Song of the Week: Tum Balalaika

Song of the Week

SOTW - Tum Balalaika (Klezmer music and the Russian Balalaika)

This week on our world music tour we’re stopping over in Mother Russia! Sort of. Not really. Bear 🐻 with me. Also, this blog has A LOT of links, so feel free to just click on whatever strikes your fancy! 

The song “Tum Balalaika” literally means “the sound of the Balalaika.” Instead of me explaining the Balalaika, let’s watch an actual Balalaika player from one of our Thursday Music Class Events! 

Even though the lyrics to “Tum Balalaika” are about a Russian instrument, this song is not Russian. It’s Klezmer! Klezmer is the musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. If you’re not Jewish but have ever danced the Hora at a Jewish wedding, you’ve enjoyed Klezmer music! Klezmer has such a distinctive sound, influenced by European folk music, Romani music, and in recent history, American Jazz. You’ll often hear clarinets, violins, accordions, and brass in Klezmer music, but you WILL BASICALLY NEVER HEAR A BALALAIKA. This is a fascinating contradiction for “Tum Balalaika," an incredibly famous Klezmer song. Even Pete Seeger sang it – playing a Banjo instead of a Balalaika!

The lyrics to “Tum Balalaika” are a riddle about a boy searching for a clever wife who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. An endlessly relevant theme, amiright?! Here is something else relevant; a Yiddish folksong workshop singing “Tum Balalaika” from home because of COVID. Look out for the cat cameos and an older couple dancing the Viennese Waltz at the end! So cute!! 

More Yiddish/Klezmer things:
•    Adorable Jewish grandparents defining Yiddish words HERE.
•    A quick explanation of how the Yiddish and Hebrew languages are different HERE.
•    Itzchak Perlman playing Klezmer music HERE and his NEW MASTERCLASS HERE!! 
•    A Spotify playlist called “Yiddish, Klezmer, and Jewish Traditional Music” where the first song on the list is “Tum Balalaika” HERE!

More Balalaika things:
•    A full Balalaika Orchestra including the GIANT Contrabass Balalaika HERE.
•    A ridiculously adorable 7-year-old Balalaika prodigy HERE.
•    A jaw-dropping adult player HERE and HERE.
•    This is NOT a Balalaika, but it bops.

ENOUGH! Genug!!

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