Njalo (Always): A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition

By Donaldson, Andrew | The Hymn, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Njalo (Always): A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition


Donaldson, Andrew, The Hymn


Njalo (Always): A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition Patrick Matsikenyiri. [Abingdon Press Hymn Series]. Edited by Dan Damon. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006. 48 pp. (w/CD). ISBN-13: 978-0-687-49807-4. U.S. $10.00.

Patrick Matsikenyiri has long been a tireless teacher of worship music from Zimbabwe. With texts in Shona and English, Njalo, a new collection of his hymns and arrangements, is a welcome addition to his body of work. A CD of all the selections, sung by a 49-voice choir with occasional hosho (shaker) and drum, is a valuable addition to the printed text, particularly if you want to absorb the style and performance practice of Patrick's music. As Michael Hawn points out in his foreword, Njalo presents hymns of praise (the Cameroonian "Baningyeti Bayawe"), thanksgiving ("Wonai"), invocation ("Mweya Mutsvene Uyai Pano"), and commitment ("Ndai Wona Hama Yakanaka").

Dan Damon has performed an admirable task in the difficult role as translator in this collection. Traduire, c'est trahir-"to translate is to betray"-and this very translation illustrates some of the challenge. Dan Damon is correct in his observation that the introduction of "global" hymns into North American worship has often been hindered by awkward English translations. Even for those choirs and congregations who sing the original texts, a singable and idiomatic English text helps us sing with understanding, and is an important tool in making the hymns a part of a congregation's repertoire of sung prayers. The strong and poignant "Zviro Zvacho Zvanyanya," giving expression to political, economic, and social brokenness in Zimbabwean life, is expressed in Dan's striking phrase, "Life is broken at its core." In the hymn of praise, "Wonai," it is the rhythmic intent of the song that is given its due:

Clap hands and let heaven rejoice to hear the singing.

Behold, behold what we've been given by Jesus. Damon has wisely avoided focusing on rhyming in order to highlight other aspects of the texts. The repetitions in the texts, such as "I'm running, running, searching, searching" ("Hakuna Wakaita sa Jesu"), in any case, make rhyming unnecessary. The literal, nonsinging translations are also helpful, particularly where the English text departs from the literal sense of the original.

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