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Sunday, April 28, 2019

The REAL Origin Of The Song "Funga Alafia" - Hint It Isn't A Liberian Song, Or A Nigerian Song, Or A Traditional African Song

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part pancocojams series on the song "Funga Alafia".

This post corrects widely found misinformation about the provenance (origin/source) of the song "Funga Alafia".

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/04/three-youtube-videos-of-funga-alafia.html for Part II of this series. Part II showcases some video examples of "Funga Alafia" songs and/or dances.

Selected comments from these videos' discussion threads are also included in this post.

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/04/two-youtube-videos-of-baba-olatunji.html for Part III of this pancocojams series. Part III showcases two YouTube videos of Nigerian master drummer Babatunde Olatunji performing "Fanga".

Selected comments from these videos' discussion threads are also included in this post.

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The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural information.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Larocque Bey, the real composer of the song "Funga Alafia" and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
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An earlier version of this pancocojams series was published in 2011. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2011/11/real-history-of-funga-alafia-fanga-song.html for that post. That post contains additional information about the history of "Funga Alafia". Links to Part II and Part III are found on that page. Part II provides some text (word) examples of that song and Part III showcases YouTube videos of "Funga Alafia" other than those that are found in this 2019 post.

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CORRECTING MISINFORMATION ABOUT THE SONG "FUNGA ALAFIA" [Revised on April 29, 2019]
I first wrote about the song "Funga Alafia" on this pancocojams blog in 2011.

I decided to revisit this subject because of the apparent widespread inclusion of "Funga Alafia" in United States and other non-West African nations and also because of the widespread misinformation about the provenance of that song.

Even if people prefer later arrangements of a particular song, I believe it's important to document and share that song's provenance (origin/source).

If possible, it's important to know who composed the song - if not the actual composer/s than which population it came from. It's also important to know what the original words were, which tune and tempo was originally used and what performance activities, if any, where used while singing or chanting the composition.

Knowing where the song came from can help determine the overall meaning of the song itself as well as the meanings of specific words/phrases (including slang and colloquial expressions).

Knowing the provenance of a song can also help instill and reinforce group self-esteem and personal esteem in people from that particular population.

Here's some basic information about the song "Funga Alafia":
1. The song "Funga Alafia" was composed by African American drummer and dancer LaRocque Bey in Harlem (New York City) in 1959 or 1960.

2. The word "funga" is a folk processed form of the Vai (Liberia, West Africa) word "fanga".

3. The words "alafia" and "ashe" are from the Yoruba (Nigeria, West Africa) language.

4. The tune for the song "Funga Alafia" is from the American folk song "Little Liza Jane".
Click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELNIe_D79xs for a sound file of Nina Simone singing "Little Liza Jane".

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CORRECTING MISINFORMATION ABOUT "FUNGA ALAFIA" DANCES
"Funga Alafia" dances may be based on the traditional Vai (Liberian) dance called "Fanga", but aren't authentic replications of that traditional dance. Widely performed Funga Alafia "head and shoulders" movements are contemporary American adaptations that aren't part of the traditional Liberian Fanga dance.

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DOCUMENTATION AND COMMENTARY ABOUT THE PROVENANCE (ORIGIN/SOURCE) OF THE SONG "FUNGA ALAFIA"
(numbers provided for referencing purposes only)
1. Information about Sierra Leonean musician Asadata Dafor:
"Asadata Dafora Hortan (August 4, 1890 – March 4, 1965) widely known as Asadata Dafora was a Sierra Leonean multidisciplinary musician. He was one of the first Africans to introduce African drumming music to the United States, beginning in the early 1930s...

In 1929 Asadata Dafora journeyed to New York City to try and pursue his career as a musician. He was then 39 years old...

[...]

Dafora co-authored a radio play with Orson Welles entitled "Trangama-Fanga" [in 1941]."
Source: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asadata_Dafora
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Sierra Leone borders Liberia, and some members of Assata Dafor's dance company were from Liberia. It's therefore likely that Dafor would have known the Fanga rhythm and dance. In her PhD dissertation, dance historian Marcia Heard indicates that Asadata Dafor was the first person to introduce the Fanga dance to the United States, and he called that dance "Fugale". Furthermore, multi-instrumentalists, writer, and educator Sule Greg Wilson*, who drummed with Babatunde Olatunji, asserts that Assata Dafor was the first person to introduce Fanga to the United States.

Source:http://books.google.com/books?id=DbsxMmONyIsC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=the+dance+claimed+me+primus+and+olatunji+fanga&source=bl&ots=xPGkQ1bvHR&sig=SCiHLpjgsBfklV8KBBBBVPgiAYw&hl=en&ei=uBi9To_jCsPl0QGz2ei5BA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false [hereafter given as "Schwartz: Pearl Primus Biography"].

*Read a comment from Sule Greg Wilson given below #2 in this section of this post.

