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copticchantsToday is Christmas day according to the calendar in use by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Recordings of the traditional hymnody of the Coptic Church can be quite hard to come by outside of academic settings. The first such recordings to be made widely available in the West were made by famous Coptologist Aziz S. Atiya in the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo and released under the title Coptic Music in 1960 on the Folkways label. Since that recording is still available on CD-r directly from the Smithsonian Folkways website, here is a different recording that appeared on a 7”EP sometime in the 1960s. It was released by Philips in the Netherlands as volume 27 of their “Song and Sound the World Around” series of world music EPs. I’ve never seen any other volumes, but the back of the sleeve advertises volumes from Turkey, Iran, Bengal, and India. The excerpt of the liturgy featured here was recorded by famous Bengali ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya, who also featured segments of the Coptic liturgy on his great Religions of the Middle East compilation LP on the Argo label.

Sunday Mass (Philips, circa 1960s)


langsxmasAmong many music blogs that I follow, I have noticed a tendency to create a category for religious music and fill it with nothing but the wackiest southern preacher stereotypes and/or goofiest cover art imaginable. That’s fine and I enjoy those entries on a certain level, but ultimately it is aural/visual junk food. I don’t have any haughty point to make; I don’t post that stuff here for the same reasons that I don’t do a single-genre blog: Lots of other people are already doing it much better than I could, and besides, there’s so much more out there that doesn’t fit that description that is worth hearing. Here is an example of one of my favorites.

Languages of Christmas combines a few of my favorite things: Language-focused presentation, raw recordings, and Christmas music that isn’t maudlin. Not all of the material is from the field, however; the Mandarin selections were recorded during a live television performance of the Choir of the Lutheran Voice in Taiwan, and the Amharic selections (not included here, as they are sadly not representative of Ethiopia’s Orthodox tradition) were recorded at a radio station in Addis Ababa. A good deal of the music is Western in origin. In addition to the versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” posted here, the record also includes renditions of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in the English-based creole Tok Pisin from Papua New Guinea; “We Three Kings” in Arabic from Lebanon; and “Joy To The World” in Amharic from Ethiopia. The too brief liner notes mention the indigenous character of the remaining material. One of the two Yoruba tracks on the album is apparently a traditional anniversary song, rewritten to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Only one song is devoid of explicit religious content, the Japanese “Joyful, Joyful Christmas”, while the other Japanese entry is almost impressively religious given the fact that only approximately 1% of Japanese profess adherence to Christianity in what is one of the most irreligious societies in the world.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday.

Various Artists- Languages of Christmas (Augsburg Publishing House, 1973)

Christmas Has Come (in Yoruba language, Nigeria)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (in Mandarin language, Taiwan)

Oh Come All Ye Faithful (in Arabic language, Lebanon)

The Wise Men Adored (in Telugu language, India)