STJ#1020, Woyaya

This song has been in the water for me since the late 70s, when somewhere (maybe Girl Scout camp?) I was taught the piece in the style of Art Garfunkel from his 1973 album Angel Clare. Sometime in the early 1990s, I sang a choral version that had the mark of Sweet Honey in the Rock all over it (although I can’t locate sheet music or a recording now).

Thus, I was both delighted and then a little baffled when I got to the version we have here – because there are places where the timing just seems off (specifically, there seems to be a measure missing after “we know we will” at the top of page 2), and there’s a squareness to the arrangement.

The original version, written by the Afro-pop band Osibisa, was first recorded in 1971. The original has a unique sound, a flowing rhythm, and a joyfulness that I don’t hear much in subsequent versions – even in this live version by Osibisa from 1995.

According to the UUA Song Information page,

Written by Ghanaian drummer Sol Amarifio, Woyaya is the title song of a 1971 album by Oisibisa, a musical group of Ghanaian and Caribbean musicians. It was frequently heard in work camps throughout central West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. The arrangement in Singing the Journey comes from the version by Ysaye Barnwell (of Sweet Honey in the Rock). “Woyaya,” like many other African scat syllables, can have many meanings. According to the song’s composer, it means “We are going.”  This song is frequently used in bridging ceremonies (UU ceremonies of passage from youth to young adulthood).

Yet I wonder if it is used much anymore, because it seems to be, well, overused and thus has moved into a weird insipidness that is the death knell of many good songs.

And yet. Taking a step back from its sing-songy-ness and re-engaging the soulful joy of its Afro-pop roots somehow reclaims it for me. Because this is most assuredly the song we need a lot of days, personally and globally.

We are going,
heaven knows where we are going,
but we know within.

And we will get there,
heaven knows how we will get there,
but we know we will.

It will be hard, we know,
and the road will be muddy and rough,
but we’ll get there,
heaven knows how we will get there,
but we know we will.

Woyaya, Woyaya,
Woyaya, Woyaya,

Woyaya.

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