Recently, I had a director ask me how my and Heidi’s unique setting of Joyful, Joyful with Asifiwe Bwana came to be. So here is the story behind this unique arrangement.
Randy Edwards, the director of YouthCUE, asked me to compose some new choral pieces in multicultural styles. I don’t find many up-tempo sorts of compositional styles that appeal to me. But I have always been attracted to the unadulterated joy of African choral music. I experimented with this style in my own choral composition, I Am the Resurrection. And so as I considered the pros and cons of writing in a variety of multicultural musical styles, the African choral style seemed like a perfect match for me.
So the exuberant joy I sensed in the African choral genre reminded me of Henry Van Dyke’s words: “Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee.” Although 5/4 meter is not exactly common in western music, it seemed to give Beethoven’s familiar melody the sort of rhythmic vitality it needed to make sense within this ethnic style. But something seemed to be missing. Then I realized that one of the things that makes African choral music sound distinctively “African” is the language.
Alas, I embarked on a transcontinental search for KiSwahili lyrics that would perfectly complement Van Dyke’s classic hymn text. I searched through the KiSwahili translation of the Bible and extensively studied as much information as I could gather about the syntax and pronunciation of KiSwahili. Finally, I arrived at this paraphrase of Luke 1:68, “Asifiwe bwana, kwa ame wajia, watu wake ili, awakomboe” which means, “Praise be to the Lord, for He has come to redeem His people.”
I can think of no greater cause for joyful celebration than the fulfillment of God’s promise to lovingly provide for mankind’s redemption. And so, the inspiring text of an American clergymen, the melody of one of western music’s greatest composer’s masterpieces, and the joyfully-rhythmic style of African choirs joined together to express man’s enthusiastic praise for the majesty and glory of God.
My hope is that this arrangement will also give you an opportunity to “join the happy chorus” praising God who is the “Giver of immortal gladness.”