Friday, November 11, 2011

The Funga Alafia (Fanga) Song - Part 2 (Lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision- April 27, 2019

This is the second post of a three part series on the "Funga Alafia" song and the Funga (Fanga) dance. This second post showcases lyrics to the "Funga Alafia" song.

Part #1 in this series focuses on the history of the Fanga dance and the "Funga Alafia" song.
Click for that post.

Part #3 of this series showcases seven selected YouTube videos of the "Funga Alafia" song and/or dance. Click for that post.

The information in this post is presented for folkloric, sociological, educational, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

This post does not purport to be a comprehensive presentation of all of the versions of the song "Funga Alafia". Nor are the sources that are cited in this post the only sources online that contain these lyrics.

The word "funga" is a folk etymology version of the word "fanga". Although the term "funga alafia" is less authentic than "fanga alafia", I usually use the title "Funga Alafia". I do so partly because that's the title I'm most familar with, and also because that title is the one that appears to be most often used for that song and may have been the title that was given to this original African American song.

With those prefacing remarks, here are three examples of the "Funga Alafia" ("Fanga") song/chant along with information about their lyrics.

VERSION #1 (Example A)
(composed by LaRocque Bey, 1959, or the early 1960s; to the tune of the 19th century American song "Li'l Liza Jane")

Fanga alafia, ase, ase(2x)
Ase, ase, Ase, ase
Fanga alafia, ase, ase
Ikabo alafia, ase, ase (2x)
Ase, ase. Ase, ase
Ikabo alafia, ase, ase
Eleba (or Elegua) alafia ase , ase (2X)
Ase, ase. Ase, ase
Eleba alafia, ase, ase

Information about these words is given below.

VERSION #1 (Example B)
"Fanga is rhythm, from Liberia that has been thought [sic] by Babatunde Olatunji, a West African Percussion teacher who, with his lessons and personality, inspired many Djembe players in the United States. The transcriptions are from various email exchanges throught [sic] the Djembe-L mailinglist. The song he used to sing to accompanie [sic] the rhythm is in the Yoruba language."

Fanga Alafayia, ashé ashé (4x) Ashé, Ashé, ashé, ashé.
Asé, Asé, Asé, Asé
Ikabo A Lafiya Ashé Ashé (4x) Ashé, Ashé, ashé, ashé.
Asé, Asé, Asé, Asé
Eluga A Lafiya Ashé, Ashé, ashé, ashé.
Asé, Asé, Asé, Asé
-WAP-pages / Paul Nas / Last changed at 30-04-2004

(to the tune "Li'l Liza Jane"); composition date uncertain, but after Version #1)

Call-Fanga (or Funga) Alafia
Response-Ashé Ashé
Call-Fanga (or Funga) Alafia
Response-ashé ashé
[repeat both call and response several times]
Call-Ashé Ashé
Response-Ashé Ashé
[Repeat both call and response several times]
Source- Baba Olatunji Plays Fanga [This is video #1 on Post #3 of this Pancocojams' series.]

These words can be considered the "chorus" of Version #1, and this song/chant is the one that is used by most dance companies before the Fanga drum beat and dancing begins.

This same chant is used in Video #2 of that same post. After that drum & dance performance, the hostess "translates" the chant as "Funga Alafia Ashe Ashe. That means "Welcome. Blessings. Amen Amen."
[end of quote]

Although this isn't the actual etymological meaning of these words, it may be correct to say that this is what "Funga Alafia" means since words have the meaning or meanings that people assign to them, and those meanings can change overtime or change depending on the context within the same population (and different populations) at the same time.

(To the tune "Li'l Liza Jane"); composition date uncertain, but after Version #1's composition & probably also after Version #2's composition)

Call: Funga alafia
Response: Ashay ashay
[Repeat as necessary].

Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay. Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay.
Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay. Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay.

[Drum solo and ¼ turns around in a circle.]

Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay. Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay.
Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay. Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay.

With my thoughts, I welcome you.
With my words, I welcome you.
With my heart I welcome you.
See, I have nothing up my sleeve.

Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay. Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay.
Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay. Funga alafia, Ah-shay Ah-shay.
cakes4africa; 2008
-Source: “What are all of the verses to the African song Funga Alafia?”

The line "Drum solo and ¼ turns around in a circle." obviously provides performance information and is not vocalized. From watching numerous videos of this song, and from my direct experiences observing dance groups perform this song, it appears that the “(See)I have nothing up my sleeve" line is often omitted from renditions of this version of "Funga Alafia".

This version of "Funga Alafia" (except for the last line) is the one that appears to be most often sung in the United States, regardless of the races/ethnicities of the persons singing.

The lines "with my thoughts (my words; my heart) I welcome you" are usually performed in a call & response manner. It appears to be quite common for group singing this song to stand in a circle and just perform the gestures that fit the words (both hands touching the side of your head for "with my thoughts" (which I've also seen as "with my mind"); hands touching the side of your mouth for "with my words"; hands crossed and touching your heart for "with my heart". It appears that the standard movement for the group response "I welcome you" is to extend both arms out in front in front of your waist. Instead of standing in one place while singing these words and performing those gestures, I've also seen videos of children (especially pre-schoolers) walking around in a circle and stopping in place to make those gestures, and then after saying the "with my __" starting walking around the circle again. Note that the participants are walking and not dancing or strutting, or gliding around the circle while singing or chanting this song/chant.

My sense is that this rendition is most common because the movements are far easier to do for all ages instead of performing dance movements. However, I'm concerned that people who teach these movements and songs and those they teach it to would think that this really is the traditional way that Fanga was performed, or that it was the way that African Americans orginally choreographed that traditional African dance. For instance, when the blogger cakes4africa shared the above lyrics she (since she chose an icon of a female) also wrote “Fungu Alafia is a traditional song from Western Africa (Nigeria) sung in the Yoruba language and means "welcomes and blessings". Funga Alafia, a West African Welcome Song".

(To the tune "Li'l Liza Jane"); composition date uncertain, but after Version #1's composition & probably also after Version #2's composition; I believe this version is sung or chanted much less frequently than Version #3).

Fanga Alafia*
Funga Alafia Ah-Shay Ah-Shay

Funga Alafia Ah-Shay Ah-Shay

Peace be with you and all thse [sic]you meet

peace be with you and all those you meet
-HaloTnt104; 2009

* These words are probably given as the title of the song and therefore aren't supposed be sung.

This version focuses on "Funga Alafia" as a welcome song, emphasizing the definition of the word "alafia" as "peace" (be with you).

Here's some information about the non-English words in that song (given with United States pronunciations)

To date, I've not found any online source that definitely indicates the origin and meaning of the word "fanga" The word "fanga" can be found in several traditional African languages. However, words in several African languages that are spelled the same and may be pronounced the same don't necessarily have the same meaning.

For instance, here's an excerpt from Hillary Sargent's website:
"The word FANGA! Originates from the West African Mandingo lingo.
Literally it translates: Power! - It hits you to the core, in its multifaceted, powerful meaning: everybody has his or her own FANGA! - To me it is resilient, not only powerful, in essence the African rhythm in FANGA! inspires me with a spiritual enlightenment which has become the matrix of my soul identity."
Another example of the word "fanga" is found in this description of a Malian film:
Taafe-Fanga is the title of a highly acclaimed film from Mali, West Africa. The film is produced "in Bambara and Kaado [languages] with English [language] subtitles", and the title means "Skirt-Power".
Presumably, the word "fanga" also means power in one of those African languages cited above.

