No song is quite as lovely as a lullaby. Nor is any song quite as useful.
A lullaby bonds parent and baby. It also acts as therapy for mama or papa. One reason that some traditional cradle songs are so frightening may be that their first singers were expressing their fears and stresses of the day. Are you sleeping, Dr Freud?
But most important of all, a lullaby helps you to sleep. Whether you’re the singer or the audience, the rhythm and melody of a lullaby are purpose-built for relaxation.
And just as everyone sleeps, every culture on Earth uses lullabies. In our mission to help you get a good night’s sleep, Morning Life has discovered lullabies from every country around the world, and then checked to see which ones are most popular on YouTube. We’ve mapped the winners below – and put the most popular lullabies into a sortable widget so you can listen for one that flicks your switch.
The World’s Most Popular Lullaby is Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Bet you didn’t know that Twinkle, Twinkle has five verses! It just goes to show what an effective lullaby it is, sending babies to sleep in just six lines. The words were written by British poet Jane Taylor at the turn of the nineteenth century. It follows the tune of a French folk song (not written by Mozart, despite common belief) and has been spoofed by Lewis Carrol (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat!) and turned on its head by Star Trek’s Mr Spock.
Twinkle, Twinkle has 1.6 billion views on YouTube, dwarfing the most popular lullabies from other countries. Number two is Chanda Mama Door Ke (Moon Uncle), with 661 million views. It became popular after pulling heartstrings in the Bollywood movie, Vachan (Word). The top ten is dominated by songs from Europe and Asia.
Hush Little Baby (Mama’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird) from the US is the only non-European or Asian song in the global top 10. It is in ninth position with 35 million views. The oldest-known reference to the song is a 1918 transcription of a performance in the Appalachian Mountains, although it may go back further as a slave lullaby. Lots of artists have recorded their own versions, including Nina Simone, James Taylor, and, er, Eminem.
Haiti’s favourite lullaby is either scary or ridiculous, depending on where you stand on crabs. The words of this Creole classic, recorded in 1958 by the Michele Dejean Group, translate as: “Sleep mommy’s little one, If you don’t sleep, the crab will eat you.” Mama’s gone to market, Dada’s gone fishing, and the crustaceans are in charge!
The most popular cradle song in Brazil takes the principle of Haiti’s crab lullaby and applies it to crocodiles or the bogeyman, according to the singer’s preference. At its most specific, the baddie, who’ll take you if you don’t sleep, is the cuca, a legendary Portuguese-Brazilian witch who takes the form of a crocodile and only sleeps once every seven years. Nana Nenem has 35 million views and is the most-viewed lullaby in South America.
Qué Linda Manito (What A Pretty Little Hand) is popular across Hispanic cultures and is the most-viewed YouTube lullaby in Chile. The singer turns her hand back and forth as she sings, and older babies can do the actions, too – until, hopefully, they are hypnotized to sleep.
Italy narrowly loses to England for most-listened-to lullaby in Europe. After England’s Twinkle, Twinkle (see above) comes Italy’s Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh with 68 million views. The singer debates who to give the baby to: “La Befana” (an old hag), the man in black (the Italian bogeyman), and in some versions, a black wolf, a white wolf, or baby Jesus.
A-a-a, Kotki Dwa (And-and-and, Two Kittens) is the top lullaby in Poland. It is about two brown and grey kittens who play and tumble, rocking the cradle as they tumble. It is not clear if the use of ‘80s-style fretless bass in this version is ‘canon.’
Middle East & Central Asia
Turkey has the biggest hit in this region, with 271 million views of Dandini Dandini Dastana. The title lyrics are soothing nonsense words, and the first verse begins, “Into the garden the calves did stray/
The gardener quickly chases them away/They will eat the cabbages without delay.” Sounds odd? It’s a metaphor about the parent (gardener) protecting her child from unwanted suitors!
Babies are often compared to flowers in Iranian lullabies, and lala means sleep. The most popular lullaby in Iran is لالا لالا، گل لاله (Lala lala, Tulip Flower). A mother sings to her child about the father having gone to work and wishes that his shovel might turn the harvest into gold.
Rest of Asia & Oceania
India’s top lullaby has ten times the hits of second-placed Bangladesh. But the Bengali-language tune, Mashi, Pishi, Ghoomparani (Aunties, Aunties, Put Us to Sleep), is a true favourite across generations. The singer implores their baby’s auntie to come and take over childcare duties in return for betel leaves.
The Maori lullaby Hine E Hine is the first choice in New Zealand, with 219,000 hits. ‘Princess’ Te Rangi Pai wrote the song in the early 1900s, reputedly to soothe herself during hard times. It has since been recorded by Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, and The Phoenix Foundation.
Mali is home to Africa’s most popular lullaby. Makun (Don’t Cry) has a simple, calming, repetitive refrain with variations on the theme of, “don’t cry, my baby calm down/What happened to my baby? Here, calm down.”
Tula Sana is the most popular lullaby in South Africa. There are many versions of this song, particularly as it has travelled with the African diaspora. At its core, the song reassures the child that their father will return home safely.
A Lullaby for Every Baby
If you’ve ever spent a tired hour singing a child to sleep, you’ll know that lullabies take on a life of their own. You forget the words, invent new ones, and – as the kid develops their own will and language – begin to take requests for new details.
It is no wonder there are such variations not only around the world but within the same song. But, like finding the right mattress or pillow, when you find the one that induces sleep, it quickly becomes an old friend.
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
Lullabies for each country were collected from websites such as Mamalisa.com, Lullaby ABC, and the BBC. For some countries, lullabies were sourced from compilation CDs, such as “Lullabies of the World,” “The World Sings Goodnight,” or “Songs from the Baobab.”
Over 420 lullabies were discovered in the initial research. Each lullaby was then looked up on YouTube, and the one with the largest number of views was deemed the most popular lullaby from that country.
Data collected in June 2021.