Musical ethnic cliches-- Do these tunes have names?

There’s that little flute-y thing that they play whenever a Chinese person shows up in a movie. Like in that song Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting. Is that part of a real song?

How about the Russian drudgery song, always played showing women in babushkas sowing fields in the snow?

And the Middle Eastern snake charming music?
I’m sure there are more that I’m not remembering. Do they tunes have names?

That should be Musical ethnic cliches.

That one, I think, is called the “Volga Boatmen.”

this site (warning, it plays the music), has some information about the snake charmer dance.

If it’s what I’m thining of, the Chinese one is nothing more than a cliche - something which was made to sound vaguley ‘oriental’ to people who don’t know any better.

There’s a pretty good recording of the Volga Boatmen’s Chorus here

The book “The Devil in the White City”, by Erik Larson, confirms amarinth’s link as far as Sol Bloom (who, BTW, later became the House Foreign Affairs chairman) is concerned.

One mention has to go to “La cucaracha”

That Mexican song, which originated during the Mexican revolution of 1910, has been a cliché in cartoons and movies, I am still amazed that in the USA, in the 1930-1950, everybody missed what the original lyrics had this:

La Cucaracha
La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Ya no puede caminar;
Porque no tiene, porque le falta
Marijuana que fumar.

In English:

The roach, the roach,
can’t walk no more;
cause it misses, Cause it lost
marihuana to smoke!!!

I laugh when I remember that even little and angelical Shirley Temple sings that song, with those lyrics, in one movie from that era!

Today, the lyrics are usually sanitized and even are used on training videos to learn Spanish:

With the “marihuana to smoke” line changed to the now common: “a foot to walk”
Nice modern rhythm added to that old chestnut I have to say…

The original words to I Get a Kick Out of You included the line “I get no kick from cocaine, flying too high with some guy in the sky…” It was changed to …In a plane…

“They had these college cheerleaders and they were doing this routine, and it was so racist. First of all it started off with that dunnanunna-nun-na-nun-na-naaa gongggggggg. If you’re Asian, and you hear that on TV, you know you’re fucked.” - Margaret Cho

That was me, like it was such a big surprise.

“La Cucaracha” (The Cockroach) was actually the name of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s automobile. According to many accounts, Villa’s military campaign’s were partially fueled by marijuana:

The old Sinatra version I have has him singing:

I get no kick from cocaine
I know if
I took even one sniff
It would bore me terriffffff—
ically too

It wasn’t changed, both verses are original, you’ve mixed them up. nonsuch pointed out the lyrics of the cocaine verse and the plane verse has that great internal rhyme (“flying too high with some guy in the sky”) which Sinatra changed because of the genders.

Whenever a cartoon features Irish characters, the accompanying music is likely to be “The Washerwoman” (sometimes called “The Wash Woman” or “The Irish Washerwoman”), a stereotypical jig tune.

The classic Japanese tune everyone uses is a traditional Geisha tune.

Movies (and during the 60’s and 70’s, commercials on TV) typically manage to make traditional songs and music into stereotypical cliches. You can’t hear the theme from the Godfother without thinking of the Mafia, and it was lifted from a traditional Italian Wedding song.
Irish jigs.
Chinese Bamboo flute.
Indian Sitar.
Native American Drums.
African Drums.
Aboriginal Didjeridu.
SCottish Bagpipes.

Are some of the many traditional fok music that has become cliche over the years. Part of it is that these songs ans sounds are veryu regional and immediatly identify the Nationality or ethnicity of the person it is applied to. Because of this film and TV tend to over use a type of music until it becomes a joke. (For a non-ethnic example, just look at the theme from Jaws. When it came out it was the perfect piece of music for a killer shark. Now people would laugh.)

I know, I know!
Preview is my friend. :smack:

I wonder if the reverse is true. If other countries have music that signifies American. An electric guitar riff or maybe some Sousa.

That’s the original version. But when “Anything Goes” was made into a movie, the Hays Office wouldn’t allow it, so Porter rewrote the first line to “Some like the perfumes in Spain.”

Not ethnic, but sections of the William Tell Overture are often used to indicate a storm, and that it’s morning (I heard the latter just the other day on “Two and a Half Men”).

Andean pan pipes playing El Condor Pasa
Spanish guitar playing Aranjuez
Crooners singing Guantanamera or Besame Mucho accompanied by guitars and maracas

  • all used to evoke a generic ‘Latin’ mood even when geographically inappropriate.

Same goes for the Banana Boat Song to evoke the Caribbean.


A brief little squeeze of street-cafe accordion to signify France;

A waltz with heavy tuba, especially “mein Hut es hat drei Ecken”, for Germany;

Hillbilly = either a snippet of “Flop-eared mule” on the fiddle or some “Dueling Banjos”; for a more flatlander south, sometimes a little steel guitar or a fragment of “Dixie”

Western = lots of choices…there’s that slow-pony thing (, the minor guitar strumming, the “Bonanza Theme Song” dum da da dum da da dum da da…