Out of the Mouths of Babes

Out of the Mouths of Babes

February 27, 2018
Categories: Seattle Men's Chorus, Seattle Women's Chorus

In April, SMC and SWC come together to perform Not In Our Town. We're raising our voices and raising our glasses to celebrate all that we, with you, have accomplished in making our city a welcoming beacon for those seeking equality, safety, and opportunity. And we also sing to recognize the work that still remains to be completed, both by us and those who come after.

In addition to well-loved songs from the pop and Broadway world, the caverns of McCaw Hall will reverberate with the sounds of powerful and moving civil rights anthems. One such, titled "Soweto: June, 1976," holds some striking parallels with what we're all seeing today when we turn on the 24-hour news. Following the devastating shooting in Parkland, FL, students from that school took to social media and to the streets to protest a famously divisive issue that had an immediate impact on their lives and their well-being. Rather than speaking through politicians or pundits or even their parents, the world watched as these children found their voices and began their lives as advocates. 

On June 16, 1976, black children in the South African neighborhood of Soweto were protesting a new law which mandated Afrikaans as the language of instruction in black schools. Afrikaans was the language of the politically dominant (and white) minority, not one of the native languages of the black majority. The protests were planned and organized by the children; their parents and teachers were unaware that they were happening. And they began peacefully. The children sang traditional songs in the street. One of these was "Senzenina." The text is translated: “What have we done?” 

Police opened fire, turning the protest dark and bloody. Riots ensued. The official death toll was 23, though likely it was hundreds more, including the children. This event is known as the Soweto Uprising.

Thereafter, "Senzenina" became the quintessential protest song in South Africa. For the next twenty years, it would hold a national significance comparable to that of "We Shall Overcome" in the United States. So our artistic director, Paul Caldwell, and his writing partner, Sean Ivory, wrote a musical arrangement pairing "Senzenina" with "We Shall Overcome." And though this song was written long before the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School found themselves in the national headlines, it honors the young leaders that come with each new generation; those who might not even live to see the successes of their sacrifice.