"Siyahamba" (South Africa)


Tobias Reich/Unsplash

A few weeks ago, my daughter sang in a combined high school and middle school choir concert. This was one of the songs. As explained on its own Wikipedia page:


“Siyahamba” is a Zulu chorus that emerged in a rural Protestant congregation, possibly in the former Natal province of South Africa. The chorus may have existed in an oral form before 1952, when Andries van Tonder of Dundee, Natal, first transcribed it. Van Tonder is also credited as the author of the earliest known Afrikaans version of the lyrics, while the authors of the melody and of the Zulu lyrics are unknown. The lyrics, with their biblical imagery of walking in the divine light, could be inspired by Methodist or Pentecostalist hymnody. The melody has more similarities with African or Afro-American patterns than with conventional European church music.[1]


In 1978, the Swedish choral group Fjedur toured South Africa at the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa. It was during this tour that Fjedur's musical director, Anders Nyberg [sv], heard and recorded "Siyahamba" at a girls' school in Appelsbosch, Natal.[1] Subsequently, this song has been used around the world by schools in their prayers.


Although “Siyahamba” has been associated with the anti-apartheid movement, it was not composed as a protest song and evidently did not feature prominently in the repertoire of anti-apartheid campaigners in South Africa. However, after its introduction to Europe and the US by Nyberg in the 1980s, it was often used in the international effort to end the regime of racial discrimination in South Africa, particularly, because of its devotional message, in the campaign organised by Christian churches in the West. Nowadays, “Siyahamba” is viewed both locally and internationally as a liberation song. As such, it is still performed not only in church and at concerts, but also at rallies, demonstrations, and processions, sometimes with the lyrics modified to match the cause of the event. In this way, the historic South African tune continues to contribute to current struggles for change.[1]


This song would work well in a church choir. Lyrics are in English, Afrikaans and Zulu and can be accessed here.

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