USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘song’
Musical

The Trollmom’s Lullaby

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Song:

När trollmor har lagt sina elva små troll

och bundit dom fast i svansen,

då sjunger hon sakta för elva små trollen

de vackraste ord hon känner:

Ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff buff!

Ho aj aj aj aj buff.

Informant: There’s a song that my mom would always sing to me in Swedish about trolls. It’s called Trollmors Vaggivisa, which literally translates into The Trollmom’s Lullaby. It’s about how this trollmom puts her 11 kids to bed, and the kids are trolls obviously, and how she sings a song to them after, and then it literally says when troll mom puts her 11 small trolls to bed and ties up their tails.

Collector: Wait, do trolls have tails?

Informant: These trolls do. And then the last part of the song says that she sings slowly to the 11 small trolls the prettiest words she knows. And then it goes like “ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff buff ho ai ai ai ai buff.”

Collector: What does that mean?

Informant: It doesn’t mean anything. It’s giberish. It’s just supposed to be the prettiest words that the mom knows. And my mom used to sing this to me when I was a kid, and she has always sung it to us even when we were older. When I was in France and missing Sweden, she would always sing that to calm us down and put us to sleep, actually. It reminded me of home.

Collector: Why do you liked this song?

Informant: I think there was always something comforting about my mom singing it to me. It was calming and it made me feel like I was back home in Sweden.

I found this song particularly funny, because there isn’t really any meaning to it at all. I think that’s what makes this song particularly endearing, because it’s a cute little bedtime story about trolls. Even though it’s a song about trolls, it has significant meaning for my friend, as it connects her to her Swedish culture. Being international myself, I know how hard it can be to be away from home, and how important it is to have things that can connect you back to your culture.

Festival
Musical

Midsummer

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: There is a ritual, kinda like a Swedish holiday, but not really. It’s called a Swedish name that means something like midsummer. And it’s generally in June, and it’s basically welcoming summer, so you get a big big cross and you decorate it with flowers and on each arm you put circles, you hang them on the cross, it looks like the things you put on your door for Christmas. Midsummer this year is on the 24th of June. Also what you do is pluck flowers and make flower crowns that you wear for this thing. All that you really do on this day is you just like get together with people. There are different parties or you can do this cross thing with your family or you can go to a big party with everyone in your town depending on your preference and then you usually picnic over there. You have food outside, and you dance around the cross and sing different songs.

Collector: What kind of songs?

Informant: These are typical songs for midsummer, this one song is called the small frogs, literally translated. It goes like this:

Smoagruden na

Smoagruden na

Ad lustiga asia

Ad lustiga asia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

Cua ca ca Cua ca ca

That last part is supposed to be a like a frog sound. So when they say the first part you run around the cross until the second part, and then you put your hands on your ears and make them look like cow ears, and when it says svan sa you put your hands on your butt making it look like a tail. And during cua ca ca you jump with your two feet at the same time around the cross like a frog.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I think it’s a cute tradition that you do with your family. It’s the small kids that really enjoy it, I liked it a lot when I was a kid. It’s a good time to spend with your family and friends, and have fun with them. It’s one of the biggest rituals in Sweden. And even people who go abroad like me carry it with them, and when I lived in France we used to make our own cross in our garden. It’s just like a really nice time to get together with my family and it’s just like really fun. More than celebrating summer, it’s a family thing

I think it’s interesting that two of the pieces of folklore that my Swedish friend told me involved songs with small creatures and gibberish at the end. It makes me wonder if that is a common pattern in Swedish folk songs. I think this is a cute little tradition, and although I’m not Swedish and have never done anything like Midsummer, I remember how much I used to enjoy doing similar things as a kid. I also think it’s cool that my friend carried it abroad with her, and that she still celebrated and underwent this ritual with the cross even though she was no longer in the country that celebrated it.

Game
Musical

London Bridge

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: Do you know the London Bridge song?

Collector: Yes.

Informant: Ah, yes. Well, I guess it’s pretty popular over here too. But basically, it’s a song that goes like this:

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

I think the actual song is longer than that, but that’s all that people really use. So what we do, it’s usually a kids game, but what we do is we get two people to stand together and hold their arms together like they’re making a bridge, and then people have to run under it, until the last line. And then the people drop their arms and trap whoever is under it, and like that person loses. It’s like a song, but it’s also a game, which is cool.

