“AJDE JANO”

“Ajde Jano”
Serbian Traditional Folk Song
SONG INFO AND LYRICS

“Ajde Jano” is one of the most popular and beloved Serbian traditional folk songs. While its author and the exact time of its origin are not known, it is believed by some to have been created in the early 1900s, although according to other sources this was originally an older women’s wedding dance and song that originated at the town of Kosovska Mitrovica in the Serbian province of Kosovo i Metohija. Compared to many other Serbian traditional folk songs “Ajde Jano” might not be a very old song but it had nonetheless gained an enormous popularity and has become a staple song at various public events and gatherings such as traditional celebrations, weddings, folk music festivals etc.

The striking beauty of its melody and a characteristic sound of this song prompted numerous musicians and artists from all over the world to perform it live or to record their own arrangements. Even a simple search for “Ajde Jano” on YouTube would return a long list with dozens of different versions, revealing this song’s enormous potential for successful integration into different musical styles and situations. I would highlight just some interesting arrangements by various international artists:

  • Kroke Band, a Polish world music instrumental ensemble, recorded their own version of Ajde Jano on their album “Trio” in 1996
  • American world music recording artist Talitha MacKenzie recorded her own version of Ajde Jano on her album “Spiorad” released in 1996
  • English violinist Nigel Kennedy with the Kroke Band and Egyptian-British singer Natacha Atlas released Ajde Jano on the album “East Meets East” in 2003
  • Finnish accordionist Teija Niku and Grupa Balkan recorded Ajde Jano on her album “Finsko Pajdusko” in 2011
  • Italian jazz/world music musician Daniele Sepe released Ajde Jano on his album “Canzoniere Illustrato” in 2012
  • Polish singer Kayah released Ajde Jano on her album “Transoriental Orchestra” in 2013
  • Japanese band Japalkan recorded and performed their version of Ajde Jano on the “Küstendorf Film and Music Festival” in 2018

In the recent years a heated debate has developed concerning the song lyrics. While some alternate versions of the lyrics have been introduced recently, this debate centers on the question of authenticity of the most popular version (as shown below) and whether this is indeed the original text or rather a purposely altered version.

The following are these controversial lyrics that have been commonly accepted as a “default” version:

 

In Serbian Cyrillic alphabet:

‘Ајде Јано коло да играмо!
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коло да играмо,
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коло да играмо!

‘Ајде Јано коња да продамо!
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња да продамо,
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња да продамо!

Да продамо, само да играмо!
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо,
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо!

‘Ајде Јано кућу да продамо!
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, кућу да продамо,
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, кућу да продамо!

Да продамо само да играмо!
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо,
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо!

 

English translation:

C’mon Jana, let’s dance the kolo!
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s dance the kolo,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s dance the kolo!

C’mon Jana, let’s sell the horse!
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse!

For to sell it, just to dance!
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance,
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance!

C’mon Jana, let’s sell the house!
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the house,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the house!

For to sell it, just to dance!
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance,
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance!

– – – – – – –

The famous Serbian folk music singer Mara Djordjevich (1916-2003) praised for her characteristic, yet authentic vocal style, recorded her lovely rendition of “Ajde Jano” which was released in 1956 as a ‘Side B’ song on a 78RPM SP record for the Jugoton record label. The CD album “Mara Djordjevic – Songs from Kosovo and Metohija” featuring collection of her recordings of traditional folk songs from the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija has been posthumously released in 2008 for PGP-RTS record label.

Ajde Jano” by Mara Djordjevic:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWpXVnt02aQ

 

Another beautiful example for a traditional performance is a version recorded by a famous Serbian folk music singer Vasilija Radojchich (1936-2011).

Ajde Jano” by Vasilija Radojchich:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E9e6NKNruM

In January 2013, a modern arrangement of “Ajde Jano” has been performed live at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City by the Belgrade, Serbia based mixed choir Viva Vox.

Ajde Jano” by Viva Vox at UN General Assembly Hall:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_o0nCvTkqE

– – – – – – –

While the only person explicitly mentioned in the text is a woman named Jana (pronounced as: YAN-nah) the song actually centers on the person who is obviously leading the story. This unnamed man is determined to dance with Jana at any price and he is persistently inviting her to dance with him.

His affection becomes obvious just by looking at his offerings to Jana in return for a dance: a horse and a house! Anyone willing to part with two of the most valuable possessions in return for a dance or two would be considered out of their mind even in modern times and especially in the times this song was created in. Having this is mind, we can suspect that his affection towards Jana is not a consequence of a deep and pure love but rather of utter recklessness.

