All cultures that exist and that we know of, have their own forms of musical expression. And, many of the chants and songs found in native peoples sound profoundly similar.
Some of the simplest forms of music are chants, and I often use them in my work with non-English speaking children or those who are in the autistic spectrum. Chants can be used in many ways: to warm up the voice; to prepare or perform activities; to bring or focus attention as in a call-and-response chant; to set an intention; for self-expression; to bring large groups of people together; and to keep them connected. And when there are no meanings attached to the sounds, there is a freedom and ease in expression and communication.
My album Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Chants: sayable singable phrases from around the world has 37 chants on it. Often, there is a fine line between a song and a chant. But even spoken chants have rhythm and tone, making them musical.
The first chant I ever learned is today, fairly common. “Funga a la Feya.” My research included dozens of publications that attributed it’s heritage to West Africa, (probably Ghana), and translated it as: “I welcome you into my heart.” I have used it that way in performance for 15 years! And since then have heard many derivatives, as is common in oral tradition. Here it is on my recording:
Note the banjo accompaniment— a musical instrument that was born in Africa.
In 2010, musicologist Professor Robert Damm of Mississippi University published a study of his extensive research on Funga. According to him, it first surfaced in Harlem in African drum classes in the 60’s and was sung to the traditional folk melody “Lil Liza Jane.” Here is a simple version of that song sung by Elizabeth Mitchell, and maybe you can hear the similarities in the melody between my version and the folk song.
According to Professor Damm, the chant actually translates from three dialects: “Funga” is “Gio” (Liberia/Ivory Coast tribe) for “Talking drum.” “Alafia” is taken from Arabic and similar languages of the Middle East meaning “Health.” “Ashay” is an African Yoruban (primarily Nigerian tribe) word meaning “Let it be so.” So… the literal translation is: “Talking drum; health; let it be so.”
FUNE-gah a LA fee-yuh
FUNE-gah a LA fee-yuh
No literal translation, but may mean something like:
“This village and all its people are welcome into this heart.”
AH-shay ah-SHAY(repeat four times)
However you choose to do this chant, ah-SHAY! (Let it be so). And… Asante! (Thank you in Swahili) to Professor Robert Damm.