This week’s update starts with 2 songs from the early 1900s. Both the songs have Central/Eastern European origins, though precise dates remain elusive.
The first one is a Yiddish lullaby, written by a prominent Yiddish poet and playwright named Itzik Manger, and composed by Dov Seltzer, a Romanian-born Israeli composer and conductor. The song is ‘Vaylu’. There aren’t many recordings of this song, but here’s a live performance to give you a flavour.
The next song is an Eastern European folk song called ‘Tumbalalaika’. It’s constructed as a riddle song, where a boy asks riddles to a girl and she answers. Here’s a slower version of this folk song by Pete Seeger and Ruth Rubin.
And a slightly faster version, by The Barry Sisters:
Now, while you hold on to those Central/Eastern European Yiddish songs, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman, better—and more famously—known as The Sherman Brothers, the American songwriting duo that specialized in musical films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Richard: We wanted to have a folky quality, but originally the harmonics in it were not quite as sophisticated. To be specific, it has a downward chromatic movement, a shifting major-minor sound.
Robert: I had said, “Why don’t we call it “One Chimney, Two Chimney, Three Chimney, Sweep”—that kind of rhythm.
Richard: We had it and it was very heavy, almost with a Middle Eastern sound, and both of us started disliking it. It was a straight minor. We thought, “We’ve got to lighten this thing up. It’s English, it isn’t Russian.” So we were thinking and thinking and then we re-harmonized it, and that’s when the chromatic downward movement started in the harmony, all of a sudden the song came to life.
The song they are talking about is of course ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ from Mary Poppins (1964). Now consider the fact that The Sherman Brothers are sons of Russian-Jewish immigrants! The song is famously alleged to be inspired by ‘Vaylu’ and ‘Tumbalalaika’.
Listen to Chim Chim Cher-ee:
And now we come to Indian connection. Or, connections.
For the Indian variant, we go to the 1979 Tamil film Neela Malargal. The film was a remake of the 1972 Hindi film Anuraag, starring Moushumi Chatterjee (making her Hindi film debut) and Vinod Mehra. Rajesh Khanna made a cameo in a song, and that song’s (Ram Karay Babua) Tamil equivalent (the scene-based equivalent, not tune-based) is ‘Pesum Manimottu Rojakkal’. The Tamil version of the song did not have any cameo by a star, but simply starred the films leads, Kamal Haasan and Sridevi and is set, like the Hindi version, in a birthday party. The song, composed by M. S. Viswanathan, is inspired by Mary Poppins‘ ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’, where the ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ is replaced with a faster, ‘Cham Chiki Cham’.
The Mary Poppins original featured again in a 1997 Hindi film, Ghoongat starring Inder Kumar and Ayesha Jhulka. The song is called ‘Chim Chimni’ and extensively uses the original almost as-is, sung by Aditya Narayan, Udit Narayan, Abhijeet, Preeti Uttam and Deepa Narayan. It even starts with 2 kids sitting on top of a chimney and singing!
If you recall the slower Yiddish melodies mentioned earlier (Vaylu and Tumbalalaika), there is another candidate for an inspiration of the same original. That’s a fairly lesser known Jatin-Lalit song from the 1994 film Laqshya (not to confused with the Hrithik Roshan starrer, Lakshya). The song ‘Tum Humko Hum Tumko Sanam’ is a mighty proficient and skillfully adapted variant of the original cluster of songs, something that Jatin-Lalit were known for.