Mar 11, 2009

On the Demonization of the Song "Kumbaya"

Left: Kumbaya T-shirt logo available at

I came across yet another reference to the song Kumbayathe other day in a political context. I am puzzled about the sudden demonization of a simple folk spiritual that I learned as a young child at vacation Bible school.

The typical disparaging usage of Kumbaya is similar to the context in this LA Times story on a bipartisan legislative meeting. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) told reporters that the meeting is like "asking people to join hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and expect the world is going to be better." Generally the term Kumbaya is used to attack perceived liberals and those who (GASP) would dare to sit at a table and meet with political opponents instead of reducing them to simple caricatures. The essence of the Kumbaya insult is to suggest that the recipient is a naïve fool who fails to recognize the seriousness of a dangerous world.

What is especially disturbing about the effort to link the song "Kumbaya" with politics is that this is a decidedly apolitical hymn with a universal message of hope and peace. The words are from the Gullah language, and mean "come by here." The song is simply a call to God to be with its singers, and even though left-leaning folk artists such as Peter, Paul, and Mary or Joan Baez recorded "Kumbaya" in the 1960s, this is hardly a reason to forever banish the song to cultural Hell.

By the way: if you want to hear a really transcendent cover of "Kumbaya," try to dig up the version by the band Guadalcanal Diary on their 1984 album Watusi Rodeo. This is a frenetic, thrashing punk-pop rendition that is reminiscent of early work of The Who, and it reminded me a bit of "I Can See For Miles" with its wild drumwork and exploding guitars.

Anyways, it is time to reclaim "Kumbaya" as the inspirational hymn of humble supplication that it once was. If rightist insult machines need a musical replacement, I suggest "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion. Feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments section, as "Kumbaya" is too cool of a song to be dissed in this manner.


mud_rake said...

Well, Mike, apparently neither you nor I spend much time in that dim, far-right cave where some folks call home.

You realize, of course, that they are very mad [even madder than normal] at just about everything since November 4, 2008.

Their entire world has collapsed in on them, so, naturally, it's time to shout blame from the highest steeples. Remember, nothing is ever their fault.

Anonymous said...

As someone who might be characterized as a right wing "cave dweller," blame is being cast within the movement. Where did the conservative movement go wrong as far as communicating the message, how did McCain get the nomination, what are our core principals? and so on. There are many factions fighting right now, and there won't be a leader unitl we nominate someone in 2012.

Was Kumbaya not used by the hippies? I remember that from 2 different hist classes.

I do agree that "insulting" others with Celine Dion would be funny and refreshing and different. I think any Celine Dion would fit the bill.


Mad Jack said...

mud_rake: Envision Mad Jack walking back into his cave and returning with a basket of rocks. Squinting at an imaginary batter, Mad Jack begins throwing beaners at mud_rake.

I'm ignorant about the origin of the song Kumbaya as well as the Gullah language and the people who speak it. I only know that I was never particularly fond of the song as it sounded depressing to me.

My suggestion for a replacement is the Barney the Purple Dinosaur song: I Love You, You Love Me.

microdot said...

Yes anonymous, the FBI investigated the alleged abuse of Kumbaya by the hippies and found that the illicit use of Kumbaya was the gate way to your harder more addictive musics like lite-jazz and Toto....

If you really want to help, you can send your dollars to me, Microdot and I will make sure they are used to deprogram chronic Kumbayah abusers.
I am establishing a halfway house and Kumbayah addiction center where Kumbayah victims will be forced to listen to and groove to Vic Damone, The Captain and Tenille and other varieties of your traditional soft harmless musics like ABBA!

Together we can overcome the curse of Kumbayah abuse!

dr-exmedic said...

Their entire world has collapsed in on them, so, naturally, it's time to shout blame from the highest steeples. Remember, nothing is ever their fault.
Right, because Democrats don't play that game. :)

Anonymous said...

Microdot -

I did hear from my Historical Methods teacher that Kumbaya is the gateway song to heavier, more addictive and damaging songs...

Something must be done!!!


Mad Jack said...

You're a blessing to civilization, MicroDot. In disguise maybe, but a blessing none the less. Just let me get my cheque book out of the safe and I'll be glad to help support your half-way house. These poor, downtrodden addicts can certainly use the help.