Tag Archives: musical

The Song of Petra

The informant is one of my family members that has been brought up listening to these songs in her household. It is seen as one of the ballads that she most remembers growing up.


The narrative is about the kingdom of Petra in Jordon and discusses “the king’s journey to fight against the Romans that tried to invade the kingdom and left the queen Shekeilah” to rule the kingdom. He also “left his seven-year-old daughter, Petra.” Roman soldiers come to the kingdom with troops and want to “hide the gold that they have in Petra’s safe, which was widely known to be a safe place. They kidnap the princess and keep her for ransom.” Everyone searched for the princess and could not find her. The informant states that the ballad continues with “the Romans ordering the queen to stop the king from attacking Rome’s occupying kingdoms.” If the queen did not, they would kill Petra. The ballad resumes with the Jordanian king conquering the Romans and returning home but “the queen halts the celebrations because she lets him know that they had to sacrifice their daughter for the victory of their kingdom”


The informant describes this as a “very popular song that was played for many years and all ages, telling the dreadful story of how ‘with victory, comes sacrifice’ in the death of a woman named Petra.” After a few years, the most widely known classical singer, Fairouz had taken the song and incorporated it into a musical that framed the entire story, placing this song as the finale, to highlight the importance of the ballad in the musical. The musical “opened for everyone to see and gain an authentic understanding of what the song truly meant and the importance of the princess in the story of victory” It was recorded and premiered across the Arab world in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and others, showing the beauty of Arabic ballads on stage.


This ballad is meant to portray the significance of the princess in the narrative as she is not only a member of the royal family of Jordan but a symbol of change in the kingdom of Petra, even through her death. Being made into a musical does not diminish the gruesome element of her death but instead portrays it through other art on a stage, making it more accessible to wider audiences. This allows them to gain an understanding of how powerful the Arab world may be, but it must come with a sacrifice. Children are able to watch the musical and learn the consequences of their actions, through the ballad and the lyrics that explain her death, and the royal’s reaction to her sacrifice. This also plays a role in the history of the Arab world as it has gone through many invasions from other countries and emphasises the strength that they have, however, also a piece of themselves that had been taken long ago.

USC marching band flute section’s chant/ditty


“So, we do this before any performance. It’s in a band again, in the flute section. I don’t know who taught us this. And I don’t remember being taught this. It’s something that I had experienced since freshmen year, and we teach it to our incoming freshmen as seniors.”

“This chant that we do, I think it’s for good luck. Or just to let out some steam or nerves before a big performance. But it goes like ‘stop, don’t talk to me, loser lame don’t wanna be. Oh, like totally, all you wanna be is me, stay fresh!’ And then you put your hands in the middle and you throw them up at the stay fresh part.”
“And we scream it as loud as humanly possible whenever we do it. And I have to know idea where it comes from.”


My informant is a performer at USC’s marching band. She is in the flute section.


This is an example of a hype-up song or chant before a game or performance. Like sports games, musical performance requires the players to come up with a way of encouragement. This is typical in a team environment before an important performance. The chant or the hype-up song helps the player build up confidence, and confirm solidarity.

The chant is rhythmic. So it’s easy to remember, learn and perform. It’s similar to the special handshakes, that once one learns it, it almost becomes mechanical in performing it with one’s in-group members.

I had a similar experience before. When I played in my high school soccer team, my team would do something similar to cheer each other up before the game. And I remember that different teams had different slogans to yell before the game. The volume of it is also very important. It almost serves as a scale for courage and determination. I think this is more typical in the sports arena because there is competition.


Informant Info

Nationality: Indian

Age: 55

Occupation: Chief Information Officer

Residence: Las Vegas, Nevada

Date of Performance/Collection: 2023

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Tamil

Relationship: Father

Referred to as JS.  JS was born in India and moved to the United States when he was 22. 


The parai is a traditional percussion instrument commonly used in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu.  Predominantly, this instrument is played at funerals.  It is also played at many events, including weddings and religious festivals.


