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The power of song

The emotional impact of a performance of Freedom Come All Ye at the opening of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games showed once again how songs can communicate to the world.

The power of the song will come to the fore today, when organisers hope 10,000 will take part in the Big Big Sing, a Glasgow 2014-inspired project that is aimed at reviving large community-based singalongs.

Although Freedom Come All Ye is not part of the programme, those taking part will be able to join in with familiar hits from stars past and present, from Pharrell Williams to Bob Marley, and a special Commonwealth Songbook.

Today we look at the stories behind Freedom Come All Ye and eight of the songs in the songbook. The Big Sing takes place at the Glasgow Green Live Zone all day today, and also takes to the main stage at 3.30pm and 7pm. Full details are published in a special guide given away with today's Sunday Herald.

It was the song which held the millions watching the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony spellbound.

Freedom Come All Ye, one of Scotland's most enduring protest songs, was sung by Pumeza Matshikiza, who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, a choice which underlined the song's message of liberty while also acknowledging the darker history of the Commonwealth.

Written by Hamish Henderson in 1960, Freedom Colme All Ye was originally created for the peace marchers at the Holy Loch near Glasgow and is set to the tune of The Bloody Fields of Flanders, a World War One pipe march.

The song sent out a strong anti-imperialist message of peace, at a time when Britain was still coming to terms with the loss of empire.

Presenting a non-romanticised version of Scotland's history, it references the country's role in the conquest and subjugation of other people through its involvement in the British Empire. However, it also sets out a vision of a future when different races of the world join together to topple imperialism and achieve freedom and equality.

References to wind in the first verse have been interpreted as alluding to Harold Macmillan's famous "Wind of Change" speech.

The song has been adopted as an anthem by groups including the CND, and it has been suggested as a national anthem for Scotland.

Amazing Grace

Written by Englishman John Newton and published in 1779, Amazing Grace has become one of the world's most famous hymns.

Newton, press-ganged into the Royal Navy in 1744 before deserting and later being discharged, went on to captain a series of slave ships, but quit in 1755.

Taking courses in bible studies and becoming increasingly disgusted with the slave trade, he was ordained into the Anglican ministry.

At a weekly prayer service he organised at his parish in Buckinghamshire, Newton would write hymns to be performed to a familiar tune.

After a collection of the hymns were published in 1779, including Amazing Grace, it became popular throughout the land and beyond, and was especially well-used in North America.

It is believed the song is a reflection of a reformed Newton's thoughts on the slave trade. Stephen Deazley, curator, choirmaster and presenter of the Big Big Sing, said: "A lot of people assume it's an American song but the melody - the one's that recognised around the world - has its roots in a Scottish-Irish melody."

Don't Stay Away

Recorded by Jamaican Phyllis Dillon in 1967, the simple love song Don't Stay Away would not be out of place lyrically on an early Beatles album, but the music creates a "sound of Jamaica", with "lots of sunshine", according to Deazley.

Discovered in a talent contest in A Kingston club, 19-year-old Dillon was signed up to Duke Reid's successful Treasure Isle label.

Deazley says. "This song became a huge popular hit and I just love it."

Dillon would move to New York but regularly travelled back to her home country. Don't Stay Away was one of her few original efforts. Her recording career ended in her early 20s. She attempted a comeback in her later years, but died of cancer in 2004. "There is a tragedy around her career," Deazley added. "I loved her voice so this was a way to bring in some of her spirit.

"It's been really well-received at some of our live events. People very quickly get into a different genre and spirit of music."

Fruits of our Gifts

Composed especially for the Big Big Sing project by Eugene Skeef, a South African, percussionist, composer and poet who has promoted community singing for 30 years, the song is designed to "bring the spirit of South Africa" to the project.

It has become the unofficial anthem of the Big Big Sing and will be performed today on the main stage.

Skeef described his composition, in a three-beat time cycle, as one that "makes you groove and can make you go on forever and ever but doesn't tire you."