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2. Information about African American dancer/choreographer Pearl Primus
From http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/h/black-dance/:
"[Pearl Primus] was born in Trinidad before her parents immigrated to Harlem in 1919. She worked at the New Dance Group Studios which was one of few places where black dancers could train alongside whites. She went on to study for a PhD and did research on dance in Africa. Her most famous dance was the Fanga, an African dance of welcome which introduced traditional African dance to the stage."

From The Dance Claimed Me: A Biography Of Pearl Primus by Peggy Schwartz & Murray Schwartz:
" "Fanga" was central to Pearl's school, her performances, and her lectures. A dance of welcome that she brought back from her first trip to Liberia it was probably a variation of a traditional dance that she continued to change over the decade." [page 88]
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[information from that book] Pearl Primus' Fanga dance was picked up by other African dance companies in the United States and was reconstructed by them. Babatunde Olatunji was the first company to do so, because two dancers from Primus' company left to perform with Olatunji.

[quote from that book]
"Virtually every black community dance company in America has its version of "Fanga" and most start with the chant "Fanga alafiyah ashe ashe, fanga alafiyah ashe ashe" as its accompaniment. This chant was added by LaRocque Bey, a percussionist in New York in the late 1950s, was not part of the original work. Primus used two other chants "gehbeddy jung jung jung" with a strong, active, insistent rhythm, or "dum dake dake dum dake, dum dake dake dum dum dake", gentler, and with a swing and a sway to it." (Schwartz, Pearl Primus Biography, p. 88).
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Here's a comment that was posted to a YouTube video discussion thread by Sule Greg C. Wilson in 2011:
From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnju7nD5cR8
Funga Alafia, published by Kathryn Nobles on Jun 14, 2009

[This is a YouTube video of a group of mostly White American drumming and moving to a version of the song "Funga Alafia"]
"They were having fun--great! But: what they're doing is not the dance Fanga, which was created by Pearl Primus after her trip to Liberia. Nor is it the rhythms traditionally played with the dance. The melody is U.S.: Lil Liza Jane, with Yoruba words put to it in New York City by LaRoque Bey. Would it be cute for Blacks to do Swan Lake with Firebird choreography? It would be fine with me--if they knew that's what they were doing. Spread culture around, but try to keep it intact...."

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3. The song/chant "Fanga Alafia" that was composed by LaRocque Bey includes two Yoruba words: "alafia" and "ase" (usually written in the United States as "ashay". Here's how an African American man in Harlem in 1959/1960 likely became familiar with those Yoruba words: In the late 1950s and early 1960s (and since then) a small number of African Americans practiced/practice the Yoruba religion of Ifa in Harlem. The Yoruba Temple in Harlem was under the leadership of Baba Oserjeman, the first African American to be initiated into the traditional Yoruba religion of Ifa. Baba Oserjiman, a former dancer with Katherine Dunham, was initiated into that religion in Cuba in 1959. Source http://www.bnvillage.co.uk/news-politics-village/99564-south-carolina-voodoo-sect.html

It's likely that LaRocque Bey was familiar with Baba Oserjiman and the Yoruba drummers & dancers (if he himself wasn't a member of that drum group). And it's also likely that some of the Yoruba drummers and dancers were (also) members of Bey's drum company. The community of afrocentric African Americans wasn't all that large in the late 1950s and the 1960s.

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WHAT DO THE AFRICAN WORDS IN THE "FUNGA ALAFIA" SONG MEAN?
Here's the research that I did for the 2011 pancocojams post on several lyric examples for "Funga Alafia" http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2011/11/funga-alafia-fanga-song-part-2-lyrics.html

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In the United States, the colloquial meaning that is usually given to the words "Funga Alafia" is "We welcome you" (or some other words that include the word "welcome". In the United States, the word "ashe" is sometimes interpreted as "amen". In the context of the song "Funga Alafia", the word "ashe" has colloquially been interpreted as "really", for instance "We really welcome you" ; We enthusiastically welcome you.

Here's information about the African language words in the song "Funga Alafia":
FANGA
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: http://www.fanga-music.com/myFanga:
"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."
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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". http://newsreel.org/video/TAAFE-FANGA.
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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 http://cd1d.com/en/artist/fanga:
"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. (Schwartz, Pearl Primus Biography, page 91)

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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".

From https://www.facebook.com/575706419187357/photos/pb.575706419187357.-2207520000.1468493353./1067659546658706/?type=3 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 imitate [sic] the Arab's greeting pattern of "peace" instead of learning Yoruba conversational protocol."....
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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).
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Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/02/excerpts-from-online-articles.html for a pancocojams post on the origins and meanings of the word "alafia"

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

"Ase" is the Yoruba term for the energy of creation; the spark of life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoruba_mythology ; hereafter given as "Wikipedia: Yoruba Mythology"
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From http://asheselah.wordpress.com/about/whats-an-asheselah/
"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”.

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This concludes Part I of this pancocojams series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you! I had a feeling there was more to this than "Here's an African welcome song." Really trying to tell the kids the proper stories behind the songs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Duff.

      And thank you for helping children learn their roots and culture.

      Delete