An easily overlooked fact in the text reveals that both the house and the horse are their common property, as the man repeatedly exclaims:

 

‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња да продамо!

C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse!

and:

‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, кућу да продамо!

C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse!

This clue reveals more details about their relationship. Since they share the ownership of both the horse and a house, it looks like they are a married couple that lives together.

Another concealed clue is the type of dance – Kolo. Kolo is a traditional circle-dance that involves several dancers. (Read more about “kolo” dance in my essay: Vodichanka kolo” – coming soon!)

This detail points to the wider context of this song. “Kolo” dance is an inseparable part of any traditional celebration or gathering, especially in the rural settings. Typically, these events include weddings, various “rites of passage” celebrations, religious holidays, sowings, harvests and many other traditional activities and occasions. The most common such traditional celebration, unique to Serbian people, is Slava (pronounced as: “Slah-vah” – in Serbian Cyrillic alphabet: “Слава”). It is a religious, ritual glorification of a family’s patron saint day. At such large celebrations kolo dance often involves dozens of dancers, as it is customary for all attendees to join the dance.

Some contemporary examples include traditional annual fairgrounds festivals and folk music festivals such as the famed “Shabacki vashar” (City of Shabac Fairgrounds Festival – “Шабачки вашар”) or the world famous annual trumpet music festival Gucha Festival (“Гуча фестивал”) and many others.

Serbian writer Stevan Sremac (1855-1906) masterfully depicted one such typical “Slava feast” in his famous novel “Ivkova Slava” or “Ivko’s Feast” (in Serbian: “Ивкова слава”). The plot centers around a seemingly never-ending feast taking place over the course of three days, in the city of Nish (in Serbian: “Ниш”), near the end of the XIX century. A comedy movie Ivko’s Feast based on the novel was released in 2005.

As expected and so characteristic for the colorful and expressive people in the Helm region (also known as “Balkan peninsula”), such celebrations include loud music, dancing, singing, often with demonstrative gun and rifle firings, and above all eating and drinking or rather overeating and excessive drinking! Throwing an extravagant feast for those special occasions is a matter of prestige and a display of pride and social status. Most often such celebrations would start early in the day and extend throughout the night, while in some extreme but not too uncommon situations they would extend well into the next day and sometimes run continuously for several days.

The key ingredient here is the excess in eating and especially in drinking! Without any justifying or criticizing of these activities, it is obvious that more often than not participants become irresponsible or even incapacitated.

It is important to note here that in the old times only the privileged upper class citizens would have been able to afford such extravagant celebrations while the common people and peasants struggled in relative poverty.

If we suppose that the lyrics, as shown above, are indeed the original text for this song I could only argue that indeed the most likely context for this song is one of such extended celebrations in which participants desperately want to keep dancing and celebrating while been incapacitated due to the excess food and alcohol consumption. This would explain the insane decision making by our unnamed lead player.

However, we would have a hard time trying to find a single equivalent for such direct suggestive recklessness and a praise of careless irresponsibility in any other Serbian traditional folk song lyrics. While some folk songs treat certain situations around mischievous behavior, carelessness, laziness etc., a highly suggestive message and a direct praise implied in this song’s lyrics seem curiously inappropriate for the social context at the time of this song’s creation, even if it was created as recently as in the early XX Century. It is not very likely that a song with such lyrics would be accepted for a wide public use in a patriarchal and relatively conservative society that Serbia represented in the early XX Century, let alone any earlier period.

Some recent versions have been created for the lyrics, including the ones written by the famous Serbian musician Asim Sarvan, recorded under the title “Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо” (“C’mon Jana, let’s not give the house”), recorded and released in 2008.

Sarvan’s lyrics are indeed consistent with the folk music context, and furthermore, he has introduced some new elements giving the lyrics a fresh, yet traditional sense:

“C’mon Jana, let’s not give the house” – by Asim Sarvan
(“Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо” – Асим Сарван)

Ајде Јано, коло да играмо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо коло да играмо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо да се погледамо

Ајде Јано, песме да певамо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо, да их сачувамо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо благо да чувамо.

Ајде Јано, коња да седламо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо да се прошетамо
До Бистрице да идемо да се умијемо.

Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо
Да не дамо, Јано душо, да је не продамо,
Кад продамо, Јано душо, како да играмо?
Кад продамо, Јано море, како да играмо?

Да не дамо, Јано душо, да је не продамо,
Кад продамо, Јано море, како да играмо?