Collector: Do you have any idea where it might have come from?

Informant: I actually have no idea the history behind the song. I just know that it’s a really old game, and a lot of kids play it. It’s pretty popular. I don’t think the London Bridge has ever really fallen down. I hope it won’t.

I remember playing this game when I was a kid, and it’s interesting to hear that it’s popular all over the world too. Despite mentioning London in part of the lyrics, I didn’t actually know that this was a traditional English song. I thought that the Americans had made it up during the revolution to show patriotism and strength to beat the British. It’s funny to see that I was completely wrong my entire life, and that the song is nothing more than a mere game that people used to play in England, and passed on to the people in America and all over the world.

Musical

Trot Trot to Boston

Folklore Piece

‘This is a song my mom would always sing to me and my siblings when we were little. She’d place us on her lap and move them up and down while she sang “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Lynn / Look out little [T.R.] / You might fall in!” and then pretend to drop us between her legs. The second first was “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Town / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall down!” Then repeat the dropping motion. Finally, “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Dover / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall Over!”

 

Background information

“Yeah, I learned it from my Mom. I mean, I don’t really remember learning it, and I certainly don’t really remember her performing it, but I’ve seen her do it with some of my younger cousins, and I have too. Uh, I don’t know, I just, I like the piece because it’s catchy, and it makes me nostalgic about Boston and my Mom and stuff, you know? You’ve probably heard it too, right?” ( I have)

Context

He certainly did not bounce me on his lap, however he did say that he “would definitely do this with his kids when he’s older, no matter where he lives. I just like the way I hold on to something from my home town, you know? Being 3,000 miles away, like, you lose a lot of that. I think I wanna move back eventually, but who knows?”

Analysis

My mom also performed this song for me when I was younger. I, too, perform it with my younger cousins and babies from the Boston area. I’ve always found it so interesting, because growing up in a town north of Boston where most people move to from all over the country, we don’t have too many unique traditions or pieces of folklore that bring us together as a town. But this song, even though it’s about Boston, is shared amongst almost all of us in the metropolitan Boston area. I tried to find the origin of this story, and was unable to locate a direct source. However, the book Trot Trot to Boston, published in 1987 is referenced as saying that it is a Mother Goose poem. Additionally, there are a number of variations of the poem I found. An online forum found here has at least 8 variations of the song.

The informant said that it reminds him of his mother, too. It’s funny how songs that are performed to us when we are children – often before we can even remember – make us so nostalgic. Certainly we can’t remember the circumstances under which these songs were performed. However, we know that our mothers took care of us at a time that they sang this song, and it’s so embedded within us, associated with childcare and motherly love, that it’s hard not to look at it so fondly.

 

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.

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

Childhood
Musical

Rompe La Pinata Song

Lyrics:

Quien rompe la piñata yooooooooo
que la rompa felipe nooooooo
que la rompa isaito nooooooo
que la rompa julito noooooooooooooooo
que la rompa jaimito siiiiiii

mamita mamita yo quiero llorar
si no me dan un oalo pa romper la piñata
mamita mamita vendame los ojos
que yo quiero ser quien rompa la piñata

damela dale a la piñata
rompela rompe la piñata (4 veces)

Informant is a 39 year-old Ecuadorian male. He used to live in Ecuador, and has moved to the United States with his family.

Informant: In Ecuador, as far back as I can remember, they used to play this song for me and for the kids in the family now. They always play this song on the speakers at children’s birthday parties, when they break the pinata or when they do the cake.

Collector: Why do you think they play this song?

Informant: The song is very fun, and happy. It’s very encouraging to the kids, specifically it says to break the pinata. It’s specifically for the pinata, but it doesn’t have to be.

Collector: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: It wasn’t that I learned it, I just remember that it was always played. I would go to family functions, and for kids it was always playing.

Collector: What does this song mean to you?

Informant: I think a lot of it is not just tradition, but it also has a sense of nostalgia, or a rite of passage.

Collector: What ethnicity is the song for?

Informant: It’s mainly for people of Spanish descent, because the song lyrics are in Spanish.

