Song Texts

I bathe thy palms in showers of wine, in the lustral fire, in the seven elements, in the juice of the rasps, in the milk of honey, and I place the nine pure gifts in thy fair fond face. The gifts of form, voice, fortune, goodness, eminence, charity, integrity, nobility and speech. 

The music and words I am sharing with you are the fruits of my musical and spiritual journeying.

The 9 Pure Gifts are listed in the old Scottish incantation above – collected by Alexander Carmichael during his travels to the Western Isles of Scotland.  I am constantly fascinated by what it means to be a human being and these pieces reflect on nine archetypal characteristics of our shared humanity.

We’re so busy “doing” we often forget to be “beings”. I hope you can find a little time to stop “doing” so that you can become fully immersed and reflect on what each of the Nine Gifts means to you.

Where the music challenges your ears, reflect on the words and where the words seem abstract, absorb the music. Open your mind and enter. It’s an earnest reflection of my ongoing, lifelong pilgrimage to the centre of humanity where music unites all.

I wouldn’t be sharing any of this with you if it weren’t for the McGillivray family who supported my 9-month sabbatical last year and Christine Manning, Sasha Johnson Manning, my teacher Jali Hammay Saho and my parents Neil & Marilyn Marland. 

Thanks also to Geri McAulay, Jane Margerison, the Isle of Eigg, Senghore Family, Geoffrey and Les Sherwood & Dembo Jobarteh my kora makers.

1. Till I come home 

(lyrics derived from Incantation of the Nine Pure Gifts – Carmina Gadelica)

I was introduced to this incantation by my inspirational soul sister Geri during a 3 week residency in Laig Beach Bothy on the magnificent Isle of Eigg. Looking out over the patterned sands of Laig Bay to the mythically mountainous Isle of Rum across the sea, I imagined embarking on an epic journey to find each of the 9 Pure Gifts with the hope of returning home with them one day.

Life be in my speech, sense be in what I say, till I come home again, home again.

Hope be in my reach, thanks be for each new day, till I come home again, home again.

Traversing forests, traversing mountains, traversing valleys deep and wide,

Love be my guide.

The sands of time run dry but I will come home. Home again.

Earth beneath my feet, paths whereon I go will guide me home again, home again.

Strangers that I meet and people that I know will guide me home again, home again.

On crests of billows, in trough of sea swells, on mighty rivers deep and wide,

Love be my guide.

The dawn will break, I will awake and journey home again.

Gifts of form and voice, gifts of fortune, goodness, eminence, charity, integrity, nobility and speech.

These are the nine pure gifts I carry to each new place – let them encircle me, my fortress be.

No man shall wound me, no sea shall drown me, no woman wile me, no spear rive,

Love be my guide.

I will come home, I will come home, each lintel blessed shall bring me home.

I will come home, I will come home, home again.

I’ll bathe my palms in wine, call out to the divine,

I’ll bring pure gifts all nine home again.

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2. The gift of form

What is this pillar of human flesh that we inhabit? I had been reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and How We Are by Vincent Deary. It’s mind-boggling how human form has evolved according to natural selection across millennia and terrifying to contemplate its’ future evolution in the advent of digital technologies. Can we unwind ourselves, empty ourselves, howl out against enculturation towards the betterment of our species?

Skin-sculpted, bone-encasing body-pillar.

House of heart and mind, seat of spirit.

Glad hostage to Nature’s journey,

compass needle beguiled by creation’s indefatigable force.

Death is the end, life the beginning. 

 

Cell-glutted, blood-pumping body-pillar.

Embodied sentience of mad millennia.

Glad servant of sassy survival, 

Evolution diarised in human flesh, endlessly forming.

Death and life will dance forever.

 

Water-charged, air-driven body-pillar.

Ideologically saturated before the first steps, indoctrinated.

Hostaged by default to cunning culture.

Realisation precedes liberation so free yourself.

Death is already asking Life about you.

 

My body-pillar is envoy to the four winds –

howls like a wolf to the moon –

Seven-times-seven-times-seven times turning.

Pilgrim of the elements through ancient oaths spoken.

“Who is she?” asks Death,

“She is mine” says Life

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3. The gift of voice 

The human voice is a vehicle for an astonishing range of different emotions, with infinite range and communicative capacity. This challenging unaccompanied work for 9 voices reflects the multifarious spectrum of sounds we can achieve with the voice alone. The piece juxtaposes dissonance with consonance in a state of perpetual interplay. I hope the listener can reflect on our capacity to produce and therefore appreciate more than just one type of sound or one genre of music.

From shrill, brilliant birth cry 

To thin, groaning death rasp –

You coax, you warn,

You pierce, you soothe,

still the spirit, move the heart.

Without words you intone worlds.

