One of the absolute highlights of the recent Justice Conference in South Africa was the worship.

Now Val and i learned from our wedding that sometimes amazing musical experiences don’t translate on to video. The opening djembe arrival of the bride at our wedding is one of the most powerful musical moments of my life as first one then two, then five, then twenty djembes joined in to create a pulsating rhythm and a goosebumpy buildup to the moment when tbV [the beautiful Val] stepped into the chapel. But the video capturing of it gave no real sense of that at all. Our memories hold a different story though.

As i suspect it will be with TJC 2018. There will be video footage released soon and it will likely even be a lot more amazing than the capturing of our wedding was. But to truly experience the feel and the vibe and the atmosphere of it you really had to be there.

But i can still give you a taste of the memory that lingers even now, two weeks after the fact…

worship team justice

It didn’t hurt that two of my favourite women in the world – Lusanda Mashua and Minah Koela – two of the most passionate and powerful black women i know – were playing leading roles in the worship.

It certainly didn’t hurt that not a single Australian, American or British song had a space on the stage but every single song – as far as i’m aware – was locally written, and many in different local African languages. Not because i have anything against Hillsongs, Passion, Redman and friends, Bethel or Jesus Culture, except when they are the only songs we sing in churches across the African continent. So to have a complete break was refreshing and to hear and feel and partake in the rhythms of the continent felt significant in many ways.

Since the conference, in fact, i have had different of the worship songs playing almost on repeat in my head, which has been an incredible accompaniment in my day to day.

It didn’t hurt that i counted two white people out of maybe twenty who were in the band or singing during worship times at the conference. Again, not because i have anything against white people [some of my favourite me is white!] but to be in a church space where the stage reflected the country and the continent i know to be home, was special. And very much long overdue.

Sho, it really is so hard to try and put this into words. There have been songs by Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin and Rend Collective and Hillsongs and others that have moved me and helped me to really sense the presence of God and feel like i am connected to God. But when it comes to African worship, it is next level and i have always felt that way.

Since my student days when we had conferences where so much of the worship would be done in African languages, often led from different people in the audience and not even the ‘worship team’. Just the sense of beat and rhythm and repetition and movement and passion. Other songs have brought up feelings in me, but the stuff of Jesu Pakeme, Njalo, Malibongwe, uThando Lwakhe and so many more have injected their rhythm and meaning into me. When African worship is happening i truly believe that my blood beats African. White skin or not.

i remember last year when Rene August led us in the struggle song, ‘Senzeni na’ [which featured again this year briefly] that it absolutely broke me – the strains of ‘What have we done?’ when sung by black people i assume mean ‘What have we done to deserve this kind of treatment?’ but when i sang it, i sang it on behalf of white people from the perspective of, ‘What have we collectively done to you?’ and it smashed me completely.

i have campaigned so long for locally written worship songs, in all the languages we speak. i don’t believe there is anything wrong with singing songs from outside Africa but i absolutely believe there is something deeply wrong with only singing songs from outside Africa. Where are the songs which speak of our pain, our struggle, our deep need to find each other and to see healing and redemption, our songs of stolen land, our cries of forsakenness and our anthems of hope.

For me, this year’s Justice Conference was the hope that it is possible. And it is chomping at the bit and raring to go.

And i cannot wait.

Malibongwe – by We Will Worship

Ngaphandle kwakho, anginathemba, anginalutho
(Without you I have no hope, I have nothing)
Ngaphandle kwakho, Ngaphandle kwakho (repeat)
(Without you, without you)

Wangifela esiphambanweni, Wangikhipha ezonweni zam
(You died for me at the cross, You cleansed me of my sins)
Ngasho ngahlala nawe iNkosi, Ngasho ngahlala nawe iNkosi
(And I got to dwell with you God, And I got to dwell with you God)

Malibongwe igama lakho, Malibongwe igama lakho)
(Let your name be praised, Let your name be praised)
Malibongwe igama, Malibongwe igama,
(Let your name, let your name)
Malibongwe igama lakho
(Let your name be praised)

(Repeat from the top)

Malibongwe, Malibongwe
(Be praised, be praised)
Malibongwe, Malibongwe (repeat)
(Be praised, be praised)