Sicilian Lullaby

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       The first songs we hear, the first sounds are of our mothers’ voices, lulling us to sleep , coaxing us to close our eyes and dream. Even in adulthood, we are all still the children of our mothers and always shall be. Many times, I begin concerts with a lullaby, not just because they are the first songs we experience, regardless of our heritage, ethnicity or upbringing, but because they are so beautiful. The lullaby has the power to soothe and to move – what other song can make a grown man weep? Filled with sweet images, often of a child drifting off to sleep “ Durmi nicuzza cu l’ancilu to/Sleep sweet little one with your angel”, or dream-like pictures that could only exist in the mind ” Riposa l’aqua riposa lu vientu. Riposa la sirena/The water rests, the wind rests. The siren rests.” They are the perfect conduit to dream-land.

“Ue, beddu angelinu di lu core/ Beautiful little angel of my heart” They evoke a time when we and our mothers were each other’s worlds. Throughout history, Sicily was terrorized by pirates, always overrun with and fighting against invaders, suffered from crushing poverty and famine, yet at the end of the day, mothers held their children close, wrapped their arms about them, then rocked them gently while singing to them. Famine, war, poverty, danger and fear will have to wait…mothers are lulling their babies to sleep….

While currently writing a performance piece, I have been rereading and referencing the Odyssey, one of my favorite books. Opening to a random chapter, I was struck by a powerful image: it was of Athena assisting Odysseus as Poseidon is trying to harm him.

“ But Zeus’ daughter checked the course of all the winds but one, commanding them, “ Be quiet and go to sleep.” Then sent a long swell running under a norther to bear the prince Odysseus, back from danger, to join the Phaiakians, the people of the sea.” (1)

The image of the goddess Athena commanding the winds and calming the seas reminded me of the lullabies of Sicily. The parallels are obvious: Athena is considered a mother figure  and of course, there is that theory that the Odyssey was written by a Sicilian woman, Nausicaa who lived in Trapani. If the story is written from a feminine perspective, then  Athena’s protection and help to Odysseus, even meddling if you will, is quite natural. What mother wouldn’t do whatever within her capabilities to help her own child?

Yet it was this command to the seas and the wind that seemed so familiar. In many lullabies, there is the image of the seas and the winds resting as the child rests. Each entity somehow connected, somehow one. It is as if mothers and Athena understood what Joseph Murphy taught, “ Every thought is a cause…”

These lullabies…are they a mother’s wishful thinking, a desire to create a world of good for her child.. or are they something more ancient…perhaps an understanding of our connectedness in thought? Perhaps the assertion of the power to heal. Before the advent of Christ, people looked to the gods for power and it was a power separate from themselves. Once Christ walked the earth, it became understood that God is within us. Did he not demonstrate his power over nature? The power to calm the seas? Of course, mothers and mother figures have always embodied this knowledge.

The beauty of music, just as in the beauty of the written word remains unchanged: it is that ability to elevate our thoughts, to touch upon our tenderest emotions and to make us wonder. Mothers have for millennia moved mountains to secure peace and happiness for their children. That , too, remains unchanged.

Michela Musolino

(1) The Odyssey Book Five lines 374-443 Translated by. Robert Fitzgerald.
Published: June 11, 2013
Michela Musolinohttp://www.michelamusolino.com
Michela Musolino is a singer who specializes in the Roots Music of Sicily. She is known and loved on both sides of the Atlantic. Her CD “Songs of Trinacria” can be heard on radio stations in Europe and the US. Her music is featured in the film “Un Bellissimo Ricordo”. Peter Covino, PEN America prizewinning poet, summed up Musolino’s appeal on both sides of the Atlantic:: "Can you imagine the wild soulfulness of Tina Tuner and the earthy yet ethereal voice of Neapolitan songstress Teresa De Sio combined? Well imagine that; then think even more vibrancy, more urbanity, in songs that somehow also feel impossibly intimate...."

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8 COMMENTS

  1. A wonderful article, Michela. I was reminded about the power of music, particularly in Sicily, when I watched La Terra Trema on the big screen last week. Music punctuates every scene. The fishermen sing, the women sing. Song is a part of life that crosses all boundaries, a richness that even the poorest can share. What mother hasn’t looked at her child lovingly and hummed a tune hoping to soothe? Music becomes part of the collective conscious, part of the culture. And the Sicilian lullabies are exceptionally beautiful.

  2. You have touched my heart. Music has been the constant in my life and provided such sanctuary to me during celebration and difficult times. Appreciate this very much.

  3. I remember my Sicilian grandmother singing “mani manuzzi, viene Jesuzza”. She clapped hands as she was singing. Has anyone else ever heard of this little ditty? I don’t remember the rest of it.

  4. Great article. You are absolutely right in identifying the power in these old Sicilian lullabies to make a grown man weep. They are so beautiful and carry with them that sweet motherly love. It was so long ago, but I vaguely remember my Sicilian aunts, and my grandmother singing there pretty, melancholy lullabies to me and the other kids in the family. I miss those songs so much. I am wondering if you or anybody out there knows of an song that I can only guess the title of. It’s about Baby Jesus, and I remember the sound was something like, “Bomy Natu”. It would really make my day to hear that just one more time.

    • Hi Hildy,
      your post, like the one above of Patricia are touching. It’s amazing how our Sicilian culture is there, away from Sicily, but still alive. Is like a flower that the wind blow away, very far from the land where it first grown and then you find the same flower in a completely different contest, same colors, nice, smelling, “different” from the rest of the flowers around … I am not sure how to explain, but is a nice feeling for us that lives in Sicily!

      May be it was something like “BAMMINEDDU” – There are mani songs dedicated to “Bammineddu” –
      As an example here one in you tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP_S14fYejY

      Best thing is to go on youtube and type the keyword Bammineddu (the little Baby Jesus). You can also buy a cd of typical Sicilian Songs of Xmast.

      N’abbrazzu
      Giovanni

      • Giovanni,
        Thank you for your help and your poetic words. Yes, the Sicilian culture is alive here, adding flavor to the American “Sugu.”

        I searched “Bammineddu” and all sorts of good stuff came up. I haven’t found the song I am looking for yet, but I only just started searching, so in the meantime I’m enjoying all the other songs I’m finding on the path.

        Thanks!

  5. Hello, my grandparents were from Palermo in Sicilia and the words they used were…Excuse the spelling I only learned Sicilian by ear……

    Manu manuzzi, Pane e figuzzi, u vino e’ na ganata e (name of the person) e’ umbriago. Hey!
    Clap your hands, bread and figs, the wine is in the container and (whoever) is drunk. Hey!

    Manu manuzzi Vieni papa portata una cose e po si ni va
    Clap your hands, Daddy is coming to bring you something and then he leaves.

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