Greater than the sum of speech, song and sound,

You are expression.

From brutal shrieks of agony

To climactic cries of ecstasy 

You weave, you rattle,

You blend, you cackle,

Sliding in love, spiking in anger.

We feel you without need of hearing,

Your grains scintillate all senses.

Greater than the sum of speech, song and sound,

You are expression.

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4. The gift of fortune

Fortune has long been personified as blind woman in control of our fate, spinning her wheel with apparent disregard for the outcomes. Sometimes things go our way and other times they don’t. Accepting this can enable us to move on, especially when things hit rock bottom. It can also imbue us with humility and a sense of equality with all sentient beings inhabiting planet earth.

Turning, turning, turning Fortune’s wheel.

They say you are a blind crone on a rolling stone –

malevolently raising then dashing flimsy Hope.

If I fall, then let me break at your feet in gratitude.

If I rise, then smite me to the ground again with a smile.

 

They say you are contrary, arbitrary, change at whim, –

Capriciously arousing then drowning feeble Hope.

If I fall, let shards of me be petals at your feet,

If I rise, bring on demise and make a lowlier me.

 

You and I could turn wheels for a time together,

Mine turning seven-times-seven-times-seven times –

To the seven elements but away from folly 

whose glare made you blindfold yourself.

 

Fortune, is that you sighing? Has it been too long?

There were no slings or arrows – just the sound of stone turning, turning, turning.

 

I’ll say you are impartial, smile on foul and fair, –

Judiciously ignoring the pleas of needy Hope.

If I fall another rises, each may have their time,

You will spin regardless of who wins, you do not care.

Turning, turning, turning

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5. The gift of goodness

As this process started to feel more and more like a pilgrimage, I spent hours watching documentaries about different religions and their associated pilgrimages. I reflected on commonalities between religions and being good to others seemed to be one of them. As my best friend Sasha once said, if you can’t believe in God, believe in Good. 

Creation within, creation without. immeasurable, boundless beauty.

Unconditional deeds, unfettered service.

No guarantee. no reciprocity. 

Magnanimous gifting with no reward. 

9 rays of the sun illuminating 7 heavenly pillars elevating 9 angels turning seven times seven times seven times towards benevolence.

Long pilgrimage teaches self giving – abandonment of earthly yearnings.

We are the door of life’s sanctuary.

9 worthies whisper in your ear 7 scriptures of the ancient seers,

9 spheres turning seven times seven times seven times towards compassion.

Creation without, creation within.

Ancestral shining, bright as the waxing moon.

Kindling empathy, smothering conceit.

No strings. No animosity.

Gentle generosity with pure-hearted intent. 

Long pilgrimage teaches self giving – abandonment of earthly yearnings.

We are the door of life’s sanctuary.

Open and enter.

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6. The gift of eminence (Tuta Jarra)

I’m incredibly fortunate to have the kora in my life. This West African harp has been played by the men of a handful of Mandinka families for more than 7 centuries. The kora has long been used in praise of great men, with small nods to the great women who gave birth to them. 

Sukulun Konteh gave birth to the mighty King of Manding – Sunjata (Jata) Keita and her name is said to have gained eminence through Jata’s victories. Yet it is through her great wisdom and strength in the face of treachery and exile that her son Jata was able to triumph. She truly deserves eminence in her own right and this is my gesture of praise in her name.

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7. The gift of charity (Jula Jekere)

Jula Jekere was an exceptionally successful and God-loving Mandinka trader who shared lavish gifts of charity with his people at the end of Ramadan. He also treated his slaves with great mercy, heeding the advice of his trusted griot (musical counsellor). How can there be war if the traders are praying? It’s hard to hold a gun when your hands are joined in prayer. In today’s greedy, war-riven world, let us pray for peace. And let us share what we have without holding onto it for our own selfish gain.

Iamari wo kele Julo beh sala, Lord there should be no war the traders are praying.

Allah fo Wuli mansayeh Julo beh sala

Go and tell the Wuli king the traders are praying

Allah Funyah yeh mansayeh Julo beh sala

Go and tell the Funyah king the traders are praying.

Jula Jekere Bayo la molu, Julo beh sala, Jula Jekere prays with his people, he is praying.

Jula menteh wosula molyeh, Julo beh sala, Jula Jekere is never arrogant, he is praying.

Jula menka nyma morlula, Julo beh sala, Jula Jekere’s kind to his people, he is praying.

Dabo Jula kunda, Julo beh sala, Kinteh Jula household, the traders are praying.

Sammarteh Jula kunda, Julo beh sala, Danso Jula household, the traders are praying.

Forfana Jula kunda, Julo beh sala, Singateh Jula household, the traders are praying.

Cammarteh Jula kunda, Julo beh sala, Nyabali Jula household, the traders are praying.

