The Multicultural Worship Leaders Network (MWLN) has embarked on a project to collect multicultural worship songs, in attempt to provide some resources and examples for others interested in expanding their worship repertoire. They have solicited submissions of songs that were 1) ethnically diverse, 2) musically, culturally, expressively diverse, 3) singable and/or teachable and 4) quality. The result was their new Multicultural Worship Collective CD.
One of my favorite techniques represented on the album is when languages are blended together within a song (eg. Eric Lige and Christine Lee's Surrender). It communicates the idea that we are diverse, but united. It gets away from 'separate but equal' worship and sends the message the we worship one God with one voice. When done well, it sends a powerful message about the Body of Christ.
Proskuneo does this often, weaving together langues, often even in mid-sentence. Rather than simply translating from one to another, this technique (which Josh calls 'interlingual' worship) sends the message that we belong together and that our difference actually compliment one another. These lyrics finish eachothers sentences like best friends on a playground. I particularly liked the version of 'With One Heart,' presented on this CD by King's Region, because it blends Korean with Spanish, decentering English as the 'default' language (there's no song without any English lyrics on the album).
Another powerful multilingual song is 'Father of Lights,' presented here by Nikki Lerner and Bridgeway Community Church. While predominantly in English, it also gives thanks to God in Arabic, Spanish, and Korean as well. It is helpful for congregations at the beginning stages of incorporating many languages into their worship, especially as intentional preparation for those cultures that might not yet be in attendance. Many new languages could be substituted in this song, making it particularly versatile.
I also particularly enjoyed William Johnson Garcia's Gratefulness, an instrumental track featuring drums as the lead/solo. Percussion and drums are often overlooked as central instruments of western worship. When we do so, we further marginalize the many rhythm and percussion-centric cultures that make up the Body of Christ. I was glad then to hear this song featured.
Jelani Greenidge's track, We Belong, attempts to bring hip hop into a corporate worship setting. We often see rap artist used to 'spice up' more generic worship or as a token nod during big worship events. But Jelani works to bring it to the center as, not just as a solo act, but as a corporate worship experience.
The other great aspect of the CD is that its songs are all very 'doable'. By intentional design, it is meant to serve as a resource for worship leaders and other practitioners. As such, Josh Davis has graciously made the charts to the songs available to BTSF readers. Email him (firstname.lastname@example.org), with your request and he will respond in short order. As an additional benefit, Josh has offered a bonus track to BTSF readers who purchase the CD. Just type "BTSF" in your order and you will also receive the Proskuneo song 'Alle' for download!
The album is truly high quality, though sometimes feel too clean or sterile. This may counteract the accessibility and ease-of-use that the project is trying to convey, or belie the traditions from which some of the songs come. For this reason, I was glad to come across 'Witness' from Dawn and Billy Anthony, which features the vocal lead over solo base for a great feel that was powerful, but unpretentious.
A few final words for those beginning the journey of multicultural worship music. It is always important to enter with humility and in the context of relationship, honoring the many cultures being represented. One common pitfall in multicultural worship music is filtering cultures through a white lense, tilting over into appropriation for the sake of being trendy or 'exotic.' I'm also pretty cautious about songs described as having "Native American feel" or "African rhythms." These phrases paint many, many different nations and cultures with broad strokes, counteracting the goal of multicultural worship.
This album provides some solid 'first steps' for those wanting to get a feel for how different cultures can come together to worship with one voice. Take a listen to the Multicultural Worship Collective album. What do you think?