I think that this song is like similar to the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in America. It’s upbeat nature and happy lyrics calls for celebration. The lyrics of the song reflect the activity it’s intended for: breaking the pinata. So, the song is also reflective of the traditions performed at Hispanic birthday parties.

Childhood
Holidays
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Krampus the Evil Elf

L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.

L: Krampus is from centuries back in Germany.

Me: So who is Krampus?

L: Krampus was an evil elf who would watch children to make sure they were good and if they weren’t goo then they would punish them. It’s like the the line from Santa Claus is Coming to Town: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Krampus is always watching.

Me: Did you ever tell your kids about Krampus?

L: No, we told them to look out the back window to see the deer and we told them that they were Santa’s reindeer, and that they better be good or Santa would know. They were so well behaved after that. We also used a garden gnome and told them it was an elf.

Me: Wow, that’s manipulative.

L: Well, folkore is a parent’s way to get their children to behave.

Me: Yeah, I can see that.

L: But my friend Kathy told her children about Krampus to make them behave as children. The kids are still obsessed with Krampus. The have Krampus dolls, they have paraphanalia all over the place.

L does not believe in Krampus, nor did she tell her kids about him. She knows the story because she heard it when she lived in Germany for a few years as a child as well as from her friend who did tell the story of Krampus to her children. Instead of Krampus, a scary figure, L used real things like deer and gnomes to convince her kids that reindeer and elves were watching them to make sure they behaved. This worked well because the kids saw the “elves” and “reindeer” with their own eyes and therefore had less doubt that they were real.

Here is a link to the imdb page for the movie that came out last year based on this tale: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3850590/

Childhood
Musical

One Child of God

This is an Indonesian church song that the informant’s mom used to sing when she was younger. Her mom grew up Christian and went to a Catholic, all girls school.

Translation

“‘One child of God goes to church, and then he brings a friend, and they go to church.’ And then it starts over, it’s like, ‘Two children of God, one of them brings a friend, and they go to church.’ All of them go to church together and it’s like this growing…”

Background & Analysis

The informant’s parents are from Indonesia, however the informant herself was born in the U.S., but is fluent in both Indonesian and English. The informant and I live in the same residence hall, and for this folklore collection, we got pizzas together and just sat down and ate them in my room while talking and sharing stories.

The name of this church song is “Satu Anak Tuhan” which mean “One Child of God.” When I asked the informant if this song is sung more in youth groups, she said she had absolutely no idea, but that it was just one of those little songs that you learn when you’re younger. This reminds me a a children’s song that most latin or hispanic people know, and that I myself learned from my dad who speaks Spanish, called “Un Elefante se Balanceaba.” The song begins with one elephant balancing on a spider web, and when he sees that it holds him, he calls over another elephant, and then they are both balancing on a spider web. This song can continue indefinitely. Just as with “One Child of God,” it is mostly children who learn and sing this song, and both were probably created to pass the time on long car rides, or to teach numbers and counting.

Childhood
Musical

Indonesian Lullaby

This is a lullaby that the informant’s father used to sing to her and her sister.

Translation

“Miel, go to sleep. Miel, go to sleep. If you don’t go to sleep, you’re going to get bit by ants.” The alternate ending means, “you’ll get bit by a fly.”

Informant’s Thoughts

The informant described this as a dark lullaby, and even mentioned that her sister used to hate the song and that it would keep her up. The informant herself said she never had a problem going to sleep, despite the lullaby being dark. Her father most likely learned it from his parents, since it is meant to be a song that parents sing to their children to scare them into sleeping. The informant doesn’t know of any name for the lullaby, but her father would call it “Informant bobo”, meaning “Informant sleep.”

Background & Analysis

The informant’s parents are from Indonesia, however the informant herself was born in the U.S., but is fluent in both Indonesian and English. The informant and I live in the same residence hall, and for this folklore collection, we got pizzas together and just sat down and ate them in my room while talking and sharing stories. I think it is an interesting, if somewhat backwards logic, that parents sing this song to coerce their children into going to sleep, since in American culture, lullabies are generally supposed to be sweet and gentle songs that “lull” a child to sleep. Perhaps the lyrics are supposed to be a sort of joke and meant to be ignored, however it would be difficult not to take the words seriously when living a country (Indonesia) that is home to a host of exotic insect species.

[geolocation]