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Lullabies of the World: What's Your Favorite?

Baby sleeps

A newborn baby sleeps in a hospitals in Southern Luzon, Philippines (2009). Photo Oliver Belarga – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This story by April Peavy for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on April 7, 2014 and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

New parents everywhere face a common problem: getting their babies to sleep. And there's a common solution: a lullaby.

But it turns out lullabies don't just help babies relax, they help adults, as well, explains author Kathy Henderson, who collected lullabies from across the globe for her children's book, Hush, Baby, Hush. She says lullabies help parents “deal with the situation in which they are being wound up by a child, or they are failing to get them to sleep, or they are feeling really, really tired themselves.”

The title of Henderson's book comes from a Jamaican lullaby called “Hush Baby Hush,” with a version recorded by The Kitchen Sisters.

The author says lullabies share certain traits. They almost always have both music and words. The music has to have a “soothing rhythm” and a rather narrow musical range.

But the lyrics, she says, can be about anything — and cover a wide spectrum of human emotion and mood.

There are lullabies about anger, frustration, and humor. Henderson points out there are lullabies about “food, families, monsters, children being naughty” and many other things.

In the Turkish lullaby called “Dandini Dan,” one of the verses is about calves getting into the garden and the farmer having to chase them out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gNWGnTtKZwA

Lullabies are also sung in all sorts of situations, not just when a baby is in bed. For example, mothers sometimes sing them while they work, so their children will settle down and let them keep on working.

Henderson reckons the oldest lullaby is from well before the common era and says researchers have found lullabies in the oldest-known literature.

PRI is collecting and sharing favorite lullabies from around the world in our new app, The World's Lullabies. Have a listen and tell us which you like. Want to share your favorite? You can upload a recording or a video — or simply click a button and sing into your mobile device or computer.

April Peavey is studio director and producer for PRI's The World.

Discover and submit lullabies at PRI.org

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