Left: Kumbaya T-shirt logo available at Rightwingstuff.com
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.