I keep a decent selection of CDs by the big, comfy rocking chair in Dimitri’s room so that we always have something interesting to listen to around nap time…or, if nothing else, I’ll have something pleasant to focus on when Dimitri’s not exactly in the mood to go to sleep quickly. I’m not drawing on my collection of punk and metal to produce a mood that’s conducive to sleep, mind you. For these selections, I go to the “serious” fare from my home library. It’s a longstanding tradition to put the kids to bed with a bit of culture. Our first daughter Kalliope used to fall asleep to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”) almost every night as a toddler. When she got a little older, I’d tell her about the story of the siege of Leningrad as we listened to the opening strains of Shostakovich’s masterpiece. Zoya was quite different early on; she responded mostly to white noise and meditation music when she was very small. She eventually took well to Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads and some of Ravi Shankar’s work and when she was old enough to talk and express her preferences, she’d sometimes ask for these artists by name.
This time around, I’ve tried Dimitri with some old favorites, including different compositions by Shostakovich and selections from Woody Guthrie’s Asch Recordings collection. I’ve also included some new favorites into the mix, like Khachaturian, Mahler and Guy and Candy Carawan’s 1976 recording, Music from the People’s Republic of China. All of these have worked fine thus far—and by “worked fine,” I mean they haven’t kept Dimitri awake and they’ve done just fine at keeping me entertained for the long haul. But during a recent trip to my library shelves to look for more bedtime fare, I re-discovered my copy of the Lullabies from the Axis of Evil. I purchased the CD years ago but never had the occasion to fully appreciate it. I think I found it in a chain bookstore and I was very impressed with the idea behind the album but Zoya was already about 4 or 5 years old at the time and she didn’t have much use for lullabies. But at this point in my life, the CD has a lot of practical value now that we have a little one back in the fold. And when I played the opening track, “Sad Sol” (“You, My Destiny”) for Dimitri last week, I was excited by the fact that he seemed to really, really appreciate it…by virtue of the fact that he went to sleep quickly.
Originally released in 2004, Lullabies from the Axis of Evil is the creation of Norweigian record producer Erik Hillestad. In the extensive liner notes to the album, Hillestad shares his vision and objectives for this project, remembering George W. Bush’s denouncement of the so-called “Axis of Evil” of Iran, Iraq and North Korea in Bush’s January 29, 2002 State of the Union Address as the impetus for the Lullabies project:
This and other speeches, held by Bush and other leaders of the greatest power on the planet, made it clear that the “war on terrorism” following the events of Sept. 11. 2001 needed to identify nations—not only terrorist cells—as the enemy.
Without going too far in analysing the reasons behind this new way of fighting avoid problem, it is easy to became worried about the fatal results the new doctrine may create.The stigma that has been attached to the countries pointed out as members of “The Axis of Evil” is just one side of it. The building of enemy lines and walls, in minds and on the ground between peoples, is another. The fact that it misleads us and covers the real problems in the world is a third.
Lullabies lead ms to the deepest and most fundamental may of communication between human beings. It is where all sharing of ideas and feelings starts. Between mother and child, between father and child, It is a universal culture. And it is amazing to see how many aesthetic similarities, musically and lyrically there are in lullabies from country to country all over the world. The text-issues are often the same, so are the musical structures. Differences in scales, language, metaphors and religion cannot cover the fact that in the lullabies, the cultures of the earth meet each other. Or rather; from this common starting-point they grow into diversity.
It’s a great concept and it’s marvelously executed as Hillestad draws together contemporary artists with traditional music and rhythms, mixing these ingredients with both English-language versions of the songs as well as vocalizations featuring the original lyrics in their respective languages. Hillestad also moves beyond Bush’s original “Axis of Evil,” including lullabies from Palestine, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria and Cuba. It’s a collection that is both functional and profound, as the songs from Lullabies from the Axis of Evil transport listeners to a happy and ethereal place while serving as a clear reminder of the unfortunate and short-sighted preconceptions which continue to divide people in the real world.
I’ve played the CD for Dimitri a few more times since the night that I introduced it to him and, while he hasn’t fallen asleep right away like he did the first time he heard it, he doesn’t seem to dislike it, either. So the album is going to stay in our rotation for the foreseeable future. I hope that in the long run, my son is not only well-rested but also well-rounded, with an optimistic outlook on humanity.
Further reading: Literature and Lullabies from the “Axis of Evil” npr.org