Another example of the use of "fanga" is the French afrobeat group by that name. Here's information about that interracial group's name from
"Fanga means 'Force' (spiritually speaking) in Dioula, one of the numerous dialects of Western Africa. This French group of 7 musicians, deeply immersed in Afrobeat - a musical language pioneered by Fela Kuti in the 70's, combining African music, jazz and funk - was born from an encounter between the hip-hop programmer Serge Amiano and the rapper Yves Khoury (aka Korbo) of Burkina Faso."

I've also read that "Fanga" is a Vai (Liberia) word and I've usually seen "fanga" used as the name for the rhythm and accompanying dance which are based on a traditional Vai (Liberia, West Africa) welcome dance. Given those three examples, I believe that it's likely that the Liberian word "fanga" also means "force" or "power".

It should be noted that the authors of The Dance That Claimed Me: Biography of Pearl Primus by Peggy & Murray Schwartz indicate that drummers and dancers in different American companies didn't perform "Fanga" with the same tempo or in the same way., page 91.

ALAFIA (ah-LAH-fee-ah)
A number of online sources indicate that the word "alafia" is a greeting word used by Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa.

According to various online sites, the "Yoruba" word "alafia" originated from the Arabic word "alaafiyah" meaning "health" or "good health" and entered the Yoruba language by way of the Hausa (Nigeria) modification "lafia la".

Facebook post [given as Article #4 without any posted comment responses]
From IFA: Òrìṣa Scientific Spirituality, July 12, 2016 ·
"For many, the Yoruba term "alafia" (also spelled alaafia) is used to mean "inner-peace" and said as a greeting like the use of the Kemetic word "hotep" and the Arabic word "salaam."

In the past ten years, there has been much controversy about the term alafia and whether or not it is truly Yoruba or derived from Arabic.

It is noted that the Yoruba word alafia shares its meaning with the Hausa (Northern Nigerians) word "lafiya" which means good health. They derived the word from Arabic's al-afiyah which means "the good health." When said as "zaman lafiya" in Hausa, it comes to mean innerpeace.

The indigenous Yoruba word for good health is ilera. Hence the popular Yoruba phrase, "Ilera loro" which means "health is wealth."

However, does all this mean that alafia is not a Yoruba word? Not necessarily....

All of this being said, alafia (whether indigenous or of Arabic origin) is not traditionally a greeting as seen in the Arab's salaam. That is definitely an attempt for people to immitate [sic] the Arab's greeting pattern of "peace" instead of learning Yoruba conversational protocol."....
-end of quote-
From at least the late 1960s, some afro-centric African Americans have used "alafia" as a greeting word that means "hello", "welcome, and/or "peace". I believe that "alafia" was first used by African Americans as a traditional African language for of the Arabic phrase "A salaam alaikum" (Peace be unto you).
Click for a pancocojams post on the origins and meanings of the word "alafia"

ASE ("àṣẹ" =pronounced ah-shay, and usually written "ashe")

Ase is the Yoruba term for the energy of creation; the spark of life. ; hereafter given as "Wikipedia: Yoruba Mythology"
"Ashe ( ah-SHAY, also Ase) – A Yoruba word meaning power, command, and authority. The ability to make whatever one says happen. Often summarized as “so be it”, “so it is”, or “it definitely shall be so”.
Colloquially, "ashe" is often considered (in the United States anyway, as meaning the same as the Biblical word "Amen".

IKABO (correctly given as "Ekaabo" or "Ekabo"; I'm unsure of the pronounciation since I've never heard this word used)

"Ekabo" is a Yoruba word that means "welcome".

From various sites including comments for video "Fanga by Alafia"
"I am not sure that Fanga is a commonly known word in the Yoruba language. It might be something that Mr. Olatunji might have created or re-definition from another language, but i do not believe it to be a word from the language of Yoruba. E kaabo is the word for "welcome" in Yoruba. Alafia however is a Yoruba word that does mean "peace"."
-OluvTosin; 2009

Like many others, that commenter incorrectly assumed that Yoruba percussionist & recording artist Babatunde Olatunji composed "Funga Alafia". Although incorrect, that assumption is easy to make since "Funga Alafia" has several Yoruba words and because Olatunji & his company sung that song in the beginning of many of his performances.

