By Rey Lambatin, Choir Director
This past Sunday in our Pentecost Service, our men’s choir, Keynote Vocal Group, sang “O Sifuni Mungu”, a song partly in Swahili, originally recorded by the group First Call. It is a very lively music set with clear African beat and rhythm, accompanied with drums, percussive instruments, and piano. As the song goes, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing. All men, all creatures, everybody, praise the Lord!” - it is undoubtedly a song of praise and worship to God. But as most cases in song writing, its conception and composition go beyond one particular purpose.
According to the composer, Marty McCall, “The first spark of inspiration for the song happened during a 1987 Grammy show performance. When Paul Simon entered the stage to perform a song from his “Graceland” album, he was joined and backed up by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a male vocal group from South Africa. It was a musical and cultural innovation rarely seen at that time in pop music and it was thrilling! I’ve always loved exploring music from diverse cultures so this experience affected me powerfully. Ladysmith was authentically African yet still accessible to American audiences, using the same diatonic scale and chord progressions found in western music. While Paul Simon’s music is solidly American, the addition of Ladysmith’s strong but sensitive vocal accompaniment, the unique style, and the traditional clothing of the group made the performance an equally African cultural statement. A powerful fusion. It was a moment of clear inspiration for me.
“I saw a spiritual, musical and culturally blended vision that I wanted deeply to express, believing that within the Body of Christ, heightened awareness of our varied cultures gives us a unique pathway to celebrate and worship God together.”
These composer’s words about the song’s conception struck me the most, especially thinking about our CGS family. With our members’ diverse backgrounds, we are a blending of cultural, musical, and spiritual expressions. Each of us brings something different and unique to our church family, that make our faith growth and experience special. We share foods from our different cultures, share experiences from involvements from past churches and religions, and of course for me, share music that we love to sing. All of these, as the composer mentions, give us a unique pathway to celebrate and worship God together. This is also a reason why I try to have the choirs occasionally sing music in a different language. That as we celebrate and worship God through these music, it is also an opportunity for us to learn, grow, and appreciate different cultures. It truly is a thrilling experience!
Christ the Good Shepherd
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