Singer finds learn­ing world’s lul­la­bies uni­ver­sal

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The songs’ lyrics are as ba­sic as they get, but also the most uni­ver­sal. Singer Sophia Brous is weav­ing to­gether lul­la­bies from some 25 cul­tures, ex­plor­ing the deeper mean­ing in how to com­mu­ni­cate with in­fants through mu­sic. “In a funny way, lul­la­bies are the most suc­cess­ful pop songs ever to have ex­isted,” the Mel­bourne-born mu­si­cian said. “They per­pet­u­ate them­selves through gen­er­a­tions be­cause they’re in­fin­itely re­peat­able, mem­o­rable and you ab­sorb them.” To cre­ate “Lul­laby Move­ment,” Brous learned cra­dle songs in lo­cal lan­guages di­rectly from moth­ers or oth­ers in more than 25 com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing asy­lum-seek­ers in the wave of mi­gra­tion from the war-torn Mid­dle East.

The song cy­cle, set to a flow­ing back­drop that goes from sooth­ing am­bi­ent sounds to bouncy syn­the­sized bass, is dra­ma­tized through a loose story line as Brous plays a sleep-de­prived girl seek­ing se­cu­rity as she stands on a peb­ble beach. Brous show­cased “Lul­laby Move­ment” on Satur­day at Na­tional Saw­dust, a year-old New York mu­sic venue with a fo­cus on the avant-garde where the Aus­tralian has been named an artist-in-res­i­dence. Brous, who has col­lab­o­rated with artists in­clud­ing David Byrne of Talk­ing Heads fame and in­die pop singer Kim­bra, was drawn to lul­la­bies af­ter speak­ing to an 80-year-old for­mer bal­le­rina from Latvia who poured emo­tion when re­lat­ing a chil­dren’s song.

“The more that I be­gan to con­sider them like a reper­toire, the more fas­ci­nated I be­came,” said Brous, who re­mem­bers lul­la­bies from her own par­ents. Brous spent time with refugees in­clud­ing in the Calais “Jun­gle” camp in France. While stress­ing that she has done lit­tle to address the cri­sis, Brous found she could quickly re­late to mi­grant chil­dren through lul­la­bies in Ara­bic, Farsi and other lan­guages. “It is a grounder and a lev­eler and a con­nec­tor, and I think some­times it can be very pow­er­ful to let mu­sic play that role,” she said.

Are lul­la­bies uni­ver­sal?

“Lul­laby Move­ment” in­di­rectly touches on one of the foun­da­tional ques­tions of lin­guis­tics: Is language uni­ver­sal at its root? Brous found much in com­mon from lul­la­bies around the world, which so of­ten use frag­mented, made-up sounds to soothe chil­dren. “‘Roo, roo,’ ‘Zhoo, zhoo,’ or ‘aaah, aaah’-I was just so fas­ci­nated by the idea of im­parted love and ex­pres­sive love through words that may not have a lit­eral mean­ing,” she said. “What has been so in­ter­est­ing is that I’ve never once had a com­ment of peo­ple feel­ing that they are not un­der­stand­ing it, or feel­ing a dis­con­nect from the ex­pres­sive power of the mu­sic,” she said about per­form­ing the piece. But the struc­ture of lul­la­bies varies widely be­tween cul­tures. Brous was sur­prised that lul­la­bies she learned from Eritrea, Ghana, Nige­ria and Uganda not only had deep African rhythms, but that moth­ers were able to dance to them.

Other lul­la­bies, such as those from China and Croa­tia, struck Brous by the dark­ness of the im­agery, such as ref­er­ences to an­thro­po­mor­phic an­i­mals lost in the wilder­ness. Brous, whose piece was first com­mis­sioned by Ur­ban The­atre Projects in Syd­ney, plans an in­ter­na­tional pre­miere and tour of “Lul­laby Move­ment” in the 2017-18 sea­son. She com­posed the piece with Leo Abra­hams, a gui­tarist who has played with Brian Eno and Pulp, and David Coul­ter, a mu­si­cal saw vir­tu­oso for­merly in The Pogues celtic punk band.

Brous will spend the year work­ing on “Lul­laby Move­ment” and other works at Na­tional Saw­dust, an in­ti­mate venue in Brook­lyn whose ad­vi­sory board in­cludes lead­ing names in clas­si­cal and ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic such as Philip Glass and Lau­rie An­der­son. Paola Pres­tini, the ex­ec­u­tive and cre­ative di­rec­tor of Na­tional Saw­dust, said Brous “fits in very clearly” in the mis­sion of the venue with her vir­tu­os­ity and sense for a mu­si­cian’s role in so­ci­ety. “She’s an artist who de­fies bound­aries and an artist the whole world should know but doesn’t yet,” Pres­tini said.

— AP

Aus­tralian com­poser Sophia Brous poses af­ter an in­ter­view with AFP in New York.

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