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20:41, 09 February 2018

About That Song You have Heard, Kumbaya


About That Song You’ve Heard, Kumbaya

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We chant it with locked arms and closed eyes, at campfires, in protests lines and from the pews at church, but the truth is, several of us have no clue what the lyrics mean or precisely where they come from.

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya. Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya.

Thanks to investigation and lobbying by residents of a coastal neighborhood descended from slaves, the origins and meaning of “Kumbaya” have been recognized in Congress, raising hopes that a fading culture might get a enhance. The song could be sung more frequently than usual this month, specifically in the component of Georgia exactly where its soulful lyrics are stated to have originated almost a century ago.

Speaking on the Property floor two months back, Representative Buddy Carter of Georgia recognized the Gullah Geechee, whose ancestors have been brought to America’s southeastern coast from West Africa, as the probable creators of the renowned folk song.

If you are searching for deep meaning in the word itself, the truth, as Mr. Carter laid out in his proclamation, is that kumbaya is most likely a made-up word. Nonetheless, it has come to evoke peace and harmony — at times mockingly so.

The 1st known recording of the song was produced in Darien, Ga., in 1926, sung by a Gullah Geechee man named H. Wylie. The chorus was actually “Come By Here,” which in the Gullah’s Creole accent sounds like cum-by-yah. Over time, that pronunciation transformed into what we know today as kumbaya. The hymn was a contact to God to come and assist the people as they faced oppression.

The Gullah Geechee, who have noticed their land and way of life threatened by rising home values, now hope to use the congressional proclamation, as nicely as the Georgia Legislature’s recognition of “Kumbaya” as the state’s historical song, to help promote their story. An exhibition about the song is planned for this month in Darien, which sits along the 1,200-mile coastal corridor exactly where the Gullah individuals settled.

“It’s important,” stated Anne C. Bailey, a historian at Binghamton University and author of “The Weeping Time,” a book about the largest slave auction in America. “It says one thing about the African-American tradition and the African-American contribution to the creating up of the country and the world.”

Someone’s singing Lord, kumbaya. Someone’s singing Lord, kumbaya.

For decades, the dominant narrative was that a white evangelist, the Rev. Marvin V. Frey, had originally composed “Kumbaya.” This story was spread in part by Mr. Frey himself, who got a copyright on the song in 1939, claiming to have written it in 1936 primarily based on a prayer he heard in Oregon.

Anything about that story never sat right with Stephen Winick, who has a Ph.D. in folklore. For a single, the song sounds like one thing from the African-American tradition. Mr. Winick had also heard rumors that there was an earlier recording of the song in the archives of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where he performs.

“I consider it’s critical to restore cultural components to their communities of origin,” he mentioned. “Give credit exactly where it is due.”

Several years ago, Mr. Winick dug up that old wax cylinder recording. It was captured in 1926 by Robert Winslow Gordon, the 1st head of the Archive of American Folk Song. It was the recording of H. Wylie singing “Come By Here” in an accent that sounds like “kumbaya,” a decade just before Mr. Frey claimed to have written “Kumbaya.” Mr. Winick said it was achievable that Mr. Frey might have heard a prayer with the kumbaya lyrics, and composed them into a song, thinking he was the 1st to do so. But the proof on that remains murky.

Mr. Winick also found in the archives lyrics collected in 1926 by a high college student outdoors of Gullah territory for a song related to “Come By Right here.” That raised the possibility, Mr. Winick stated, that the song may not have originated with the Gullah Geechee, though he maintains that it is fairly feasible that they could be its creators. The version of the song as we know it today really most likely traces to the Gullahs due to the fact of the pronunciation of “come by here” as “kumbaya,” he said.

“I consider that in the common public, if you ask an individual on the street, ‘What does kumbaya mean,’ they wouldn’t know,” he mentioned. “They would consider it means joining hands and getting friendly to every single other.”

Someone’s laughing, Lord, kumbaya. Someone’s laughing, Lord, kumbaya.

Griffin Lotson, the Gullah historian, knew absolutely nothing of the song’s connection to his men and women until he started researching it in 2012, and given that then he has been on something of a crusade to elevate its history.

Several Gullah Geechee, Mr. Lotson included, had been conditioned to feel that in order to live a effective life, they had to leave their dialect and traditions behind, he stated. But now there is wonderful interest in Gullah culture, from inside and out.

He was hired to seek advice from on a scene in the remake of the television mini-series “Roots.” He is frequently called upon to give cultural tours.

Lawmakers realized the value of preserving the Gullah Geechee culture years ago when, in 2006, Congress created the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. The Gullah Geechee hope that the recognition of their role in the origins of “Kumbaya” will represent one step toward popularizing, and preserving, who they are.

“Gullah Geechee culture has influenced everything, from our music to the way we speak,” Heather Lorraine Hodges, the executive director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, wrote in an email. “It is a foundational culture for the United States.”

Someone’s crying, Lord, kumbaya. Someone’s crying, Lord, kumbaya.

Comply with John Eligon on Twitter @jeligon

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Published at Fri, 09 Feb 2018 18:21:08 +0000

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