ELEBA [Correctly given as Elegba or Elegua]
Elegba (e-LEH-bah) [also known as Ẹlégbara (e-leh-BAH-rah); Eṣu (e-shoo); Elegua (e-leh-guah)]

From [Hereafter given as article: Orisha Worship]
"Esu the Divine Trickster
Esu is the Divine Spirit of Communication, the well-spoken orator who speaks all languages. Esu translates messages between humans and Orisha. Without Esu our prayers would not be understood in heaven and we would be unable to understand the language of Orisha or our ancestors (Egun). Esu is the guardian of the crossroads, as such he opens and closes all doors and ceremonies."

Contrary to what is commonly believed about this song, "Funga Alafia" (or "Fanga Alafia") is an American song. Except for its inclusion of some words from traditional African languages, there's nothing at all traditional about any version of the "Funga Alafia" song.

It's ironic that so many people worldwide consider this song to be African. "Funga Alafia" is only African in as much as it was composed by an African American. The "with my words I welcome you" etc lines were composed to correspond to the dancers' movements. There is no known composer for that version.

And with regard to the obvious mime gestures that some folks do while standing & singing or chanting "Funga Alafia", I believe that Pearl Primus would probably cringe were she to see what has been done to her dance that performed that way, isn't even a dance.

But these words & gestures didn't just materialize out of thin air. Instead they have their bases in the program notes that were written in at least one dance program that Pearl Primus performed in 1951:
"Then Fanga was performed ([Pearl] Primus, [Charles] Blackwell, [George] Mills,[Charles] Queenan), with the program note “I welcome you. My hands bear no weapons. My heart brings love to you. I stretch my arms to the earth and the sky for I alone am not strong enough to greet you."

I recall dancers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania performing this dance facing in different directions (East, West, North, South) and extending their arms out and then heavenward, which brings up another point: It's interesting that the description of this dance as an "invocation to the earth and the sky" is seldom used and instead this dance is described as a "welcome dance". Of course it could be both, but it's certainly easier to mime a welcome dance than it is to mime an "invocation to the earth and the sky". Few people nowadays-including me-even know what "invocation" means.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Thanks so much! I enjoyed reading this and found it quite helpful. Alafia!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Boundless Gratitude.

    I appreciate knowing that this post has been read.

    Alafia to you too!

  3. Endlich! Nach 4 Stunden Recherche habe ich gefunden, was ich suchte, die Übersetzung von ashe.

  4. Thank you for all of your research. I first learned this song at a music therapist meeting several years ago and have been using it in my groups ever since. The man who taught it pronounced it "foon-jah", and when I looked it up on the internet later I could find very few references to the song, other than that the correct pronunciation was as you wrote. I am glad to have it validated.
    The sources I found before were also dubious about the words even being of African origin, so it's nice to have that cleared up also.
    I taught this to one of my preschool groups this morning and they loved it.

    1. Greetings, Sue O!

      Thanks for your comment! I appreciate it.

      I'm glad that groups & individuals are learning this song "Funga Alafia" & also are learning the interesting African American/West African history of this song.

      Best wishes!

  5. Thank you!! I have learned SO much from these posts. We sing this song at a ceremony marking the beginning of the school year, and I am fascinated by the rich and complex history of the transformations of the traditional dance rhythm.
    I will try to pass on what I have learned to my students!

    1. Thanks, Sarah in Minneapolis!

      I like these kinds of posts because I learn so much through my research.

      I'm glad you're sharing this research with your students.

  6. I found a book called "An Annotated Glossary of Vai Musical Language and Its Social Contexts" which seems to indicate that a fanga is an hourglass shaped drum.

