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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

3 Songs You Didn't Know Were American

After seeing a few of these pop up again recently in my social media feeds I realized there are still a lot of music teachers who aren't aware of the misinformation that has been passed around for years in our circles about certain songs that have become quite common in US elementary music lessons. Hopefully this is old news for many, but if you didn't know, now you know: these songs are not "traditional" songs from non-US American cultures as they have been presented for years in the past.

There has long been a problem of misattribution in US elementary general music repertoire, largely because of publishers and workshop presenters putting things out without doing proper research and busy teachers trusting them as reliable sources and using the material in their teaching to continue circulating the misinformation. So please hear this: I don't necessarily think these songs are inherently offensive and should be removed completely from our teaching. But I do very strongly believe in the importance of presenting the songs accurately as the American, "in the style of" songs that they are, and I would think hard about WHY you're using these songs, instead of others, when you're thinking about using them in your lessons. These should definitely NOT be included in units on the music of the Netherlands, any African country, or Iran, or "music around the world" programs or lessons, as they don't represent a specific culture (including the US- these songs were not written to represent US American culture, obviously, which is why they have been misattributed for so long).  

1. Funga Alafia

This song (also sometimes written as Fanga Alafia) was circulated for years as a traditional Liberian, Nigerian, or "African" welcome song, but was actually written by an African American around 1960. There is a long and interesting history that's worth reading in this post by Azizi Powell. 

2. Ye Toop Doram

This song, and the ball game that goes with it, has been passed around as a traditional children's game from Iran or Afghanistan, but was actually written by a US American music teacher as a way to help her students learn some basic words in Farsi to connect with her students that had just come to her school from Afghanistan and Iran. You can read the full background, straight from the composer herself, in this post by Aimee Pfitzner.

3. Sarasponda

This song has long been circulated as a traditional Dutch spinning song, but there is no documentation to back up that claim- it has, however, been traced back to an American songbooks from the 1940's. There isn't one conclusive source on the full background of the song, but here is a summary from Wikipedia.

If any of this information was new to you I hope this post will spur you on to do some more research into the songs so many music teacher resources present as being "from" non-US cultures! Exploring music from cultures outside our own is fantastic and in fact absolutely necessary and important as music teachers, but we need to do our homework to make sure we do so accurately, respectfully, and responsibly, especially as we consider what to pass along to our students and how.

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