While growing up, JS heard this from his parents and relatives.  He has witnessed this instrument being played at funerals and some religious festivals.  He also saw this during his father’s funeral.

The music is often played by professional parai players who are skilled in the art of traditional drumming.  The rhythm of the Parai is believed to have a robust and mournful quality, which is supposed to help mourners express their grief and sadness.  The playing of the Parai is often accompanied by singing, and the songs and stories sung during death rituals are believed to help the deceased journey to the afterlife.  In addition, at funerals, the parai is often used to provide musical accompaniment during the procession and to announce the dead’s arrival.


The interpretation of parai music at funerals is tied to its cultural and historical context. In Tamil Nadu, music and dance have long been an essential part of funeral customs, and the parai at funerals is seen as a way to preserve this tradition and pay tribute to the dead.  In traditional rural communities, the parai music at funerals is also seen as a way to respect the deceased and remember their life and legacy.   In addition to its cultural and historical significance, parai music at funerals is also seen as a way to comfort and support those grieving. The powerful sound of the drum is believed to bring a sense of closure and peace to the mourning process.

Overall, the Parai is an essential and profoundly symbolic instrument in Tamil Nadu, and its use during death rituals is a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and traditions.

“The Johnson Boys” Campfire Song


KR’s grandfather was a Scoutmaster in Ontario who led Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on camping trips and also enjoyed going camping with his own family. He remembers this piece as one of the songs his grandfather used to sing around the campfire with them.

Main Piece:

“The Johnson Boys”

Verse 1:  
Oh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 2:
Oohh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 3:
Ooohhhhh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill.

Continue ad infinitum, with the “oh” being drawn out longer with each repetition of the verse.


KR remembers “The Johnson Boys,” as “the song with one hundred thousand verses.” He says it’s, “a fun little song that everyone gets to chime in on,” since the lyrics were easy to remember and stretching out the “oh” always made the kids laugh. This song fulfills the classic roles of a good campfire song: something easy to pick up and remember, but with a fun twist to entertain the children. Since KR’s grandfather was a scout leader, the trips he led were mainly composed of children, it makes sense that he would have a library of these songs that are easily accessible for anyone.

This facet of folk song is interesting to me because while it is folk culture, it is also in some ways an institutionally pushed song. By this I do not mean that it was integrated into standardized education, or utilized by the government/corporations, but it significantly differs from some other children’s songs because it is a song that was taught to children by adults, and generally performed between children and adults. Often, folkloric children’s chants and songs evolve within the young population, perhaps even against the will of the adults surrounding them. But this song, and other campfire songs like it, are more of a bridge between the cultural worlds of the child and the adult leaders. They are neither the children’s song (because the children did not create it or claim it as their own to change and sing on their own) but also not a song for the adults (because the adults sing it primarily for the enjoyment of the children).

Jambo Bwana Song

Background: Informant is a 19 year old of Kenyan heritage. Their parents immigrated to Los Angeles from Kenya and the informant wears a bracelet to feel connected to their heritage. 

Me: Where did this song come from? 

Informant: When I think about a song in Swahili the first song I think of is what I learned when I was four or five because my Kindergarten for graduation they wanted to do a whole cultural thing. So, they asked my mom and another girls mom who was Indian to come and teach us songs. So they taught us songs in Hindu and Swahili. The song we learned in Swahili is… 


Jambo, Jambo bwana, 

Habari gani, Mzuri sana.

Wageni, Wakaribishwa,

Kenya yetu Hakuna Matata.


Hello, Hello sir,

How are you

I very fine

The visitors are welcomed

To our Kenya, don’t worry.

Reflection: I loved hearing the informant sing this song. It was interesting how they knew this song due to their schools’ emphasis on diversity, and how their mother shared her culture with the class through music. I find it so amazing how music can be used to bring people together in the sharing of cultural heritage. This also reflects the use of folklore in children’s education, with folk music being something that mainly children know today.