Sunday, July 04, 2010

Now THAT’S what I call singing! Volume 2

Last week in Now THAT’S what I call singing! Volume 1 I shared some of my favourite songs from Europe: Corsica, Georgia, Russian orthodox, gypsy, the Balkans and Bulgaria.

Africa 2

This week it’s the turn of the rest of the world!


I was at a residential theatre workshop in Wales many, many years ago and there were three black guys (from London I think) who taught me a song on the beach one day. They hadn’t got it quite right as it turned out, but it blew me away nonetheless. It was called Shosholoza. One of my favourite versions is by the The Drakensberg Boys Choir. In this video you can even learn all the separate parts!

Since then I have learnt songs (and dances!) from all across Africa and have over 80 in my repertoire. In a recent African weekend workshop I taught songs from the North African Bedouins, Cameroon, Ghana, Congo, Nigeria, Guinea, Gabon, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Hard to choose a few, but here are some of my favourites: Koloi ya Elijah (South Africa):

Vamudara (Zimbabwe):

Noyana (South Africa):

Pacific islands

New Zealand Maori songs have always attracted me because of their harmonies that are rather jazz- or blues-like. One song that’s been in our repertoire for some time is Pokarekare ana. I originally arranged it for three equal voices (we didn’t have any blokes in the choir then!), but later added a bass part.

We also do songs from the Pacific islands including the Cook Islands (Te oonu) and Hawaii (Heke hau):

Gospel, spirituals and hymns

I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but there are gospel songs and spirituals out there which are just gorgeous. I love the energy, grace and beauty of a lot of these songs. One of the first such songs that I taught is called Bright morning star. It is reputed to be of Shaker origin, but there is no clear evidence for this. Many people think it is a Kentucky/ Ozark/ Appalachian hymn.

Hard to choose favourites, but here are some that I really like: My lord what a mourning

I’m gonna sing ‘til the spirit moves in my heart (great sentiment!):

 All my trials (from the Bahamas):

Sea shanties

I’m a sucker for the slow, gentle shanties that probably weren’t used on board ship to do heavy work. They are haunting and still send shivers up my spine no matter how many times I hear them.

Perhaps the most famous one in our repertoire is Shenandoah. It should maybe be titled ‘Rolling River’ or ‘Missouri’, since many versions don’t even mention Shenandoah! Our version speaks about the love of a geographical location (other versions talk about the love of a ‘redskin maiden’).

Lowlands away is one of the early songs I taught to my first choir WorldSong. For a change, I gave the melody to the men! Here is a version from The Corries:

I’m not averse to upbeat, loud shanties though! I taught Hanging Johnny to my Singing Safari for the Warwick Folk Festival a few years ago:

British Isles

And then there’s the home country. I’ve always been in love with what is called ‘world music’ and I’m definitely not a lyric person, so songs in English often leave me cold. The answer: sing in Welsh or Scottish Gaelic!

A haunting love song from Wales: Lisa lan:

and another from the Isle of Lewis: Fhir a bhata (it turns out that Gaelic is by far the hardest language we’ve ever had to learn!):

But all is not lost for you folkies out there. Personally I’m not drawn to English folk music, but I found a really interesting arrangement on a Northern Harmony CD and ‘borrowed’ it for Woven Chords: Searching for lambs. It makes it sound very eerie and almost Eastern European (hence my attraction!):

more songs

You can find more of my favourite songs in Volume 1 and Volume 3.

where can I hear more?

Both Woven Chords and WorldSong have now released two CDs with a total of 88 tracks between them. Many of the songs in these two posts feature on these CDs. You can find full track listings and information on how to buy them here:
You can also buy arrangements of some of the songs from my website (Lowlands away, Shenandoah, Lisa lan and more).

Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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