Arrorró: The Global Flow of Lullabies

Gabriela Golder

Arrorró is one of 20 “Live Bits” art projects that will exhibit on Linz’s main square this summer as part of 80+1: A Journey Around the World. Gabriela Golder, an art professor at Argentina’s Maimónides University and Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, describes Arrorró (the name of a famous lullaby in the Spanish-speaking world) as an attempt to gather, document, and find connections between lullabies from around Argentina, Latin America, and the rest of the world. Already, Golder and her team have recorded over 200 video testimonials of lullabies and the stories behind them. She is now in the process of launching a website that will allow anyone with a webcam and internet connection to contribute to the project.

I sat down with Golder at El Hipopotamo in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires to learn more about what has been discovered in the 200 videos that have already been recorded, and how the project will evolve over the next two months leading up to its simultaneous live exhibition in Buenos Aires and Linz. Our conversation was in Spanish, but I have added English sub-titles to the video:

Just like with recipes, folk stories, and fashion, it is fascinating to observe how the verses and melodies of lullabies adapt as they travel across cultures and what those adaptations reveal about each culture. As Golder mentions in the video, when she asked a Korean shop owner here in Buenos Aires what lullabies she sang to her children, the shopkeeper’s simple response was, “I don’t.” Indeed, a cursory search on Google doesn’t elicit much other than a shaky cell phone video of a sweet grandfather humming a Korean folk lullaby to his newborn grandson and, via Wikipedia, a piano version of Ja Jang Ga. Digging a little deeper, however, I discovered that the Japanese lullaby Itsuki No Komoriuta (sung here by Shirley Yamaguchi) was allegedly first brought to Japan by Korean potters after the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592 - 1598.

Lullabies - some of the first words we hear repeated as we enter this strange journey called life - have been traveling around the world for centuries, if not millennia. While we have many interactive atlases of human migration over the past 200,000 years, there are few atlases that illustrate the migration of culture.

Golder also notes the difference in themes that tend to appear in lullabies from particular regions. For example, she points to Duerme Negrito as typical of Latin American lullabies which frequently depict, in the words of blogger Romina Oliverio, “a peasant woman, working tirelessly in the fields to feed her little one. No pay; laboring while sick; day in and day out.”

Duerme Negrito also points to the darker sides of lullabies that can be difficult to digest in our era of globalized progressive liberalism. As discussed in the comment thread on Romina’s blog, one line of the lullaby translates literally to “if the black person doesn’t sleep, the white devil will come eat his little foot.” Similarly, I discovered via Solana Larsen, my Danish-Puerto Rican-American colleague at Global Voices, that the lyrics of Elefantens Vuggevise (Elephants Lullaby) were changed in the 1990’s to make the song more politically correct. The word, negerdukkedreng (negro boy doll) was changed to kokosnød (coconut).

I was so captivated by Golder’s description of her project that I decided to participate myself. I thought back on my own childhood and remembered three lullabies that my mother would sing to put me to sleep: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, 500 miles, and Day-O. All three songs became popular anthems of the 1960’s Folk Revival, which must be how my mom became familiar with their lyrics, but their origins are incredibly diverse. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was composed by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, sometime before 1862. Day-O is a traditional Jamaican folk song, thought to be sung by Jamaican dock workers working the night shift loading bananas onto ships. It was first recorded in 1952 by Trinidadian singer Edric Connor, and then popularized in the United States by Harry Belafonte in 1956. 500 Miles was likely authored by Hedy West, the daughter of an Appalachian coal miner and labor activist, who moved to New York City at 21-years-old, and, according to Wikipedia, “was embraced by the Greenwich Village folk scene, and invited by Pete Seeger to sing alongside him at a Carnegie Hall concert.”

In the spirit of Arrorró, here I am singing a couple verses from Swing Low, Sweet Chariot:

My hope is that others will also upload videos of themselves singing the lullabies that were sung to them as children. I have already enlisted my friend and colleague from Trinidad and Tobago, Georgia:

There really isn’t much out there in terms of a collection of lullabies from around the world. Wikipedia has a skeleton of a post that is in desperate need of cleaning up and fleshing out. European lullabies are far better documented thanks to “Lullabies from the Cradle“, a project funded by the European Union to document the region’s lullabies in seven different languages. Arrorró has the potential to help fill in the gaps, to provide us with information, songs, and stories from regions and cultures that have, so far, tended to slip through the gaps of the digital divide.

Comments

  1. medea says:

    Sounds like an amazing project! However, now that you mention it, I don´t remember lullabies being sung to me. I was more a bed-time story kinda gal, I guess.
    Should I feel stiffed by mom???

  2. Lova says:

    Awesome idea. Here is a lullaby from Madagascar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHzgo0Fb8_A
    Pardon the horrendous singing, will try to do better next time :)

  3. indrani says:

    Lovely prooject:
    The hand that rocks the cradle……Well ….innocous but… ‘Paper Moon’ is a melodic song that I like

  4. Adelynne says:

    What a great idea for a project :)

    The only lullaby I can remember, and which my dad sang to me when I was young, is Brahms’ Lullaby. I know, tis sad that I had only one lullaby sang to me and one that is rather typical, but the memory of my dad singing it to me is beautiful.

    Thanks for bringing back sweet memories to me! :)

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The Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei is located in a historic Japanese-era building once used as Chenggong Elementary School. After…

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Presentation of the Arrorró Live Bit

Presentation of the Arrorró Live Bit: Pflasterspektakel artists give live renditions of lullabies together with singers in Argentina.

See you then!

http://www.arrorrolullabies.com.ar/blog/

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Photos tagged with "Arrorro, Gallery":
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