Malaika

Notes

Most Westerners, if they know a Kiswahili song at all, will know either this one or Them Mushrooms' Jambo Bwana. It's been recorded many times - my favourite version, other than the 1962 original dance version by Williams and Daudi Kabaka, is the phenomenally soulful duet between Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte.

Don't think it's a traditional tune, either in words or music. It was written to be very accessible to tourists: Williams spent a lot of time performing in hotels, and knew his audience.

As well as being a great song, it's a good tune to start learning Kiswahili, too. Here's a bit to get you started:

Malaika = angel (from Arabic)

Kupenda = to love or to like (verb)

na- = prefix for first person singular pronoun, 'I', as the object of a verb (so napenda = "I love")

ku- = prefix for the subject of a verb (but simply 'kupenda' means 'to love', as ku- also indicates the infinitive).

nakupenda = I love you

So the first line is "Angel, I love you, angel."

Kiswahili loves adding prefixes to verbs. They can become very lengthy. Frex, the action of continuing to do something is 'utaendelea'. If you want to specify who is the subject of a verb, you add the ku- prefix to the regular pronoun. So if you want to sing "Will you still love me tomorrow?" in Kiwahili, you'll sing "Utaendeleakunipenda kesho?"

Anyway, the full translation of Malaika is:

Angel, I love you, angel
Angel, I love you angel
I myself, your lover, what can I do?
If I were not broken by poverty
I would marry you, angel
If I were not broken by poverty
I would marry you, angel

Money is troubling my soul
Money is troubling my soul
Next five lines same as first verse

Little bird, I constantly dream of you, little bird.
Little bird, I constantly dream of you little bird.
Next five lines same as first verse