Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let us dance, before we lose our youthful hearts

Two Serbian singers
9" x 8". markers on paper, 2014
Each country has its history, traditions, and folklore. Every year I really get into reading, looking, and listening to several of those. Now it appears that several countries have more history, tradition, and folklore than others and it also appears that my own country of origin has very little of it. I mean that someone like Alan Lomax, working on a vast archive of traditional music the world around, would have never even considered to visit to the Netherlands in search for gems of traditional music. There simply isn't much of it. I remember when I was a child in the late 60s, I owned a song book of old Dutch songs. I was really intrigued by it. I haven't seen that book in 40 years but I remember vividly what it looked like and what songs were in it. There were a few children's songs in it—I remember Kortjakje: "Altijd is Kortjakje ziek, midden in de week maar zondag's niet. Zondag's moet zij naar de kerk." (Kortjakje is always sick, except for Sundays. Because on Sundays she has to go to church.) There weren't really any religious songs in it though. (There must have been other books dedicated just to those.) I also remember that there was a whole section of South African songs in the book. Lots of traditional songs in the Afrikaanse language must have originated in Holland. I remember most of the lyrics to the song Sarie Mareis. There were sea shanties, and of the course the Wilhelmus, the national anthem. Lots of the traditional songs were racy at best, but not like those murder ballads that have been so much written about in literature, they seem to have originated mostly in England and Scotland, and some in Germany. There wasn't much singing going on when I grew up. People sang in church and people sang 'Sinterklaas liedjes' before December 5th. I didn't sing in church, I tried but was kicked out of the choir for not being able to hold a key. (I was more interested in leaving church before the singing anyways:)) My favorite song was this lengthy ballad called Drie Schuimtamboers. I can still recite most of the song, it was more than two pages full of lyrics: Drie Schuimtamboers, die kwamen uit het oosten, van je rom-bom-wat maal-ik-er-om, die kwamen uit het oosten rom-bom. Een van die drie, die zag een aardig meisje...etc. I grew up traditionless, nothing to be proud of (except for the national soccer team reaching the World Cup final in '74 and again in '78.) The culture I grew up didn't regard music, or art for that matter highly. "Och die kan toch zo mooi zingen" ((S)he can sing so pretty, can't (s)he?) they would say in a tone as if they felt sorry for you. So to me they'd say "Och die kan toch zo mooi tekenen." To this day I still feel that way, like that child who could draw pretty pictures. "Och ik heb nu toch ook weer zo'n leuke tekening gemaakt. Twee schattige meisjes uit het oosten. Zijn ze niet lief"? (I did such a pretty drawing today of two pretty girls from the east. Aren't they cute.) The singers are two girls from a group of seven from a village near Prijepolje in Serbia. The singers (in the photo on the cover of the album Serbian Folk Music) are named but I don't know who is who. The singers recorded before 1981 in Serbia, which still was Yugoslavia back then. Very much unlike the Netherlands, the former countries of Yugoslavia have a rich history, traditions, and folklore. I've been enchanted by the music of these countries for quite a few years now. The song in the top 100 the drawing illustrates is called Hajde Dano, Da Igramo (Come Dana, let us dance—before we lose our youthful hearts). Reading through the translations of many a Serbian song I can't help but notice that the lyrics have none of that belittling, racy, and ignorant quality the Dutch songs from my book do.

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