nature. This depressing nature, however, is not how KP sees the song, he states they “sing it just to be funny and change up the traditional happy birthday song, and never sang it to be mean just to have fun.”

Nationality: American
Location: the South (transitioned into west coast)
Language: English

Interpretation: My initial reaction of hearing this dark and dreary birthday song was the thought of “ Who would want to hear this on their Birthday?” Often when celebrating a birthday we are trying to ignore the fact that we are growing a step closer to our impending deaths and this song seems to capitalize on this fear. After going into a deeper analysis of this text I found that the song or refrain is a variation of the Birthday Dirge a/k/a “The Barbarian Birthday Song”, “The Viking Birthday Song”, “The SCA Birthday Dirge”. This Dirge is sung to the melody of a Russian folk tune known as, The Volga Boatmen” (a 1926 American silent drama film). The Dirge often varies in lyrics based upon who it is being sung to and often is comprised of only 2-3 verses. It is said that after each refrain of “Happy Birthday”, often in Russian tradition, the noise “HUHN”-like a grunt, or a thump on the table or floor is produced. This thumping aspect has not followed into KB’s Birthday Dirge which I find extremely interesting as it is a quite prominent attribute to the Russian rendition. In addition to the thump or lack thereof, I found that the lyrics are slightly different from those recorded in the article I found; the only commonality being the line “People dying everywhere.”

Larson, Grig -Punkie-. “History of the Birthday Dirge.” Punkie’s Web Page – Lyrics for Viking/Barbarian Birthday Dirge, 2019, punkwalrus.net/cybertusk/viking_birthday_dirge.html.


When talking to one of my brother’s good friends, who is from Manchester England, I asked if he had any songs that he knew of that he has learned from any of his friends or relatives.


He told me of a song that him and his friends always sing when they go out, “We like to drink with (insert name) because (name) is our mate! And when we drink with (name) he takes it down in 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”



Background Info: This song is some that Edward grew up hearing amongst people in England. When you call someone out and sing the song, they have to finish whatever drink is in their hand by the time the singers get to the end of the 8 second countdown. “It is something that is fun and gets you to finish more beer” –Edward.


Context: Edward told me about this song while I was at lunch with him and my brother.



Analysis: Once Edward told me about the song, he sang it but for me—it was a fun experience to say the least. Edward said that this is a very popular song in England, and is normally sang at universities at their get-togethers, next time I visit England I will be sure to ask people about this chant!



For similar write-ups, and some videos of other people singing this same song, see: