Fanga has come to me as a rhythm along many paths and with some differences in patterns and stories of origin and I think it will continue to travel along the timeline in the same way.
I have been told that it is essentially a Welcoming rhythm and dance.
I am going to offer you two versions of the ‘Story of Fanga’
Make up your own mind 🙂
THE STORY OF FANGA By SULE GREG C. WILSON
“FANGA, ALAFIA, ASHE, ASHE!
…FANGA, ALAFIA, ASHE, ASHE!”
Hello! A couple of issues back, a reader asked if anyone knew the origin of “Fanga”, a samba-like rhythm and song which he had learned at his community drum circle. He had asked if there was some “ancestral connection”: perhaps the song had survived direct from Africa, through slavery, to today. He also noted—and rightly so—that the song sounded familiar. Here’s what my research turned up on the origins of a song and dance which has long been a standard among the U.S. African cultural community (I had to learn it when I was young, too!).
Fanga (pronounced nowadays, almost, like “Funga”, as in “fungus”. Originally, it was closer to “Fahnga”), Fanga is a dance of welcome that, interestingly, came to the United States from a place the United States founded: the West African nation of Liberia (recently infamous for its revolutionary troubles). Liberia was a new nation carved out of traditional territories to house any “slaves” in the U.S. that wanted to return to Africa.
The dance, “Fanga” was made part of the repertoire of the African American concert dance pioneer Asadata Dafora. Dafora came to the U.S. from his native Sierra Leone (a nation set up in West Africa for former British slaves) in 1929, and his early company included persons from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other nations (and colonies). Among the repertoire he developed in the 1930s for his dance company was a staging of the mimed, storytelling dance (as Hawaiian Hula tells stories through gestures), Fanga.
Dancer/choreographer Pearl Primus (1919-1994), who came up after Dafora, went to Liberia, herself, learned the dance/rhythm., and staged it in the States The choreography moved on to Alvin Ailey’s dance company, and it has since become part of U.S. African, and now drum circle, culture.
The lyrics, however, are another matter. Why does the melody sound so much like “Li’l Liza Jane”? Because….that’s what it is.
LaRoque Bey, the leader of a local New York children’s African dance school, placed Yoruba (from Nigeria) words to the “old time”/plantation days melody, and added that to the dance.
The late Ghanaian ethnologist, CK Ganyo, offered this translation:
Fanga – the word for drum in one of the languages spoken in Liberia
Alafia – Welcome
Ashe – Loose translation “Amen” or “so be it.”
According to N. Kumah, of Liberia, the gestures to the dance translate to:
“I come to you with outstretched hands, gracefully.
From my mouth, I welcome you.
From my heart, I reach out to the Earth.
I reach out to the creator.
From the East to the West, North to the South, all are welcome.
There are no splinters for you to walk on.
When I was hungry, you gave me foot to eat.
When I was tired, you gave me a place to rest.
From the bottom of my heart, FANGA – Welcome.”
So, a song of welcome from the nation set up in Africa to house freed former slaves, came back across the waters and became a standard in the repertoire of African cultural presentations nationwide.
For the second version of the story of Fanga please Visit Pancocojams for a 3 page series on the origins of Fanga, the rhythm, the song and the dance.
In my “Rhythms of the World” classes we use just a basic version of the 3 hand parts, mixing Tumba,Conga and Quinto sounds ( Any three bass, mid, high hand drums will do) and then laying the song on top.Sometime our arrangemnts will include a simple 4 pulse rhythm to accompany the song whilst students are learning to sing and drum patterns at the same time 😉 The sound files below include a Kalimba part to indicate melody. Some versions of the song I have heard repeat the ashe part as a refrain. We just use the verse twice.