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Tuesday, September 13

Voices that convey the Mystery

Mavis Staples
Singing lead vocal on The Staple Singers' version of 
Sit Down Servant *

"I just got to heaven and I can't sit down ..."




Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 

Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho

Gorakh Dhanda means "a mysterious puzzle" aik na samajh anay wali paheli. Poet means here that "God is One but has different names but people are unable to understand Him, He is such a Puzzle, Mystery". -- Imran Malik, commenting at YouTube about the song




* The following is the best I can do with transcribing the expository part of the lyrics for this version of Sit Down Servant, which aren't quite the same in other versions even those sung by The Staple Singers. These old Spirituals sung in Black American churches can be highly improvisational.  

Thanks to Azizi Powell, the blogger at Pancocojams, for her earlier efforts to transcribe the lyrics for another version, which helped me fill in some of the blanks for this one. Question marks added where I was unsure or stumped. 

Yonder come little David
with his rock and sling
I don't want to meet him
he's a dangerous man

Talk about little David
he's a mighty man
well he killed Goliath
??? took his head to ?Canaan???

You can watch the sun
see how steady she run
don't let it catch you with your work undone

Joshua, Joshua with a ton of ? ___?
?________________________?
God spoke to Joshua to do thy will
he said if you got the power, the sun stand still
he gave me a ??letter?? and he told me to go
he gave me a harp and he told me to blow
and if blow my lungs away I would get them back in a coming day

When I get to heaven I'm gonna put on my shoes
I'll walk around heaven and tell my news
I'll look up David ???in the heat of the day???
Tune up my harp and begin to play
__

The harp Mavis is singing about is surely a jew's harpalso called a jaw harp, mouth harp, Ozark harp or juice harp; it's considered one of the oldest musical instruments in the world:
A small, lyre-shaped musical instrument held between the teeth and struck with a finger. It can produce only one note, but harmonics are sounded by the player altering the shape of the mouth cavity.
I like Azizi Powell's interpretation of the Spiritual:
THE MEANING OF THE LYRICS TO "SIT DOWN SERVANT"
A person arrives in heaven and is told to rest after his or her hard labor as a servant of the Lord. However, the person is so excited to be in heaven that he or she can't sit down and rest. Instead, that newly arrived soul wants to walk around heaven and see Biblical figures, while retaining an awareness that they are dangerous beings.
(I think in this context "dangerous" means "powerful". The person singing is being humble in recognizing a difference between himself or herself and the great ... persons mentioned in Biblical stories.)
The theme of being too excited to rest from your hard labor as a servant of God when you first get to heaven is also expressed in an alternative line to "I just got to heaven and I can't sit down" [in another version]. That line is "My soul is so happy that I can't sit down".
See Azizi's blog post for other versions of the Spiritual.

Bob Dylan was so entranced by the mystery Mavis Staples' voice evoked that he asked her father for her hand in marriage. [smiling] One can't get closer to the Mystery that way. They became friends, though.  

** Ustad Nusrat's brother Farrukh is seated next to him; although the photo doesn't show it, he's  playing harmonium. Farrukh composed many of the qawwalis (Sufi devotional songs) sung by Ustad Nusrat and his group of musicians and singers. 

But the words to this qawwali were written by Naz Khialvi (1947 – 12 December 2010), a Pakistani lyricist and radio broadcaster, who was mainly known for the Sufi poem, Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho (You are a Puzzle). 

From the brief Wikipedia article it seems Ustad Fateh was the first to sing the poem, making it famous in Pakistan.  So it could be Farrukh composed the music to accompany the words. 

********

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