 

Here’s my English translation:

C’mon Jana, let’s dance the kolo,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s dance the kolo,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey,
to look at each other.

C’mon Jana, let’s sing the songs,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, to save them,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s save the treasure.

C’mon Jana, let’s saddle up the horse,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, to take a walk,
To Bistrica river, to splash our faces.

C’mon Jana, let’s not give the house,
Not to give it, Jana honey, nor to sell it,
If we sell it, Jana honey, how can we dance?
If we sell it, Jana dear, how can we dance?

Let’s not give it, Jana honey, let’s not sell it,
If we sell it, Jana dear, how can we dance?

(Translated by Koshanin)

Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо” by “Asim Sarvan i prijatelji”
“Ajde Jana, let’s not give the house” by Asim Sarvan and Friends, released in 2008:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyN4FeeMqAA

Sarvan’s lyrics come as a result of a rejection by a growing number of people who are reacting negatively to the “default” lyrics for this song. A major reason for such negative sentiment to the lyrical content is its apparent contradiction and a defeatist, socially irresponsible message.

This opens the possibility that the lyrics have been intentionally changed or altered. While this idea might seem like a “conspiracy theory” many similar cases of altering or banning traditional folk song lyrics are well known. Given the brutal and totalitarian nature of the communist rulers in Yugoslavia after the Second World War and their desire to ultimately destroy local culture, tradition, religion and any national sentiment, this could very well be the case. After all, the banning of books, destruction of historic documents, abolition of freedom of speech and political and religious freedoms, mass imprisonments and executions quickly became communists’ favorite methods and are altogether well documented.

 

An American world music recording artist Talitha MacKenzie recorded her own version on her album “Spiorad” released in 1996 for the “Shanachie Entertainment” record label. MacKenzie wrote new lyrics, based on the original structure and introduced an anti-war context.

Ajde Jano” by Talitha MacKenzie, from the album “Spiorad” released in 1996:
http://youtu.be/RrfiMtnahsY

The production, recording and performance are outstanding and the pacifist nature of the lyrics is surely a noble idea and a positive, encouraging direction within the larger context. On the other hand, the history of the Balkan lands, continuous fighting for a bare survival and striving for independence throughout the ages have taught the locals that arms cannot be set aside that easily.

Not unlike in the other parts of the world, the people of the Balkan lands had to constantly remain vigilant to recurring attacks and attempts to conquer their lands and freedom by foreign invaders. This goes back to the ancient times of the expanding Roman Empire, the invasions of the Avars and the Huns, to the historically recent invasions of Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and beyond. After all, virtually all armed conflicts of the XX century in Balkan lands have been more or less induced or outright caused by the actions of powerful foreign geopolitical players. Sadly, even in our times we are witnessing similar attempts in the form of economic pressures and other modern forms of warfare.

 

I would propose another scenario for a new, duet version of the lyrics. Perhaps this could be a “call and response” type of song that would feature the alternating male and female sections, where Jana would reply to her man by dismissing his foolish behavior.

The man would sing the “default” part of the lyrics:

C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse/house!

In Serbian:

‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња/кућу да продамо!

To which the woman would reply:

No, my dear, let’s not sell the horse/house!
No, my dear, no, my soul, let’s not sell the horse/house,
No, my dear, no, my soul, let’s not sell the horse/house!

Let’s not sell it, let’s just dance!
Let’s not sell it, my honey, let’s just dance,
Let’s not sell it, c’mon honey, let’s just dance!

In Serbian:

‘Немој драги, кућу/коња да продамо!
‘Немој драги, немој душо, кућу/коња да продамо,
‘Немој драги, немој душо, кућу/коња да продамо!

Да не дамо, само да играмо!
Да не дамо, моја душо, само да играмо,
Да не дамо, ајде душо, само да играмо!

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the lyrical content, this song features some beautiful folk music motifs and it is set to a 7/8 meter – one of the most common meters in the folk music of the Balkan region. (Read more about “Odd Meters” in my 6-part essay series here)

 

My own solo piano version of “Ajde Jano” was released in 2011 on my first CD album “Over Seven Seas” and is available at my online music store:

https://koshanin.bandcamp.com/album/over-seven-seas

For the musically inclined and the piano players interested in learning to play this arrangement I would recommend the sheet music for this song which is included in my “Over Seven Seas SONGBOOK”:

https://koshanin.bandcamp.com/merch/over-seven-seas-songbook

 

Copyright 2019 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.

Author: koshanin

A pianist and composer in a continuous search for beauty and simplicity in music.

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