Go down, Moses

Spirituals and Gospel Songs

Go down Moses  (Traditional)

From “ A Song-book of Folk and Pop Music”

by Mario Papa & Giuliano Iantorno, Zanichelli Editore, Bologna, 1977 

 

When Israel was in Egypt’s land,

Let my people go,

Oppressed so hard they could not stand,

Let my people go,

So the Lord said,

 

Chorus:

“Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

To let my people go.”

 

So Moses went to Egypt’s land,

Let my people go,

He made old Pharaoh understand,

Let my people go,

“Yes”, the Lord said,

 

Chorus:

“Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

To let my people go.”

 

“Thus spoke the Lord”, bold Moses said,

Let my people go,

“If not I’ll strike your firstborn dead”,

Let my people go,

‘Cause the Lord said,

 

Chorus:

“Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

To let my people go.”

 

Spirituals

Spiritual is one of the best known forms of American folk music. It is a secular form of hymn, sung at a community gathering or while working in the fields. This explains why it is usually sung in chorus or with a leader.

Spiritual singers often emphasize the rhythm by clapping their hands. The melodies used in spirituals are sometimes said to have come from Africa and have a strong rhythm and are ematiotional. The origin of spirituals is to be found among travelling preachers, both white and black, who gathered people in tents, or under the open sky, and spoke to them about the salvation of sinners.

An important part of these meetings was hymn singing. Black people brought a remarkable musical gift to the singing of the hymns: we must remembert that there were not many books of the words, or the music of hymns, so improvisation was necessary, and black people were exceptionally rich in musical inventiveness and had a deep religious feeling.

Much of the ship loading and plantation work was accompanied by singing of the spirituals. The slaves based most of their spirituals upon characters and stories from the Bible, that is why many of their songs are also called “Gospel Songs”.

The manner in which these stories are told in spirituals shows a colourful imagination and a single faith. Many slaves thought of themselves as the modern children of Israel and looked for a black Moses to deliver them from their bondage. Their songs were warmly appealing and sincere. Among the well-known spirituals are “Go down, Moses” and “Deep River”.