Posts Tagged ‘music’

Here is the video of Kalou Ambroise singing the song that was referred to in today’s earlier blog A Day for Kouyas

Tra Didier introduces Kalou Ambroise by singing the song and saying that he doesn’t sing it as well as Kalou does. However Marguerite from Gouabafla walks over to Didier and wipes his head – a sign of encouragement that he is doing OK. Then we hear Kalou singing this rather lovely song.

[My thanks to Laurel Miller for the video clip]

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I have just finished writing an article for Wider World, a magazine of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland – so I thought I could share it more widely. They asked for an article to fit in with their upcoming edition on worship – so, of course, I wrote about ethnomusicology!

Bogo people singing one of their first ever Biblical songs

Bogo people singing one of their first ever Biblical songs

There are around 6,000 Bogo people. Until quite recently they had no church music in their own language or musical styles. Ethnomusicologist to the rescue!

So what is an ethnomusicologist? Here is a definition from Rob Baker whom I first met in 1993 when he came as a new graduate of French and Music to teach with us at Vavoua International School in Ivory Coast. I have rarely met someone with such energy, such musical ability and such an appetite for learning languages.

An ethnomusicologist encourages the use of indigenous music and other art forms to communicate the Gospel, aid literacy and educate. Music is not a universal language, neither are any of the arts, so we need to use culturally appropriate art forms which have a significance for a given ethnic group and which can therefore speak to their hearts in a meaningful way.

Back to the Bogo from Togo – Rob takes up the story…

I’d had an e-mail from a colleague a few weeks back saying: ‘We are losing our traditional songs in favour of Ewe songs, can you help?’ Ewe is a much larger people group, but the Bogo also deserve to use their own music for God, so I agreed to come along and help.

I was scarcely out of the car when I was met by a whole crowd of women singing a song of welcome. At the end of the song they all gave out a high pitched ‘Eeeee’ cheer and one lady promptly put a necklace round my neck. Wow! What a warm welcome!

One of the first things Rob does with each local group is to find out what musical genres or styles are used in their culture. The Bogo have four musical styles: one for joyful occasions; one for funerals; one used only by women; one only by men.

Rob's outdoor recording studio

Rob's outdoor recording studio

Musical genres exist in our culture too – you wouldn’t use the same music style for a love song as you would for a football chant! It also exists in our churches: for example we may use the organ to accompany favourite old hymns – and guitars, flutes and drums for more modern praise songs.

Over three days we got eleven new songs written, some based on Bible verses and some on parables. In one genre, large barrel drums are usually played. They said they’d have to get the permission of the village to use them for these new songs. On the day of recording, they not only brought the drums but also an old man from the village came along to play his horn.

You can listen to some of the Bogo people singing Biblical songs in their own style for the first time. It may not be your taste in music, but you’re not a Bogo person and I think you can tell how happy they are!

man playing two stringed traditional guitar

man playing two stringed traditional guitar

Another Wycliffe ethnomusicologist, Katharine Norton, comes from Dublin. At a Wycliffe event in Belfast a few years ago, she taught a church singing group to perform a Canela song from Brazil. It sounded so incredibly dreary and everyone was astonished when she told us what the words meant: “It is God’s Word that makes us happy!” Imagine how some of our best loved songs and hymns must sound in other cultures…

Before local people start composing new songs, Rob leads a Bible study and they decide together which Bible passages will be used.

First I present the verses – we start with three parables: the Sower, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. These work well as story telling is a big part of African culture and the settings of these parables are, in many ways, closer to African experience than western.

On a different trip while introducing the same parables, Rob noticed…

As I’m explaining the Parable of the Sower, I notice that just outside the door there is a field of maize, in front of which are weeds and then a path. Wow! Shame there was no rocky ground!

Ethnomusicology is a crucial tool for helping people engage with God’s Word. I vividly remember being in a Presbyterian church in English speaking NW Cameroon in 1990. The hymns were sung without enthusiasm, and probably without understanding of the English lyrics, from an old Church of Scotland hymnbook. But when it was time for the offering, the atmosphere totally changed as people sang praise songs in their own Lamnso’ language.

God wants to communicate his love to every people group that he has created: that’s why in Wycliffe we are passionate about God’s Word in heart languages. Music is another of God’s gifts to humanity – it has the power to speak to our emotions. Ethnomusicologists work to combine both these things and to enable people to praise God in the language of their hearts using their own musical styles and instruments. But this Banyole church leader from Uganda sums it much better than I can…

“When the words are ours, it’s one thing, but when the music is ours, we are convinced: God can truly be our God!”

Or this Mamprusi pastor from Ghana…

“Now we don’t borrow foreign music: we make our own songs to praise God! Now we know that God wants to hear the music that is most meaningful to us.”

Ethnomusicolgy is just one of a host of skills that are deployed by Wycliffe Bible Translators in support of bringing God’s Word to people groups who don’t have any Scripture. Currently there are 2,393 languages where translation has yet to start. You can find out more here.

Rob Baker’s website has many more ethnomusicology stories and photographs –  look under the Ethnomusicology category.

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