Monday, August 28, 2017

Now THAT’S what I call singing! Volume 3

Many moons ago I wrote a couple of posts to share the kind of songs I like from traditions all over the world.


I thought it was about time I added a few more!

Back in 2010 I wrote two posts about the songs I love.

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.

In Now THAT’S what I call singing! Volume 2 I shared some of my favourite songs from the rest of the world: Africa, the Pacific islands, and the British Isles together with some gospel and sea shanties.

In this new post, Volume 3, I’m going to share some more of my favourite songs from across the globe.

I’m such a sucker for Georgian songs, particularly slow, moving ones like Tsintsqaro. This is a love song from Kakheti, a lowland region in eastern Georgia.

I walked through Tsintsqaro and I met a beautiful woman. She had a jug of water on her shoulder. I said a word to her, but she got hurt, just a word. She got angry and stood aside. Poor boy!

Here it’s sung by the master Hamlet Gonashvili:

A Croatian song very popular with community choirs in the UK is Plovi barko (Sail, boat). It is in the Klapa style of singing from the Dalmatian coast.

Sail, boat, deep is the sea – Ann, Annie: soul and heart of mine. My Annie’s in the sailing boat. Your eyes so deep as the sea.

Here it is sung by Vocal Ensemble Dalmacije:

From Russia, where they wear their sorrow on their sleeves, is To ne veter vetku klonit (Not a branch swayed by the wind).

That’s not the wind bowing a branch, nor an oak grove rustling – that’s my poor heart groaning, trembling like an autumn leaf.

A little more upbeat is a modern urban song from Georgia celebrating the spring, Gazapkhuli (Spring).

Spring is coming, I’m delighted. Spring is making me drunk with its coquetry and beauty. Spring is so tender, it’s a diamond, it’s beautiful. Spring is so good!

Here it is sung by Anchiskhati:

Something a bit more punchy from Croatia: Polegala trava detela. It is apparently a harvest song, but has a definite subtext about goings-on in the wheat field! It is hard to know exactly what it means because it's in a particular Croatian dialect.

Grass has been flattened. There is a red bunch of flowers. A red rose in my nice green fields of grass. The flowers have been taken.

And even more upbeat is Slavonska poskočica (Slavonian hop), an old traditional Croatian song sung at wine festivals. It has verses that are meant to tease and entertain.

The world has tricked me enough through these blue eyes of mine. It is nice to love an older one, but sweeter to kiss someone younger.

Moving to the other side of the world, here is the Chicago Childrens Choir singing the South African song Indonga za Jeriko complete with dance moves.

Apparently a straightforward retelling of the Old Testament story of the battle of Jericho: The walls of Jericho fall to pieces! They fall!. During apartheid, South Africans gave the song a double meaning, using the walls of Jericho to symbolise the walls of Pretoria - the seat of the apartheid government.

Whilst we're there, here's another big song from South Africa, Hlonolofatsa, here sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir. It's in the Sotho language: Bless you in the name of the father. It's apparently one of Desmond Tutu's favourite songs.

A bit closer to home is Val Regan’s amazing Ya basta. In Spanish: Walker there is no path, the path is made by walking. Enough is enough!

Val saw this quotation from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado on a shoebox made by the ethical labour company No Sweat and decided to turn it into a song. She added the words "Ya basta!" - enough is enough! This was the slogan of the Zapatista movement in Mexico in 1994 which inspired anti-globalisation protests around the world. Here it’s being performed by Gitika Partington’s choir:

Time for a big of gospel. I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but I do love what I call “yee ha” gospel. That is, gospel from the African-American quartets of the 1930s and songs from the white Baptist church.

Here’s the Kansas City Gospel Singers giving it their all with Trouble all about my soul:

I also love anything with a bluegrass tinge. Here is I’ll fly away by the Kossoy Sisters as featured in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

And who can remain unmoved by a song from the “tear jerker” Baptist genre. Here is O sing to me of heaven by the Chilhowie Primitive Baptist Church:

Here’s another white gospel group, The Chuckwagon Gang, singing We are climbing:

Another black gospel quartet demonstrating the tight harmonies and amazing technique that form this genre. The Harmonizing Four (one of Elvis’s favourite gospel groups) singing I shall not be moved:

Here’s a spiritual that became a civil rights song, O freedom. Here it is sung by The Golden Gospel Singers:

Although not gospel, we can't leave the USA without having a song from another famous religious genre. Here is a shape note song called I'm going home. It was included in the movie Cold Mountain:

Some of the songs I’ve taught have rather unexpected origins to become a choir song. Here is a song called Minuit which was adapted by Paul Winter from its Guinean origins:

Lisa Otter-Barry did an amazing arrangement of a Nina Simone song called Zungo. It took me ages to track down the original. Zungo was composed by Nigerian Babatunde Olatunji:

You can hear Nina Simone’s version here:

Nero’s expedition is an amazing song by Moondog which works as a round, but is fiendishly difficult. Here is the original (the lyrics give a brief history lesson):

Here are a few other random countries that we do songs from.

The Banana Boat Song from Jamaica, based on a version by Edric Connor and the Jamaican Folk Singers:

Kojo no tsuki (Moon over the ruined castle) from Japan is a composition by pianist and composer Rentaro Taki. It was composed for koto in 1901. The song, with lyrics by Doi Bansui, was inspired by the ruins of Okajyo Castle built in 1185 .

A banquet was held in the splendid castle in the season of the cherry blossom. Where is the light now, that shadowed the glasses and flew through the old pines?

I first heard this next song on a Simon and Garfunkel compilation. It’s from Haiti and is called Feuilles-o. It's likely to be in Haitian-Creole and refers to a poor person taking his ill daughter to a priest for healing. The song originally appeared on an Art Garfunkel album (Angel Clare, 1973).

Finally, something from India. There is no harmony singing tradition in south Asia, but we did try putting one to this and it was fiendishly difficult! Raghupathi raghava rajaram was one of Ghandi’s favourite songs:

I could go on – I’ve taught over 700 songs over the last 20 years – but I’ll leave it there and you’ll just have to wait for Volume 4. I do hope you enjoy my selection!

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Chris Rowbury



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