In the fall of 2007 I first heard the song “Living Darfur” while visiting Israel after the Feast of Tabernacles. The song is exceedingly obscure in America, though if you search for it on Youtube you can find a video of the song featuring Matt Damon and other Hollywood actors supporting the efforts of Mattafix, a coloured (or, in American lingo, mulatto) South African singer, to promote the cause and well-being of the longsuffering people of Darfur. The song, obscure though it is, became my favorite song for 2007 because of the way its approach to the suffering in Darfur also touched my own deep and fierce feelings about the suffering of my own life.
Even though South Sudan is now recognized as an independent nation, the area of Darfur remains imprisoned in the torture chamber of nationalities that is Sudan. There is, despite the horrors that have happened there in the last few years, no apparent plan for Darfur either to be independent or part of its slightly less troubled neighbor of Chad to the west. No, four years after Mattafix’s song, Darfur appears to be nearly forgotten by a world that has a glut of troubled areas around the world calling for its attention. But not all have forgotten Darfur, and at least while the crisis was popular an enduring and excellent song was made to honor the suffering of its people, and to express their longings in elegant lyric poetry. Let us therefore examine this song now.
The lyrics begin powerfully enough. “See the nation through the people’s eyes,/ See tears that flow like rivers from the skies./ Where it seems there are only borderlines,/ Where others turn and sigh,/ You shall rise./ You shall rise./ You shall rise./ You shall rise .” Clearly a song like this comes from a populist perspective. When you see the nation through the people’s eyes rather than through the eye of the pampered and corrupt elites, you see the suffering that ordinary people have endured throughout history. Rather than fancy palaces and shiny baubles, the life of the common people throughout most places in most times has been a grim and depressing struggle for survival, rather than a festive period of celebration. And yet despite the curse of troublesome borderlines and a tragic history full of deep sorrow, Mattafix prophecies that the people of Darfur will rise—that is, they will not remain an oppressed and forgotten people.
The second verse continues the contrast between a troubled past and a glorious destiny: “There’s disaster in your past,/ Boundaries in your path./ What you desire will lift you higher./ You don’t have to be extraordinary, just forgiving./ Those who never heard your cries,/ You shall rise./ You shall rise,/ And look toward the skies./ Where others fail, you prevail in time./ You shall rise.” Despite the disaster that the people of Darfur (and indeed, many others, like myself) have endured, and despite the boundaries that are in the way, there is a glorious future ahead. This song, despite a lack of explicit references to Christianity, appears to make an implicit comment that the better future will be achieved by forgiving others for the wrongs of the past and looking toward the skies (i.e. heaven) for God to avenge and to vindicate the cause of the innocent who have suffered wrong, but that in the meantime, as we await this perfect justice from above, we should work as best as we can little by little to improve our lives and our place.
The bridge of the song repeats a few phrases as follows: “You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You shall rise. You shall rise. You shall rise. Sooner or later we must try living. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low.” The bridge’s lyrics, which repeat, but not mindlessly, indicate that the people of Darfur (and others who have suffered likewise) may never know their better destiny if they lay low, that is, keep their heads down. Rising the head and showing one’s dignity is necessary in the eyes of the singer (and in my own judgment also) to achieving a better fate. The last (non-repeating) line is particularly ominous, commenting that sooner or later instead of merely surviving and existing we must try living. To quote the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies. Not every man truly lives.” Similar sentiments seem to be expressed here. Life is more than mere existence.
The third verse largely repeats the first: “See the nation through the people’s eyes,/ See tears that flow like rivers from the skies./ Where it seems there are only borderlines,/ Where others turn and sigh,/ You shall rise./ You shall rise./ You shall rise./ You shall rise.” Again, the repetition of this verse serves to remind the audience that we are not looking at kings and presidents, not wealthy aristocrats nor famous stars. What we are dealing with here are the often nameless masses of human beings who suffer seemingly pointlessly in silence every day because of the abuse of other people. Millions, even billions, and perhaps more than that, have suffered like this throughout human history, without a voice or without receiving vindication in this mortal life. But their time of relief will come, and just as 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Psalm 113 prophecy, God will give children to the barren womb and raise up the poor to sit with princes. Other scriptures point out that many who are first shall be last and many who are last shall be first. God will comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable, righting the wrongs that have gone by unnoticed and uncorrected for so long.
The song ends with some of the words from the bridge: “You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low, lay low. You may never know if you lay low lay low. Sooner or later we must try…living.” The long pause before the last word suggests that living is not an easy thing to do for people in these circumstances, but a very necessary thing. I would agree—as a person who has struggled for years against the deepest, darkest gloom, I too have faced many dark nights of the soul. But a soul can’t only know dark nights—the dawn has to come at some point, whether for the people of Darfur or for others who can identify with them all too well.
 The lyric printed here differs from the link posted above. I leave the readers to research and judge for themselves the correct lyric.