By the rivers of Babylon…

 RIVERS OF BABYLON by The Melodians
(
B. Dowe – F. McHaughton, adapted from Psalm 137:1)

By the rivers of Babylon
Where we sat down
And there we wept
When we remembered Zion

But the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alfa song
In a strange land
Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alfa song
In a strange land

Sing it out loud
Sing a song of freedom sister
Sing a song of freedom brother
We gotta sing and shout it
We gotta talk and shout it
Shout the song of freedom now

So let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Over I
So let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Over I

Sing it again
We’ve got to sing it together
Everyone of us together

By the rivers of Babylon…

(Original lyrics from the 1972 album sleeve of “The Harder They Come” o.s.t. )
by Don Julian

Rivers of Babylon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Rivers of Babylon” is a spiritual song penned by the late Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Melodians. It is based on the Biblical hymn Psalm 137 (from the King James Version). Psalm 137 is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Chebar river. The song also has words from Psalm 19:14.

NFTY, the youth group of the Union for Reform Judaism, uses the song in its songbook and sometimes even in youth group services.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has included the song in their supplemental hymnal Singing the Journey (Hymn #1042) [1].

The most popular version of the song is by Boney M in 1978, which was released as a single and stayed at the #1 position in the UK for 5 weeks. In the UK, that version sold over 1,985,000 copies, making the single officially 3x platinum. Other popular versions have been performed by the Melodians, Dennis Brown, Sublime, Snuff, Steve Earle, Daniel O’Donnell, Yabby You and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

On 19 November 1978, a cover version with lyrics in Swedish, Kommer du ihåg Babylon? (Do you remember Babylon?), performed by Swedish dansband Schytts entered the 1st place on Svensktoppen.

In 1992 the Croatian group Vatrogasci (Firefighters) made a parody of this song, translating it in croatian language (naming “Joj što volim”) and making it in turbofolk arrangement.

The Neville Brothers has a version of the song on their “Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life” CD released on October 19, 2004 on the Chordant label.

Sinéad O’Connor also recorded it for her 2007 album, Theology.

Don McLean and Linda Ronstadt also both recorded versions of this song.

A Polish Christian rock group 2Tm2,3 performed the acoustic version of “Rivers of Babylon” based on the Boney M.

  • King Alpha is referred to in the line “How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land?”. King Alpha refers to Haile Selassie. Selassie’s wife Menen Asfaw is known as Queen Omega aka The Queen. [2] When Jewish groups sing the song, “King Alpha” is changed to “the Lord’s” or “Adonai’s”.

Psalm 137 (Greek numbering: Psalm 136) is one of the best known of the Biblical psalms. Its opening lines (“By the rivers of Babylon…”) have been set to music on several occasions.

The psalm is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Chebar river. In its whole form, the psalm reflects the yearning for Jerusalem as well as hatred for the Holy City’s enemies with sometimes violent imagery. Rabbinical sources attributed the poem to the prophet Jeremiah.[1]

The early lines of the poem are very well known, as they describe the sadness of the Israelites, asked to “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land”. This they refuse to do, leaving their harps hanging on trees. The poem then turns into self-exhortation to remember Jerusalem. It ends with violent fantasies of revenge, delighting in the thought of “smashing the children of Babylon against rocks.”

Many musical settings censor the last verse. John Bell, a hymnwriter who writes many challenging texts himself, comments alongside his own setting of this Psalm: The final verse is omitted in this metricization, because its seemingly outrageous curse is better dealt with in preaching or group conversation. It should not be forgotten, especially by those who have never known exile, dispossession or the rape of people and land[2].

The hymn is included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, where the opening words are translated as “by the waters of Babylon”. In William Walton‘s oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast this version of the opening section is set to music, as if sung by the Israelite captives in Babylon. Likewise, the psalm was the inspiration for the famous slave chorus “Va, pensiero” from Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera Nabucco.

Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of The Melodians wrote a version of the psalm set to the music of Jamaica entitled “Rivers of Babylon.” The most famous musical rendition of this song was by Boney M in the 1970s. Another version of the psalm was used in “On the Willows” from the Broadway musical Godspell.

Psalm 137:5-6 is the basis for the chorus of Matisyahu‘s single Jerusalem.

Psalm 137 is the source of the title of Stephen Vincent Benet‘s short story By the Waters of Babylon.

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