The Rhyme Collector


Clapping singing playgrounds laughing screaming random language. These were some of the tags I was thinking of using for this blog post.

I got talking with some of my old primary school friends a few weeks ago and we suddenly remembered…

My mama told me

6 years ago

there was an old lady

sitting by the road

she said na na na na na na na na (start to clap quicker)

she said na na na na na na na na (even quicker)

she said na – na – na – na – a little faster…(really quick now)


And then we couldn’t remember the rest. But let me tell you, adrenalin was HIGH.

Then last week I interviewed Vida who grew up in northern Ghana and who played Ampe and still does with her kids in E14, Limehouse. It has the same kind of pace, excitement, cheekiness. In a different language of course. You can listen to a soundbite of her singing it HERE. And a tweaked version of “London Bridge is falling down” and some other treats. Along with excerpts from some of the other oral histories we have been carrying out.

And then I met the wonderful Dan Jones who we mentioned in an earlier blog post. It’s one of those wonderful things when you hear about someone, see their work and then meet the person themselves – and that person happens to be dynamic and fascinating. He has been collecting rhymes around London for over 40 years. Has a huge archive of recordings as well as paintings he has made to reflect many of these. Oh and he’s been working for Amnesty for years and a local activist. In his 70’s.

I sang him another clapping games that is in some kind of made up /pretend foreign language. How it made it’s way or materialised in a catholic school in Brixton I cannot tell you. But of course, Dan the hardcore rhyme collector he is scanned his mind and recognised the tune. ‘Domino Pear I love you’ as the lyrics instead on the version he has. Amazing how you get similar or contrasting versions of things across the world – depending on historical events, mutations in language…Dan tells us about his own memories of Jimmy Knacker.

And the V&A Museum of Childhood holds his artwork, the British Library is taking some of his recordings into their incredible archive; and this is a little interactive thing you can play with. We hop to run an event with him soon so check back into the events page of the blog for up to date info.


Posted by OB


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