1 June , Seattle, Washington — USA Yatra 2007
Over the past couple of years, it has become a tradition for Amma to add a few new English bhajans to her songbook around the time of her annual summer tour of North America. And this year, the first night of Amma’s “Northwest Retreat” near Seattle found Amma holding true to the custom. Towards the end of the bhajans, Amma sang for the first time a bhajan called “Awaken, Children” written by one of her American daughters.
One unique thing about the song is that the devotee who composed it has a deep love for the American gospel tradition, and parts of the song bear a subtle reflection of that influence.
The sweet, understated chorus goes:
Awaken, children… Awaken, children…
Awaken to the truth within your self.
Although gospel music took birth in America, it is the result of a mix of non-American influences—mainly European choir music and the rhythms and call-and-response melodies brought to America through African slaves. As the enslaved men and women toiled away in the fields of their masters, they would sing. One would call out, and the rest would respond in unison. The rhythms for the songs would serve for their work as well, creating a pace for the day’s labor. Naturally, these forms began appearing in the Black churches as well, becoming a fully bona-fide musical movement by the early 1900s.
It is interesting that the devotional songs of India also employ call and response. Is it something inherent in the call for liberation—whether physical or spiritual—that lends itself to the form? Certainly, in the cries of the field music of the slaves, the two longings blurred together. And that merger has continued in gospel through the present day. After all, it was a traditional gospel song that served as the foundation for “We Shall Overcome,” the rallying cry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s American civil rites movement of the 1960s.
In fact, the most gospel element of “Awaken, Children” comes towards the song’s end. The bhajan culminates with Amma calling out a question and the chorus responds with an answer:
Amma: /”Child, won’t you rise up from your sleep?” /
Chorus: /”Mother, don’t you hear my desperate plea?”/
Amma: /”Child, aren’t you tired of chasing dreams?”/
Chorus: /”Mother, have you not forgotten me?”/
Amma: /”Can’t you hear my voice resounding deep within your soul?”/
Chorus: /”I’m one with you; you’re not alone.”/
Of course, in Amma’s hands, the song becomes something else entirely, something wholly original—a song from Beyond to the entire world.