27 December 2021
Recording of the week: 'Kuli milimo', there is work in the house of the Lord
This week’s selection comes from Edoardo Marcarini, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.
Inspired by the festive atmosphere, I bring you not one but two recordings this week. These are meant to be appreciated together just like the turkey and gravy some people will have indulged themselves with this Christmas.
It’s 1973 and we are in Zambia, Brian Stubbings is currently spending his second year among the Tonga people of Kafue and surrounding areas. Over the course of seven years Stubbings will record many traditional songs sung on different occasions. This is the case of our first recording, a kutwa song sung by two women pounding grains using a mortar and pestle.
Kuli milimo (4x), kun'ganda ya ba nasi kulimilimo, alimwi cilabilikita yalila, wailesi njemilimo
[There is work, there is work in the house of the nurse there is work]
The pounding of the mortar provides a rhythmical framework for the song, while singing makes the pounding more regular and the workload lighter.
You would probably be surprised to hear the same tune sung in a church, yet, that same melody was arranged into a Christian song by the Kafue Composer's Club, a group of dedicated students who worked closely with Stubbings.
The lyrics have been changed, and the rhythmical pounding of the mortar has been replaced by handclaps and single notes played on a kalimba, a wooden idiophone – not to be confused with the homonym lamellophone!
Here, they sing:
There is work, there is work in the house of the Lord there is work
Re-arranging popular and traditional melodies for religious purposes is a fairly common practice around the world. In fact, I was very surprised when, as a child, I found out Simon and Garfunkel’s 'The Sound of Silence' wasn’t originally an Italian Catholic song.
In this specific case the use of a traditional tune is rather important, as it signals a necessary transition from a purely European form to a more grassroots approach to Christian music that uses local tunes.