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Rivers of Babylon (Boney M) (Caribbean)

One of the hits of disco music from the 70s, this Christian song from the Bible has a very deep meaning for the blacks in America and is a tribute for his slave ancestry. The lyrics for this song were written in Babylon 2500 years ago by another enslaved community: the Hebrews. You can watch a documentary about this here: Kingdom of David.

Sing to this karaoke version here.

By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat down
Yeah we wept
When we remembered Zion.

By the rivers of babylon
There we sat down
Yeah we wept
When we remembered Zion.

When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required of us a song
Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land

When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Requiring of us a song
Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land

Let the words of our mouth
And the meditations of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight
Here tonight

Let the words of our mouth
And the meditations of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight
Here tonight

By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat down
Yeah we wept
When we remembered Zion.

By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat down
Yeah we wept
When we remembered Zion.

By the rivers of Babylon
(rough bits of Babylon)
There we sat down
(you hear the people cry)
Yeah we wept,
(they need their God)
When we remembered Zion.
(ooh, have the power)

By the rivers of Babylon
(Oh yea, yea, yea)
There we sat down
(yea, yea, yea)...

BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON= The preposition BY means "next to, near"; by the river means on the riverbanks or near the river. In this psalm, Babylon is not the city, but the country (modern Iraq, etc.), so the rivers of Babylon are the Tigris and the Euphrates.

WE WEPT= Past of the irregular verb Weep-Wept-Wept= to cry when you’re very sad, to shed tears (watery drops from your eyes).

ZION= or Sion is the name of the mount on which Jerusalem was built, so in the Bible sometimes they use the word Sion to refer to the city of Jerusalem, it's Temple or even the whole land of Israel.

THE WICKED= The word WICKED (pronounced /wɪkɪd/ ) is an adjective meaning "evil by nature, very bad". In English, some adjectives can be used with the definite article (THE) as a noun, to refer to a group of people having that quality. Example:
- the poor and the rich = the poor people and the rich people

CAPTIVITY= A period when you are imprisoned or enslaved.

REQUIRED OF US= Demanded us, ordered us.

HOW SHALL WE SING?= How are we going to sing? (meaning: it’s impossible to sing). Until recent times, we used SHALL for the future with the first person (I & we) and WILL for the rest.

THE LORD= God.

THE LORD’S SONG= In ancient times (and even today) it was common to pray God by singing, so the Lord’s song was a song of praise.

A STRANGE LAND= A country that is not theirs, a foreign territory.

LET THE WORDS...= We use LET here to express a wish: I wish the words of our mouth be acceptable...

THY= Your. In old English we used YOU for the plural and THOU (pronounced /θu:/ and later /ðaʊ/ ) for the singular. The possessive form of YOU was YOUR and the form of THOU was THY (pronounced /ðaɪ/ ).

BE ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT= The word "sight" is the capacity to see or the field of vision, so if something is in your sight, you can see it. But words and meditation is not something you can see, so why sight? The words and the meditation are prayers to God (pronounced or just thought). In the old times, when people wanted to worship God they would make him offerings, objects or animals God could see. Prayers are like offerings, so the analogy stays the same, my prayer is like an object I place in front of God’s eyes. If my words are acceptable in God’s sight, God accepts them, He likes them. If I ask God to help me and He accepts my words, that means that He is going to help me. The Jews are asking God for help, so they hope He will accept their words and help them.

ROUGH= Difficult (pronounced /rʌf/ )

YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE CRY= Here CRY means "weep".

THEY NEED THEIR GOD= They feel desperate, they feel God has abandoned them and they are all alone, so they need God to be with them and help them.

This song is based on the Biblical psalm 137 and also psalm 19:14. Those psalms talk about the time when the Jews were enslaved and taken to Babylon. They suffered terribly and missed their homeland, but they new how to turn a horrible crises into a new strength, and after many years of purification and evolution, they could be free again and return home.

African slaves taken to America soon became Christians, and understandably they quickly indentified with the suffering people of Israel. Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for many generations, but God liberated them through Moses. Later, they were enslaved again by Babylon, but God liberated them again. So black slaves in America retained part of their dignity in the conviction that they were also a people dear to God and one day He would liberate them just as He had done twice with the Jews, and they would be free again (as it finally happened). That’s why the story of Moses and the Babylon exile were a powerful token for black slaves, a ray of hope in their darkness, the promise for future freedom. At that time, Black slaves were weeping for their lost Sion (Africa) in a strange land (America).

A BIT OF HISTORY
King David (a. 1000 B.C.) united the 12 tribes of Israel in one single kingdom. He made Jerusalem his capital, the city of God. God was everywhere, but people needed a special place to talk to God, and that only place was the Arc of Covenant, that was inside a tent in Jerusalem. King David’s son, Solomon, built for Him a great temple. That temple was the only place were people could worship God, so Jerusalem was the place were the Israelites could have contact with God.

After Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided in two: Israel at the north and Judah in the south. In 722 B.C. the kingdom of Assyria invaded Israel and deported all the population abroad. Those tribes fell in despair, away from God, and soon lost their culture and religion.

The same thing could have happened to the kingdom of Judah a century later. In 586 B.C. the kingdom of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the city and the Temple and deported all the people to Babylon.

This was, of course, a complete national disaster: their land had been invaded, destroyed, and their contact with God was broken. "How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?" God could only be praised in Jerusalem, not in Babylon or anywhere else. This first moment of despair is the one expressed in the psalm sang here.

In the same situation, Israel had perished. But Judah’s reaction was different. After the initial moment of despair, prophets appeared to give a meaning to all that situation. Despair gave way to hope and understanding, and their religious believes evolved into a new level: Judaism appeared, God was truly everywhere. The tribe of Judah (now called the Jews) not only survived, but got stronger and finally returned to Jerusalem.

500 years later the Romans will repeat history by destroying Jerusalem and deporting the Jews once again, but now their faith is so strong and solid that for 2000 years they survived singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, and no problem about that.

3:40            
 
 
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