14 09 2010

We watched a lot of youtube videos this week!  Our main focus was on songs that tell stories, songs that represent culture or history and songs that carry messages.

I’m a huge music person. I’ve worked within the music industry and I have a lot of friends who still do – exceptional musicians, singers and producers. I have an incredible appreciation for the modern technology that enables them to create the music they do. I also love most genres of music (yet I’m still quite fussy about what I listen to). However, I’m a sucker for a good folk song or hymn.

There is something so sacred and honest about a story passed down through the ages through song. Strip away all of the modern auto-tune programs, synthesizers and expensive production magic and it’s still the simple beauty of a haunting voice or melody, perhaps a guitar or a drum that beats in time with your heart…it’s that stuff that resonates longer than any top 40 hit ever could.

I’m from South Africa and I don’t know if it’s just the African heart I was born with – but there is nothing more incredible than a black gospel choir singing in Zulu or Xhosa. Goosebumps! Whether I understand the words or not, there’s a story being told and the cry of ancestors longing to have their story ring out through generations. And that is a powerful, powerful thing.

Here is a clip of the Soweto Gospel Choir, enjoy!

Last year I watched a documentary called Call + Response, the story of the modern slave trade told powerfully through music.


“CALL+RESPONSE is a first of its kind feature documentary film that reveals the world’s 27 million dirtiest secrets: there are more slaves today than ever before in human history. CALL+RESPONSE goes deep undercover where slavery is thriving from the child brothels of Cambodia to the slave brick kilns of rural India to reveal that in 2009, Slave Traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.

Performances from Grammy-winning and critically acclaimed artists including Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, Cold War Kids, Matisyahu, Imogen Heap, Talib Kweli, Five For Fighting, Switchfoot, members of Nickel Creek and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Rocco Deluca move this chilling information into inspiration for stopping it.

Music is part of the movement against human slavery. Dr. Cornel West connects the music of the American slave fields to the popular music we listen to today, and offers this connection as a rallying cry for the modern abolitionist movement currently brewing…”

Here is a clip of Dr. Cornel West speaking about the power of music, it sums this up perfectly.


I do believe that music translates and communicates in a way that writing is failing to. A few semesters back I did a Creative Writing subject in which we were required to give a presentation on our writing style and inspiration. It was sad to see how few wannabe writers actually read books. Instead their influence was poetry in the form of songs or spoken word. Music was a massive influence for everyone in that class.

In a constantly moving, time restricted world, maybe music is the one thing that does in fact move with us; we can afford to give a catchy song 4 minutes of our time instead of stopping long enough to read a book. Music doesn’t reveal our ignorance of vocabulary or education – it connects on a deeper level. Voices and beats resonate and I think the first storytellers knew this and their songs still linger today.

Music freezes me, especially a strong, heartfelt voice. Here are two of my favourites:

Glen Hansard singing ‘Leave’

Bethany Dillon singing ‘Hallelujah’

As I was saying earlier, I have an affinity for folk and gospel music. I belong to a church that has a congregation that ranges from 0 to 97 years old. We’re very modern and have a contemporary music team comparable to one you would found at a local pub (no joke!) but from time to time we pull out a “classic hymn” and they often bring me to tears. There is something about the grand tradition of it all and the fact that fellow believers have sung these words through the ages. The lyrics are often taken straight from the bible and have the same significance today as they did almost 2000 years ago when they were first recorded by the biblical authors who had actually walked alongside Jesus.

We often speak about the power of the “Hymns of our faith” in our church. The golden oldies. I recently had  a discussion about hymns with our Creative Ministries pastor Craig Hindman. In fact- he even wrote a blog about it! Here’s the link:

One of the things he says is

“…this was true of the very early church, and in centuries past when the scriptures weren’t available to lay people. Hymns, and spiritual songs were written to teach the people the truths of scripture in a way they could remember. That’s why Hymns are laden with so much more scriptural and doctrinal content than many of the praise and worship music we sing today. We have such free access to the Bible now that we don’t necessarily put as much thought into the content of our songs as was the case in generations past, because I guess we don’t sometimes appreciate the responsibility.”

I thought I’d sign off with a recent clip of a group singing one of my favourite hymns.  This is a hymn called “Before the Throne Above” which was actually written in 1863.

More than the beautiful performance and great song, you can take this video a step further; this link highlights the biblical content of the lyrics and it’s that story, and the weight of the lyrics that moves me.




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