Music provides an opportunity for groups to memorise Bible stories. Just like the songs we sang in Sunday School helped us to remember truths from the Bible, Wycliffe use music to help communities get to grips with the Bible.
Rob Baker is a school music teacher and ethnomusicologist. An ethnomusicologist is someone that helps a language group develop Bible songs in their own language and culture. For his summer holidays he’s spending some time in the Ivory Coast helping a couple of communities with their worship.
He starts with some teaching…
Next day, and teaching began. I started off as I do with most courses of this kind I have taught, by asking two questions:
(i) What is culture?
(ii) Is music a universal language?
The answer to (ii) is almost always given as ‘yes’, until I explain more clearly, giving examples from across the globe. After this, participants realize that, whilst music is a universal phenomenon, it is not a universal language, as every culture of the world defines, composes and makes music in a different way.
We then make the logical step on to the importance of one’s own culture and how, when artforms from the local culture are used, it speaks to members of that culture in a powerful way, and communication is improved too.
After this, we list all the song genres present in each culture. A song genre is just a style of song linked – in Africa – to a specific event. Songs for weddings, funerals, harvest, initiation, hunting, war, and dancing in the moonlight. Once listed, we see how many of these have already been adapted for church use and which ones could be used. Sometimes they are almost all already used in church, sometimes almost none have been used. But the idea is the same as that of Charles Wesley: to use the music closest to the heart of those we are trying to reach. We call this contextualization. Or, as William Booth said: “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?”
You can read more about the workshop Rob was involved in, and listen to examples of the songs they recorded, on his blog.
Wycliffe aren’t just interested in translating a Bible and leaving communities to get on with it. We want them to be able to understand and learn from it as well. You can find out more about Ethnomusicology and how other art forms help people to get to grips with God’s word on the Wycliffe Global Alliance website.
If you’d like to get involved in ethnomusicology, have a look for opportunities on the vacancies page of our website.