STJ#1030, Siyahamba

Y’all took the joy right out of this one for me.

You know who “you” are – you who dislike this one, you who find the Zulu difficult, you who argue against the word “God” in the translation, you who think it’s overused or too cheesy, you who won’t use it for other reasons you will delineate in your comments.

You see, right before I went to prepare the coffee, I opened the hymnal, saw the title, and I started singing it while I cleaned the pot, added water, added grounds. As I got into the joyful groove, I started thinking about what to write, and I started reading in my mind all the comments you will be making, and by the time I poured my first cup and opened the laptop, all the joy was gone.


This is a joyful song of liberation. As written on the UUA Song Information page,

A South African freedom song that comes from the Apartheid Era. It is not clear whether the original composition was in Zulu or Afrikaans, although today we sing it in Zulu and English. It is said to have been composed by Andries van Tonder around 1950. However, we credit Anders Nyberg, musical director of Fjedur, a Swedish choral group, with discovering it on one of his trips to Cape Town. In 1984 he arranged it for a Western four-voice setting.

The structure of “Siyahamba” is cyclic rather than sequential. The lyrics consist of one phrase that is repeated with permutations. Cyclical forms emphasize a spirit of community and allow for a physical response during the performance. This may explain this song’s popularity as a processional and offertory as well as a protest or marching song. “Siyahamba” is appropriate for both sacred and secular settings for it could be sung, “We are standing in the light of peace.” The song may be accompanied by drums, bell, and shakers; and it can be sung a cappella with male voices which is favored by the Zulu tradition.

Joyful. This is supposed to be a joyful song, but in this case, criticisms I know this song faces (because I have heard them for real, not just in my imaginings) has made not only this part of the practice difficult, but also the singing part. I… I just wanted to be in that joyful place for a moment longer, as joy is so hard to come by lately.

Anyway. I like it and use a lot of words along with/instead of ‘marching’ – singing, dancing, praying, living, shouting, working, etc. etc. etc.

Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’,
siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’.
Siya hamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’,
siya hamb’ ekukhanyen’ siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos.
Siyahamba, hamba, siyahamba, hamba,
siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’.
Siyahamba, hamba, siyahamba, hamba,
siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos’.

We are marching in the light of God,
we are marching in the light of God.
We are marching in the light of God,
we are marching in the light of, the light of God.
We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching,
we are marching in the light of God.
We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching,
We are marching in the light of God.

Now I for one will not be deterred, and I recommend the YouTube rabbit hole of Siyahamba versions. They span the globe, ages, and abilities. They are formal and informal, accompanied and a capella, inside and outside, but all joyful.

May you find something in this joyful South African song of freedom to bring you joy.

2 responses to “STJ#1030, Siyahamba”

  1. The English-only bias of some U-U people, who might have an international perspective in other ways, is disappointing. We shouldn’t even think of letting this keep us from programming and singing this song, or Spanish songs in the book, or other music in other languages that might come our way. Our choirs should take the lead and spend some rehearsal time learning these songs so that congregations have strong help. Yes, some choir members might complain about dealing with other languages, too. American attitudes about languages resist change, even in U-U circles. Too bad!

  2. When I get caught by the joy-killers, I often find a good, vile cuss-fest gets me happy again. Give it some thought. 😉 It’s particularly grievous that they’d strike this one–it really is a happy song.

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