2012-10-21 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

“Amen Siakudumisa” by Stephen Cuthbert Molefe

This song of celebration and praise originated in South Africa and is sung during Christian worship services as the concluding “Amen” at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, a doxology or a psalm response. Music is a vital part of people’s lives in African cultures, incorporated as part of religious ceremonies, festivals, and social rituals. More importantly, the African people consider music as a link between the temporal and divine worlds.

Amen siyakudumisa. (Amen, we praise your name)
Amen, Bawo; Amen Bawo; (Amen Father)
Amen siyakudumisa. (Amen, we praise your name)

The melodies of South African songs are usually short, simple and easily remembered. Within the African tradition, these basic melodies are repeated numerous times with simple variations. Some singers may improvise special versions of the melody that are sung while others in the group continue with the original. These songs are also rhythmically driven, an outstanding characteristic of African music, and usually accompanied with a variety of percussion instruments. The use of percussion instruments is an especially important component of African music, and includes conga drums, shakers, marimbas and the djembe, a type of tuned drum. The rhythmic quality of African music encourages bodily movement; people may gently sway, walk, and clap their hands.

The composer, S. C. Molefe (1921-1983) was a skilled church musician who lived in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Molefe wrote a number of Christian songs that embrace the idioms of the rich musical heritage of the African peoples. The language of the text, “Amen Siakudumisa” is Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa. Xhosa is a tonal language, which means various syllables may have multiple meanings depending on their pitch, high or low, rising or falling. Therefore, the melodic shape of this and many other African songs emerges from speaking the text.

“Amen Siakudumisa” is among Molefe’s most popular songs. You may just find yourself singing or humming this song throughout the coming week.

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