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  • 'I'm singing my way up':The significance of Music amongst African Christian migrants in Israel 1
  • Galia Sabar (bio) and Shlomit Kanari (bio)

I'm singing my way … to heaven … if I could I would sing all day and all night … I sing when I work, I sing when I'm sad [and] when … things are good … If I could, I would come to church everyday and sing … Back home I used to sing … only to myself … When I came here I listen to your music but I don't understand it … it is doing nothing to me … [Y]ou … have your family, friends … good job and all kinds of things you can do. For me it is … dirty work … I'ma house girl … so singing helps me to forget the troubles. Singingis filling me with power … It is a gift I got … from God.

(Julie, September 1998)

Julie, a twenty-eight year old woman from Lagos, Nigeria, was sitting at a bus stop one summer day in September 1998. She was humming continuously, closing her eyes and humming, her body was moving to the sound of music. Tryingto look for earphones or a sign indicating some music that was being played to her was unsuccessful. All there was is a woman singing quietly to herself to a rhythm in her head, to a beat she created. As we were at the beginning of our research on the newly emerged Sub-Saharan African community in Israel we introduced ourselves and started to ask her about her life. We told her we were curious to know about the melody she was humming. For almost one hour, partly while waiting for the bus and partly on the bus Julie told the story of her life. Revealing some of her aspirations and dreams she emphasised the pivotal role singing had for her as both a religious person and a migrant in a foreign and not entirely welcoming land: in so many words she described music as a life-savior.

Studies of Africans migrating to the West, beginning in the 1980s creating transnational diasporic communities, have largely ignored the [End Page 101] role of migrant African musicians within religious arenas. Studies of religious music in the context of African migration and diasporas have concentrated largely on Gospel music in relation to forced migration of Africans as slaves to the Americas (Quarles, 1996; Saighoe 1996a, 1996b; Todd & Carlin 2001; Williams 2002). Studies of new waves of migration and diasporas have looked into the production of music within religious arenas(Baily 2005; Levitt 1998), the role of music in the processes of identity-formation of migrants, as well as migrants' use of their music to gain legitimacy in their host countries (Cwerner 2001; Glasser 1995; King et al. 2004; Sultanova 2005). In spite of numerous studies of the new African diasporas in the West, to the best of our knowledge there are no studies concerning the role of African musicians within African Initiated churches of these diasporas except Kanari 2005 and a few short comments made by Simon (Simon 2003, 2006) on music being one of the main reasons for the current success of African churches in Germany amongst new African migrants.2 Focusing on the production of music by African migrants within the Afro-Christian religious arena in Israel will enableus to trace aspirations that are usually confined to secreted areas of their reality. This will make it possible for us to grasp hidden ideological and political elements as well as hidden motivations and power relations within this community and beyond, thus expanding our understanding of the concepts of diaspora and transnational migrants' identities.

Music is a universal human need and various societies have diverse musical expressions, manifestations and ways of performance. Music reflects the unique cultural preferences, social values and structure of any given society. It has been established through research that the role of music in African cultures, which originated as oral culture, is fundamental. Moreover, in most African Christian congregations, both mainstream churches and independent ones, music is inherent in the service and in fact hardly any worship takes place without some sort of musical expression. Having said that, focusing on...


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pp. 101-125
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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