O Sifuni Mungu – The Whole Story

That first spark of inspiration for the song “O Sifuni Mungu” hit me during a 1987 Grammy show performance. First Call had received a Grammy nomination that year and we were attending the awards show in Los Angeles. When Paul Simon entered the stage to perform a song from his “Graceland” album, he was joined and backed up by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a male vocal group from South Africa. It was a musical and cultural innovation rarely seen at that time in pop music and it was thrilling! “Graceland” won Album of the Year and the performance resulted in Ladysmith’s rise to worldwide acclaim.

I’ve always loved exploring music from diverse cultures so this experience affected me powerfully. Ladysmith was authentically African yet still accessible to American audiences, using the same diatonic scale and chord progressions found in western music. While Paul Simon’s music is solidly American, the addition of Ladysmith’s strong but sensitive vocal accompaniment, the unique style, and the traditional clothing of the group made the performance an equally African cultural statement. A powerful fusion.

It was a moment of clear inspiration for me. I saw a spiritual, musical and culturally blended vision that I wanted deeply to express, believing that within the Body of Christ, heightened awareness of our varied cultures gives us a unique pathway to celebrate and worship God together.

That summer at the “Seminar in the Rockies” event at Estes Park, I ran into my friend Scott Wesley Brown and asked him if he knew any African believers who could help me conceptualize a song for First Call. On the spot, Scott introduced me to The Mas Brothers, twins from Zaire, who happened to be at Estes Park that same week on an American tour and who were songwriters, singers and pastors. What a combination! What grace-filled provision! Our arranger, David Maddux, and I spent that providential afternoon with the Mas brothers translating “All Creatures Of Our God and King” (*see below) into Swahili, our language of choice among the 5 languages the brothers speak. We recorded (on a cassette player) our discussion about word inflections and indigenous melodies we might use in crafting the song.

Fully inspired, I took the experience, the memories and the tape back home to Nashville and wrote the English/Swahili song. David arranged it brilliantly to fit First Call and “O Sifuni Mungu” was born. To add to the great chain of events God orchestrated for this song, months later when we recorded “O Sifuni Mungu” for our “Something Takes Over” project, we discovered that the Mas Brothers were still in the US and available to join us on the recording! We flew them to Nashville where they recorded sound effects and mouth and finger percussion indigenous to their tribe in Zaire. It was an amazing journey from beginning to end and it all seemed perfectly orchestrated by the Lord.

“O Sifuni Mungu” has endured for First Call’s recorded music listeners and live audiences and has spilled over through countless choirs, dance groups and churches for 30 years! In 2016, First Call recorded the latest version for three voices for our “Second Birth” EP.  May God continue to use the song to His glory!

Take a listen:

1987 – The ORIGINAL VERSION from “Something Takes Over” with 4 voices, (at around the 18:00 mark)

2016 VERSION – shorter version with 3 voices

I also love the AFRICAN CHILDREN’S CHOIR version.

*According to Wikipedia, the words of “All Creatures of Our God and King” were initially written in 1225 in a canticle by St Francis of Assisi, based on Psalm 148. Sometime between 1899 and 1919, William Draper, a rector in the Church of England, translated and paraphrased St Francis’ words and set them to music.

LYRICS

 

O SIFUNI MUNGU
Words and Music by Marty McCall, David Maddux, Mmunga Mwenebu-Iongo, Asukulu ‘Yunu Mukalay
©1987

Note: This lyric is from the original recording of “O Sifuni Mungu” from the 1987 First Call album “Something Takes Over”. I wrote the song in English and Swahili with the help of David Maddux and our friends, The Mas Brothers, twin pastors and songwriters from Zaire. The arrangement, also by David Maddux, is based on the traditional African “call and response” song style. The Mas Brothers recorded indigenous mouth and finger percussion on the recording and David Maddux sang the bass part.

Intro
Viumbe vyote vya mungu wetu (All creatures of our God)
Na mfalme wetu (And of our King)
Viumbe vyote vya mungu wetu (All creatures of our God and King)
Na mfalme wetu (And of our King)
Pazeni sauti (Lift up your voice)
Ili nasi mwimbe (and with us sing)
Pazeni sauti (Lift up your voice)
Ili nasi mwimbe (and with us sing)

Pre-chorus
Watu wote (All men)
Viumbe vyote (All Creatures)
Awaye yote (Everybody)
Sifu mungu (Praise the Lord)

Verse 1
All creatures of our God and King
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Lift up your voice and with us sing
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Thou burning sun with golden beam
Imbeni, imbeni (Sing, Sing)
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
Pazeni sauti imbeni (Lift up your voice and sing)

Chorus
Viumbe vyote vya mungu wetu (All creatures of our God)
Na mfalme wetu (And of our King)
Viumbe vyote vya mungu wetu (All creatures of our God and King)
Na mfalme wetu (And of our King)
Pazeni sauti (Lift up your voice)
Ili nasi mwimbe (and with us sing)
Pazeni sauti (Lift up your voice)
Ili nasi mwimbe (and with us sing)

Tag 1
All men
Watu wote (All men)
All Creatures
Viumbe vyote (All Creatures)
Everybody
Awaye yote (Everybody)
Praise the Lord
Sifu mungu (Praise God)
(Repeat)

Verse 2
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Ye clouds that sail in heaven along 
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice
Imbeni, imbeni (Sing, Sing)
Ye lights of evening find a voice
Pazeni sauti imbeni (Lift up your voice and sing)

Chorus
Tag 1

Verse 3
Thou flowing water pure and clear
(Mouth percussion)
Make music for thy Lord to hear
(Mouth percussion)
Thou fire so masterful and bright
Imbeni (Sing)
That givest man both warmth and light
Imbeni (Sing)

 

Chorus
Viumbe vyote vya mungu wetu
(Finger percussion)
Viumbe vyote vya mungu wetu
(Finger percussion)
Pazeni sauti
(Indigenous sounds of Joy)
Pazeni sauti ili Tu sifu mungu (Only Praise God)

Tag 1

Verse 4
Let all things their Creator bless,
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
And worship Him in humbleness,
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
O, praise the Father, praise the Son,
Imbeni, imbeni (Sing, Sing)
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
Pazeni sauti imbeni (Lift up your voice and sing)

Chorus
Tag 1

Vamp:
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Imbeni (Sing)
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Imbeni (Sing)
O sifuni mungu (O Praise God)
Imbeni(Sing)
Tu sifu mungu (Only Praise God)
Tu sifu mungu (Only Praise God)
(Repeat)

Tag 2/Ending
Tu sifu mungu (Only Praise God)
Tu sifu mungu (Only Praise God)
Pazeni sauti na wote imbeni (Lift up your voice and everybody sing)
O sifuni mungu! (O Praise God!)

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