Iamari wo kele Julo beh sala, Lord there should be no war the traders are praying

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8. The gift of integrity

Digging in the rich earth of historic Celtic wisdom to find the foundation stones of Integrity, I came across these words dating back to third century Ireland. They are the Instructions of Cormac mac Airt, High King of Ireland to his son Caibry on what it means to be good King. “O Cormac, grandson of Conn”, said Caibry, “What were your habits when you were a lad?”

The ancient King sings.

I was a listener in woods, I was a gazer at stars, I was blind where secrets were concerned, I was ready to watch.

I was silent in a wilderness, I was talkative amongst many, I was mild in the mead-hall, I was strong in battle.

I was gentle in friendship, I was a physician of the sick, I was weak towards the strengthless, I was strong towards the powerful,

I was not close lest I should be burdensome, I was not arrogant though I was wise, I was not given to promising though I was strong, I was not venturesome though I was swift.

I did not deride the old though I was young, I was not boastful though I was a good fighter, I would not speak about any one in his absence.

I would not reproach, but I would praise, I would not ask, but I would give integrity.

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9. The gift of nobility (Sunjata)

As Cormac passed on wisdom to his son, so griots (the musical families of Manding) have passed on wisdom to their children across centuries. Their wisdom is encased in rich, epic narratives that unfold over days and days. No Manding narrative can rival that of Sunjata Keita who triumphed over childhood disability – returning from exile to smash treachery, unite disparate kingdoms and establish the Mali Empire. Studying different versions of this epic, and speaking to my teacher and Mawdo Suso the greatest living balafon player in The Gambia, I was struck by examples of Sunjata’s empathy. I believe his unique empathy combined with unrivalled power made him the most noble King of all time.

Beh Jata leh ma, Manding Mansa (I’m singing of the King of Manding)

Sukulun Konteh dinkeh (son of Sukulun Konteh)

Beh Jata leh ma, Manding Mansa (I’m singing of the King of Manding)

Farakoro Makhan dinkeh (son of Farakoro Makhan)

Beh Jata leh ma, Manding Mansa (I’m singing of the King of Manding)

Jata menga Manding boh bullotoh (Jata freed Manding from the grip of an evil hand)

Beh Jata leh ma, Manding Mansa (I’m singing of the King of Manding)

Soma folo neh soma labang (The first born and the last)

Beh Jata leh ma, Manding Mansa (I’m singing of the King of Manding)

 

A bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow) 

Nare Makhan Konateh (Son of Makhan Konateh) 

Bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow) 

Sukulun nding Jata (Sukulun gave birth to Jata)

Bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow) 

Sukulun ba (He made his mother eminent)

Bara kala ta, kee a la (He took the bow and the arrow so you can go in peace) 

 

A bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow) 

Chrisiamaka Konateh (hero of heroes of the Konateh family) 

Bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow)

Dugula mini sanjang (he established the Manding house)

 

A bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow)

Nare Makhan Mandinka (Son of Manding Makhan)

Bara kala la (He took the bow and the arrow)

Woohlala mini sanjang (he conquered the bush)

Bara kala ta (He took the bow and the arrow) 

Sukulun ba (He made his mother eminent)

Bara kala ta, kee a la (He took the bow and the arrow so you can go in peace) 

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10. The gift of speech

Words are incredibly powerful but so often fail us – especially when we try and talk about music or the infinite magnitude of what it means to be human. We no longer have bards or griots who give sage counsel to powerful people. We now have the media feeding us with words, words, words. Technology is swiftly eroding the amount of time we spend communicating face to face. As we’re busy chomping on the fodder of propaganda, tyrants are off making mischief at the expense of the common good.

We need goodness, charity and integrity otherwise eminence and nobility become self-seeking, poisoning our form and voices and stifling speech. We can’t take anything with us when we die – there are no pockets in our shrouds. Fortune keeps on turning after we’re dead and gone. The greatest gift of being a human being is life itself so let’s live!

Words arrest the multitude yet grasp at multiplicity.

Universes disguised in drab eulogy conceal vast dimensions in cloaks of simplicity.

Fortune turns as bards praise tyrants,

delivering slithering, silvery speeches in exchange for gold.

Be I bard or fool, Speech holds and tools,

Be I bard or fool speech moulds and rules,

I am disabled by the rabble rousing babble of Babel.

Form withers, voice cracks.

Fortune sighs for bard and fool.

Look Integrity! Look!

Nobility is chasing eminence at the expense of goodness.

Some bards praise this tyranny,  their mercenary commentary forsaking souls.

Charity, charity, charity,  3 times 3 times charity.

9 pure gifts, 9 oaths howled daily to a moon bathed in wine.

Tell Death to unstitch the pockets of my shroud and free creation’s one true word,

Life.

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