Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Barry Sisters: Tumbalalaika

The Barry Sisters, Clara and Minnie Bagelman, first known as the Bagelman Sisters, were popular Yiddish jazz singers in the 1940s to 1960. The sisters performed on the New York Radio Show "Yiddish Melodies in Swing," on WHN (Sunday at 1 pm),  which would play songs incorporating a fusion of jazz, swing and klezmer in the Yiddish language.

Tumbalalaika is by no means a standard jazz song, but a Russian- Jewish folk and love song in the Yiddish language. There are versions in English and a number of other languages.Here is a cantorial version in Yiddish by three famous cantors. Benzion Miller, Alberto Mizrahi and Nathan Herstik. Here's another version in Yiddish by the Tum Balalaika Klezmer Band in Chicago.



Original lyrics
שטײט אַ בחור און ער טראַכט,
(או: שטײט אַ בחור, שטײט און טראַכט)
טראַכט און טראַכט אַ גאַנצע נאַכט:
וועמען צו נעמען און ניט פֿאַרשעמען,
וועמען צו נעמען און ניט פֿאַרשעמען?
טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַלײַקע
טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַלײַקע
טום־באַלאַלײַקע, שפּיל באַלאַלײַקע,
טום־באַלאַלײַקע, פֿריילעך זאָל זײַן!
(או: שפּיל באַלאַלײַקע, פֿריילעך זאָל זײַן!)
מיידל, מיידל, כ'וויל בײַ דיר פֿרעגן:
וואָס קאַן וואַקסן, וואַקסן אָן רעגן?
וואָס קאַן ברענען און ניט אויפֿהערן?
וואָס קאַן בענקען, וויינען אָן טרערן?
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
נאַרישער בחור, וואָס דאַרפֿסטו פֿרעגן?
אַ שטיין קאַן וואַקסן, וואַקסן אָן רעגן,
ליבע קאַן ברענען און ניט אויפֿהערן,
אַ האַרץ קאַן בענקען, וויינען אָן טרערן!
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
וואָס איז העכער פֿון אַ הויז?
וואָס איז פֿלינקער פֿון אַ מויז?
וואָס איז טיפֿער פֿון אַ קוואַל?
וואָס איז ביטער, ביטערער וי גאַל?
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
אַ קוימען איז העכער פֿון אַ הויז,
אַ קאַץ איז פֿלינקער פֿון אַ מויז,
די תּורה איז טיפֿער פֿון אַ קוואַל,
דער טויט איז ביטער, ביטערער וי גאַל!
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...

Shteyt a bokher, un er trakht (also shteyt un trakht)
Trakht un trakht a gantse nakht
Vemen tzu nemen un nisht farshemen
Vemen tzu nemen un nisht farshemen


Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, shpil balalaika
Tumbalalaika (also Shpil balalaika), freylekh zol zayn

Meydl, meydl, kh'vil bay dir fregn,
Vos ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
Vos ken brenen un nit oyfhern?
Vos ken benken, veynen on trern?


Narisher bokher, was darfst du fregn?
A shteyn ken vaksn, waksn on regn.
Libe ken brenen un nit oyfhern.
A harts ken benken, veynen on trern.


Vos iz hekher fun a hoyz?
Vos iz flinker fun a moyz?
Vos iz tifer fun a kval?
Vos iz biter, biterer vi gal?
A koymen iz hekher fun a hoyz.
A kats iz flinker fun a moyz.
Di toyre iz tifer fun a kval.
Der toyt iz biter, biterer vi gal.

A young lad stands, and he thinks
Thinks and thinks a whole night
Whom to take and not to shame
Whom to take and not to shame

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy

Girl, girl, I want to ask of you
What can grow, grow without rain?
What can burn and never end?
What can yearn, cry without tears?

Foolish lad, why do you have to ask?
A stone can grow, grow without rain
Love can burn and never end
A heart can yearn, cry without tears

What is higher than a house?
What is swifter than a mouse?
What is deeper than a well?
What is bitter, more bitter than gall?
A chimney is higher than a house
A cat is swifter than a mouse
The Torah is deeper than a well
Death is bitter, more bitter than gall

English Lyrics Version

A young lad is thinking, thinking all night
Would it be wrong, he asks, or maybe right,
Should he declare his love, dare he choose,
And would she accept, or will she refuse?
Chorus: Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika
tumbalalaika, play Balalaika,
tumbalalaika - let us be merry.
Maiden, maiden tell me again
What can grow, grow without rain,
What can burn for many years,
What can long and cry without tears?

Silly young lad, why ask again?
It's a stone that can grow, grow without rain,
It's love that can burn for many long years,
A heart that can yearn and cry without tears.


  1. Can anyone point me to a link to all the barry sister songs Lyrics?

  2. Does anybody know who owns the rights to the Barry Sisters' version of Tumbalalaika?


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