The unofficial anthem of England rugby, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, should not be sung by fans supporting the national team because it represents “cultural appropriation” of a traditional African American song created by slaves.
So says Josephine Wright, a professor of music and black studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio. She told the New York Times: “Such cross-cultural appropriations of US slave songs betray a total lack of understanding of the historical context in which those songs were created by the American slave.”
Music history professor Arthur Jones is also upset with England rugby fans for singing the iconic song. He told the newspaper he is saddened that the meaning is lost when crowds use it to support the England rugby team. He said:
“I feel kind of sad. I feel like the story of American chattel slavery and this incredible cultural tradition, built up within a community of people who were victims and often seen as incapable of standing up for themselves, is such a powerful story that I want the whole world to know about it. But apparently not everyone does.”
Both academics hit out at the slavery lyrics being used to make money for the Rugby Football Union, sponsors and musicians. They claim many supporters are unaware of the song’s roots and that adds another reason for them to refrain.
Footage of an England rugby crowd singing the song at Twickenham can be seen – and heard – below:
The song first appeared as a written text in the 1870s in songbooks for the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, a black choir which toured the U.S. and Europe.
It was adopted by rugby fans in England in 1988 when England beat Ireland at Twickenham following an impressive come-from-behind win.
It has been sung at matches involving the national team ever since while artists including UB40, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ella Eyre have released their own rugby-inspired versions.
Whether or not England rugby fans heed the call from across the Atlantic will be known on Saturday when Scotland takes on the home team at Twickenham in the latest edition of the Six Nations Series.
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