Musical Notes: My Favorite Story About Music

I have read much about the power of music through the years, but no writing has ever touched me as deeply as this one.

This reading comes to us via The Freedom Project, which uses it at the Welcome Home ceremony that they hold for returnees from prison. A search for the original source brings up a number of possible attributions: Malidoma Patrice Some, “Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman;’ African poet Tolba Phanem; and Alan Cohen, “Living from the Heart.”

They’re Singing Your Song

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration, expression and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

This song is sung at every important event of the child. When he or she is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.  

In this African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime, acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.

The tribal ceremony can last several days. At the end of the ceremony, the circle sings to the accused his or her song until this person fully remembers who he or she is. The tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.