Shillong Chamber Choir

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2020: hymn in ancient Aramaic

Amava Bhattacharya, December 23, 2020: The Times of India

From October, the Shillong Chamber Choir (SCC) has been on a virtual hunt of sorts. The attempt to record a hymn in ancient Aramaic — the nowdead language believed to have been spoken by Christ himself — took India’s bestknown choir from Shillong to Switzerland. The result — a version of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ with lyrics in English and ancient Aramaic, which dropped on December 18, has been viewed 3.5 million times on YouTube and has furthered the choir’s reputation of multi-linguality.

Not just Aramaic, ‘Come Home Christmas’, the eighttrack album the hymn belongs to, incorporates Hebrew, Persian and Urdu, besides Khasi. This, the choir explained, stemmed from a desire to bring back the Mediterranean in the story of Christmas and gently remind audiences that Christ was, after all, West Asian.

“We started looking for someone who could translate the hymns in ancient Aramaic, which is almost nigh to impossible to find. But we made contact in just two phone calls. Similar episodes happened over the entire making of the album, which was made in a short span of time,” choir founder-conductor and Padma Shri winner Neil Nongkynrih said.

Vocalist William Richmond Basaiawmoit explained that they took the help of Melke Tekin, an elderly gentleman in Switzerland who spoke ancient Aramaic for ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’. Ancient Aramaic is spoken by very few people today, although communities exist in present-day Iraq and Syria that speak versions of the language. The choir’s version of ‘We The Kings’ uses Farsi, Urdu and English in deference to the fact that the Magi were Zoroastrians.

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