Friday, February 09, 2007

The South African Dead Baby Song


It's the first anniversary of the ILLFOLKS blog.

What better way to celebrate than with an ill folk song?

"Siembamba" is sort of the South African version of "Rockabye Baby." We don't mind crooning to our kids about a baby hauled into a tree, and then falling to the ground when a limb breaks. Guaranteed, baby breaks a few limbs, too.

And so in South Africa, there's an equally charming old folk song called "Siembamba."
The genteel, nearly forgotten husband and wife team of Marais and Miranda recorded it, both studio and live versions.
Goodwill ambassadors for South Africa, and fluent in songs involving Dutch and African languages, Marais and Miranda popularized "We Are Marching To Pretoria," "The Zulu Warrior," and many other songs nobody knows anymore. You can find most in the dollar bin of any record store that is still in business, and in thrift shops all over the world.
South African Josef Marais (Nov 17 1905 - Apr 27 1978) and Amsterdam native Miranda (Rosa Lily Odette Baruch de la Pardo, Jan 9 1912 - Apr 20 1986) were kindly people. They used to sing a folk song about "Johnny with the Wooden Leg," but after the war, and mindful of injuries suffered by soldiers, they updated the lyric to "Johnny with the bandy leg." They dressed like classical concert artists, and almost never performed anything that could be considered tasteless.
Almost never.
For any of you who are Dutch/South African, you'll recognize these lines:
Siembamba - mamma se kindjie
Siembamba - mamma se kindjie
Draai sy nek om gooi hom in die sloot
Trap op sy kop dan is hy dood
The rest of you will just have to download this ditty to hear the English translation.
And so, with over-population a threat to kill us if global warming doesn't, the ILLFOLKS blog happily presents....
The delightful dead baby lullaby SIEMBAMBA.

7 comments:

Elaine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elaine said...

Alright, apparently I've gone mad.

All seems to be fine now.

Sorry for the false alarm.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks elaine, I removed the first comment to preserve your e-mail address from any bot-pickers out there.

Yes, things seem to be ok. I hope Siembamba got to sleep. Better yet, I hope Siembamba also was allowed to wake up.

Anonymous said...

What album is this from?

Ill Folks said...

"Siembamba" in the studio version is on "Marais and Miranda Revisit the South African Veld." Decca.

The live version is on "Marais and Miranda In Person." Decca oddly issued their concert on two separate discs rather than a double-album.

glasser 365 days VN said...

You are my Hero!

I have been looking all over for this song. What good memories.

I had the good fortune to meet these folks once and I remember Miranda talking to us after the show about this song.

What a charming couple. And, oh, could they sing!

GW said...

I remember this album very well. My family had several of their albums and we loved to play them. It wasn't until years later that I actually thought about the lyrics!

It is possible that my mom still has the albums and I'll need to see if I can record them as mp3's