    1. Thank you, anonymous.

      Yes, I have also read that the fanga is a drum.

    2. Sorry, I meant to continue with that "Fanga" is also a particular traditional rhythm played on that drum.

      But the "Funga Alafia" songs aren't traditional to the Vai people or to any other Africans, but were created by African Americans to celebrate African culture.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  7. Hi! What a FABULOUS resource that is just overflowing with information! I can't wait to share many of these details with my music students at school in the fall!

    1. Thanks, anonymous.

      I appreciate you sharing information about this post and this blog with your students.


  8. Many thanks for your extensive notes. What a gift!

    I learned Fanga in 1971 when I was a student of Dunham Technique under apprentices of Ms. Dunham and Ms. Ruth Beckford at UC Berkeley. I still continue to share it with my students all these many years later. Back then, we were taught that "Funga" was a word distilled from the Swahili "Fungua" which means "Open", hence the assignment of the piece as a welcome dance.Opening the heart and village to welcome visitors.

    Thanks again!

    1. Greetings, Lisa Saunders.

      Thanks for your comment.

      I appreciate the addition of information from a person who learned the Dunham technique under apprentices to Katherine Dunham and Ruth Beckford. (For other readers, click for information about African American dancer, choreographer, author, educator, and social activist Katherine Dunham) Here's an excerpt from that page: "[Katherine] Dunham was an innovator in African-American modern dance as well as a leader in the field of dance anthropology, or ethnochoreology.")

      I continue to believe that the word "funga" is an American folk processed form of the traditional West African word "fanga". However, it's interesting to learn that "fungua" means "open" in Kiswahili.

      Back in the day (in the 1960s and 1970s) in the USA, Swahili was the main African language that many afrocentric Black people knew a few words of. For that reason I wonder if we tended to try to connect many African words and culture to Swahili the same way that some Eurocentric people try to connect a lot of old European culture to the Celts and Celtic languages.

      If indeed the fanga dance was (is?) traditional used as a welcome dance in the West African culture/s that it is from, it's likely that it's just fortuitous that "fungua" means "open" in an East African language - and that "open" in the context of that dance could be said to mean "our hearts are open"' "our arms are open" in welcome . While the West African word "alafia" has a traditional meaning that is close to "welcome", I don't think that the West African word "fanga" (which African Americans changed to "funga") has a meaning that is the same or close to the word "welcome".

      It occurs to me that the African Americans who composed the lyrics "Funga Alafia/ ashay ashay" may have meant for each of those words to be followed by a comma as in "Funga, Alafia, Ashay, Ashay". Those lyrics could then be said to mean "Power (life giving force/energy) welcome, Power (life giving force/energy), Power (life giving force/energy).

      Thanks again, Lisa!

  9. I learned this song as a kid in the early 90's but we were taught:
    "Fanga alifia, ashay, ashay.
    Akiwa alaywa, ashay, ashay.
    Fanga alifia, ashay, ashay.
    Akiwa alaywa, ashay, ashay.
    Ashay ashay, ashay ashay.
    Ashay ashay, ashay ashay."

    I have yet to see that second phrase included in any version on any website. I'm beginning to wonder if my music teacher just made that bit up. Lol!

    1. Greetings, Jenna.
      Thanks for your comment about the song "Funga Alafia".

      As I noted in this post, the word "fanga" may be accurate instead of "funga".

      I was curious about what Google translate would give for the phrase "akiwa alaywa". The result for that phrase is:
      Swahili to English : "while drunk".

      If this result is correct, I'm assuming that your music teacher didn't purposely teach the wrong lyrics.

      It should be noted that none of the words to "funga alafia" are in Swahili, but are supposed to be in one or more traditional West African languages.

      Perhaps your music teacher meant something that translates to like "be happy".

      I suppose one can be happy while being drunk, but my guess is that that wasn't what LaRocque Bey, the African American composer of "Fanga Alafia" meant when he composed this song.:o)