He added: "I wrote the song after I was asked to find a song that is typically from my part of the world. I felt strongly that I'm living now in the 21st century, and my culture is very, very old, it goes way back and I know it's going to go way forward.

"Along the way we pick up lots of influences … It's written for choirs but it's also written in the context of thinking about how people back home in South Africa - whether at a party, wedding, at demonstrations or when campaigning - love to be together."

Hansadhwani Tarana

Another song written specifically for the Big Big Sing Project, Hansadhwani Tarana was one of the most challenging, as it is written to reflect Indian music, despite the country having no choral tradition.

However, Ranjana Ghatak, a London-born musician who has studied traditional music from India, set about creating something true to its roots but including parts and harmonies.

It is composed in the style of North Indian classical dance, in which participants will traditionally perform with bells around their feet to make the most of their intricate footwork. Ghatak said: "The song has rhythmical language that is sung. The words don't actually mean anything - it's rhythmical sounds."

Deazley added: "The scale is found in both North and South Indian musical traditions, so it is very reflective of music in the country. It's more alien in terms of context but it's really exciting to teach. It's going to be really interesting."

Hine e Hine

A Maori lullaby, Hine e Hine was written by a princess, Princess Te Rangi Pai - whose name means The Beautiful Spirit.

She came to England at the start of the 20th century, giving an acclaimed debut performance in Liverpool and returning to New Zealand in 1905.

Hine e Hine became her most famous piece. The loose translation of the lyrics is: "You're tired little girl, you're sad, you're weeping. Don't cry, don't be sad, there's love for you in the heart."

Deazley said the image of a Maori lullaby being performed in the Royal Albert Hall more than a century ago gave the song a strong connection to the Commonwealth.

"She was a global superstar," he added. "She performed for royalty in the UK and now it has this very contemporary pop sound, despite being one of the older ones.

La'u Lupe

A traditional song from Western Samoa, it is famous in the Western Polynesian islands, with hundreds of different arrangements. The title translates as My Dove Has Flown, and the song focuses on a lost love. The singer tries to find her in a group of girls but can't see her. Though its melody is upbeat, the lyrics are dark.

They include: "My dove has flown. She has flown into the vast wilderness. My poor love, my love is lost … I'd rather die than live on this earth without my love."

Teaching materials for the song are among the most downloaded of any in the songbook, after it became popular with primary school teachers giving lessons to their pupils about the Commonwealth.

Deazley said: "Weirdly, my kids came home from their little primary school in East Lothian and told me they'd been taught it. Teachers seem to have really attached themselves to it. The lyrics aren't light, but it's folk music, so there's lots of different interpretations and settings."

One Song

Corrina Hewat is a singer who plays the Scottish harp, also known as the clàrsach.

She wanted to base the song "on a really lovely idea", which she had to search for.

The inspiration finally came from the Himba tribe of Namibia. Hewat said: "The date of their children's birth is not the day they are born, nor the day they're conceived, but the day the mother thinks of that child - the day that child's thought comes into their head.

"So the mother goes away and sits under a tree and listens for the child's song. Once the mother has the child's song, she will take that back to who is to be the father, and they then conceive the child. All through her pregnancy they sing the song, and when the child's born, and at all the major events of that child's life. So every single person in that tribe has their own song.

"That suddenly fired off a whole bunch of stuff in my head, it's really beautiful, so that's where the song's come from."

Thula Sana

A South African song, on first appearance it appears to be a simple lullaby, but it took on a deeper meaning during the Apartheid era.

Eugene Skeef says the poetic interpretation is that it is a message from those who were fighting apartheid abroad, to the loved ones they had left at home.

"It was consoling those left at home that those who have gone to free us and to take up the struggle will be coming back," he added.

"That there's a star that guides them and will bring them back home. So it's saying be quiet, don't cry, don't be too sad. That day will come."

Deazley said: "It doesn't have an author or composer, but comes from a semi-improvised singing tradition. It doesn't sound confrontational, but people know exactly what its message means."

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