Sometimes there are songs that work on several layers at once. This is true of the next song which has four layers of meaning all operating at the same time- like an onion ! It is about the effects of war ( it works as an anti war song), about the metaphor which is used in the song – the tree of life, about the effects of unwise egotistical political leaders in the world and their actions ( we seem to have an awful lot of those at the moment). And finally, the shadow side of each one of us, It is called “No More must the Shadow be King.”
A couple of years ago I visited London briefly and having some time to kill went to the British Museum, which I have always loved as it is a treasure trove of quirky treasures from across the globe. I found myself in a relatively new exhibition space. It was an exhibition dedicated to the community art of Mozambique after the civil war they experienced. There were two artefacts that totally grabbed my attention: a throne and a sculpture of the tree of life. They were both made from decommissioned weapons/guns that had been used throughout the civil war.
Normally we would associate beauty and artistry with both a throne and the tree of life. The tree of life particularly hit me in a visceral kind of way. It’s leaves were bullets, it’s flower were triggers of guns, it’s trunk was made from barrels of guns. Instead of beauty, fecundity, grace and life it was an image entwined with horror and pain. Very powerful. It also was a real work of art- a symbol of hope birthing from trauma and pain. To me, it showed the paradox of our human psyche….the capacity for beauty, thought and meaning in contrast to our stupidity, greed and ego driven behaviours.
Songs always flow when they catch me in the heart and this was true for this one. The words came first in this instance, followed by the melody in C# minor which evolved over several evenings whilst making my family supper. ( The usual place for songwriting for me….the joys of being a multi tasking mum! Perhaps my operating on several levels at once helped write a song that does the same!)
My friend, Katie, who is a drama therapist and shares my slightly unusual way of thinking ( she calls it a mytho poetic way of seeing the world) thinks this song reflects layers of our human psyche and touches on the shadow side of human behaviours . I certainly wrote it with the intention of pointing attention to all those four aspects outlined above.
Here are the lyrics:
No More Must the Shadow be King
Your trunk was the barrel of a skull cracking gun
Your leaves were bullets that splattered our blood
Your flowers were triggers, triggers of guns
Pulled by delusional men
Who believe that our shadows should be king.
No more, no more, no more must the shadow be king
Unthinking you grasp at clouds full of pride
Let greed and power dissipate in the wind
No more must the shadow be king.
Villages wrecked and homes made from dust
Fields full of weeds and land mine seeds
Children are warriors and parents lie dead
Nothing is sacred and nothing is won
Destroyed by delusional men
Who believe that our shadows should be king.
Repeat chorus and then short instrumental break
Let beauty and peace, be what we all see
The kindness of hope deep within you and me
The balance of beauty lies just out of reach
Ignored but unfurling in each soul to see
Wrap around all the harmony of light
So the shadow, the shadow
Is never, ever the king.
I wanted the last verse to leave us with a sense of hope, of our beauty which I believe each being has the capacity for. I don’t believe humanity is a failed experiment even if it seems that way with the gross misbehaviours we often indulge in! I believe we can wake up to kindness, beauty, conscious action and peace. In this way we will conquer the shadows that easily rule the world and have become “kings” that should not be. It for each of us to know our shadows and consciously allow and create behaviours that are kinder and more wise…even when that is hard.
This song has an awful lot of words…..therefore it has a slowish pace to allow the listener time to absorb them. It is also built around the central hook of the shadow king and the image of the ugly tree of life both of which continually reinforce the meaning of the song. Melodically the structure is A, B, A, B and then A variant.I use a baroque technique of changing/elaborating on the initial melody, (last verse) in order to give more emphasis to the feeling of dynamic positive change that lies latent in the last verse. The melodic hook around the shadow king reappears consistently throughout the song in both verse and chorus.
The melody is haunting- playing around c# minor, using particularly the accented minor notes in the scale. I also sing it in a very story telling kind of way – putting a sob into my voice on “No More” in the chorus, putting an ornament on the word “dead”, making “unfurling” into a flowery vocal descent. I sing the word”hope” with a kind of uplifting inflection and I uses pauses, like in story telling for emphasis and dramatic effect.
Again, I have not yet had the good fortune to have any instrumentalists to work with this song. I envisage a guitar creating a story telling rich tapestry of chords under the voice- chords chosen for their colour and textural quality, combined with a viol creating a slightly dissonant feeling bass line – creating an instrumental tension and add in the echo of the duduk, playing a harmony with the vocal line ( just in places) to create the feeling of pathos. In the last verse I would like a more harmonic resolution in terms of chord and dissonances on the viol to create a subtle change in musical landscape reflecting the change of mood. It needs to reflect the ephemerality though of that being “Just out of reach”.
I have sung this song accapella at the pub, although it is not really a pub kind of song! But, it stilled the whole pub and was met by a nice kind of silence and some comments like: “That is a very powerful song…and “”Good to have songs like that”.
I have a special kind of fondness for this song. I sing it with all my heart, with a kind of fervent belief that somehow it will wake up the kindness and balance of beauty that we and the world so very much needs. if only it was that easy !