A Collection of English Nursery Rhymes Sung in Punjabi!
By Renu Jain Chandarana
I first got to know Preet Sandhu Dhillon when we did a mom and baby aquafit class together. What I admired so much about her was her decision to speak Punjabi to her kids no matter what. She obviously has a very strong grasp of the language and if she did find that a phrase or word was not at the tip of her tongue, she would just seamlessly insert English. I have always been a little bit self conscious of the way I speak Hindi because I can hear my Canadian accent when I speak.
Having said this, one of the biggest regrets I have (which I’m trying hard to turn around) is not speaking Hindi from the very beginning to my kids. Sure some words here and there: “dood,” “pani” (milk, water) have become natural, but it’s quite a confusing scene if I ever spontaneously break out into Hindi with my 4 year old – she looks at me in such frustration and says, “Mummy! I don’t understand! Speak English!”
Enter all the tools I use to help me get my kids familiar with Hindi: YouTube, Bollywood songs, Bollywood movies (with me constantly translating), Hindi flash card app on my phone, Masalamommas, my parents, and even a trip to India (seriously, I took them there! Wouldn’t you know it, everyone speaks perfect English there – very different from when I was a kid!).
Regardless, my hopes for integrating an Indian language into our home seamlessly have been dashed…until now. Ironically, it is a brilliant idea by Preet that has my kids dancing and singing, not in Hindi but in Punjabi! To me this makes no difference – because I found that I have been able to pick up all of the similarities between the two languages and now that my kids are enthusiastic about an Indian language, I can make my move in Hindi to keep that interest alive! They really are singing their way to a second language!
Preet has so beautifully translated common English Nursery Rhymes into Punjabi using easy lyrics, charming vocals and a toe tapping western beat. Her CD “Punj Nikkay Bandar” is really a must in any household. I really feel like it should be the “Goodnight Moon, or Sophie the Giraffe” of every South Asian household – a must have baby item!
I recently sat down with Preet and asked her about how this all began.
Here’s how Punj Nikkay Bandar came to be:
What is Punj Nikkay Bandar?
Punj Nikkay Bandar is a collection of popular English language children’s songs reinterpreted for Punjabi language audiences. These catchy and easy to sing-along-tunes expose children to Punjabi numbers, colors, animals, body parts and more in an easy and fun way. I initially wrote and sang these songs for my own children and it was not too long before I realized the power of music and songs in exposing my kids to Punjabi. While none of my Canadian born children are comfortable speaking Punjabi they happily sing along to these catchy tunes!
Why did you want to do something like this?
I am first generation Punjabi Canadian and I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. For as long as I can remember, I was always exposed to and taught about the Punjabi language and culture. Being Punjabi is so much a part of my being and it has brought me so much enjoyment that I cannot imagine my life without it. When I had my own children I wanted to expose them to Punjabi as well. Without a basic grasp of the language I was well aware that their participation in cultural events and festivals and their connection to their ancestral heritage would be very limited. I also wanted their early exposure to Punjabi learning to be enjoyable such that it sparked in them an interest and engagement that could be built upon in future years.
How did it begin?
Singing to babies and children comes naturally. We all do it. Children also love music and it’s a very powerful tool for language exposure. So it started with me translating English songs that I had grown up with into Punjabi and singing them for my daughter. It was not long before I had a handful of tunes and my daughter was loving them! Initially I went on a search in both NA and India to look for already established age appropriate songs that would expose my children to Punjabi. But unfortunately I was not able to find anything that fit the bill. Most of the products I sourced were in Hindi and anything I did find in Punjabi was poor quality, too religiously based or not developmentally appropriate for preschool and early school age children. It was from that that I was inspired to write more songs and create a proper album that my own kids as well as other children could sing along with and enjoy.
Why is this project important to you?
This project is important to me because for the first time ever there is now a compilation of common English children’s songs available in Punjabi. These songs are all public domain and have previously been translated and made- over in many other languages but never before has this been done in Punjabi. For Canadian born Punjabi parents like me, who mainly speak English, speaking or reading to our children in Punjabi is a difficult task at the best of times. These songs, however, don’t require parents to have a masterful command of the language at all. These are simple tunes that anyone can sing along to.
How will listeners benefit from it?
Language development is anchored in exposure to that language. These songs expose children to Punjabi numbers, colors, body parts and more in a fun, catchy and enjoyable way. Moreover, they require no knowledge of Punjabi on the part of the parents or caregivers. With these songs I hope to increase children’s’ exposure to Punjabi and spark in them an initial interest and engagement with the language that can be built upon in future years.
How did you find the performers?
Finding the team of people who helped to turn this idea into reality was a process. I had been singing the songs at home and playing with the idea in my head for a while but it was not until I was serious about pursuing this project that I was able to seek out the right people to help me out. I started sharing my ideas with others and asking around in the “right” circles if anyone knew of music producers that were talented enough to pull this off and affordable at the same time! I connected with two genuine people who were interested and willing to listen and the rest followed from there. They introduced me to Coach Sandhu who produced the tracks. Coach then introduced me to Vijay Saini (editor) and Parmjot Singh (singer).
Tell us about them.
This project was a true team effort. Coach Sandhu is a music producer, teacher and musician whose background is in Western music. For these songs, I wanted the lyrics to be Punjabi but the tune and musical concept to be western sounding. Coach was able to successfully do this. Vijay is a translator/copywriter/voiceover artist who took the lyrics that I had written and then edited them so that they “fit” the musical beat of the songs. He also added lines and riffs here and there to give the songs more of a Punjabi flavor.
Parmjot Singh is an established singer who had worked with Vijay and Coach before. His voice is gentle and happy! Parmjot’s challenge was to sing the Punjabi lyrics to a western tune. It took a few tries but I think we were able to successfully achieve this type of sound. Last person on this team was graphic designer Jessica Cox. I asked her to create a visual for the album that was Western with an Indian touch. In the end we went with the very common image of the five little monkeys jumping on the bed but to inject the Indian factor, Jessica created bedposts that that have Indian architectural lines, she chose bright colors and then placed the Dhol on the floor.
How long did it take you?
This project was a lesson in persistence and perseverance. The first contact with the music producers occurred in December of 2012. The final album was not released to iTunes and Amazon until January of 2015.
Are there more volumes coming out?
I have been discussing this possibility with a colleague but we have not yet started on anything formal. As my kids get older and their needs change I would like to continue to develop products that will meet their changing needs
I think you will find it hard not to tap your toes and sing along to these reinterpreted songs. Punj Nikkay Bandar can be found on iTunes and Amazon
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the album – share your comments below or tweet me @RenuJC
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