An EthnoArts team had been invited to spend a week working with musicians from several indigenous churches in Bolivia. The goal: to recover their own music and their own languages for incorporation into their existing repertoire of Christian praise and worship.
It looked like reclaiming local traditions might be an uphill road. The younger generations seem to prefer urban sounds, modern rhythms, and the latest global music styles. They seek new songs from famous Christian artists, learn them and take them to their churches.
However, once people started talking about their musical heritage, traditional dances and folk music begin to fill the room. Everyone knew these cheerful musical genres of the Bolivian rainforest. ‘In the mountains there are other, more Andean rhythms. These are typical of our peoples,’ explains Isaac, one of the Cavineña leaders and pastors who traveled to Riberalta to participate in the workshop. ‘But we never use them in the church…. The people of our community sing them at parties and popular gatherings, but we only sing choruses and hymns.’
In general, the Latin American evangelical tradition is marked by the traditional European songbook, translated into Spanish by the missionaries who brought the word between the ’60s and ’80s. European music traditions usurped local expressions, and for decades ‘the devil stole our culture’, says Antonio, one of the Trinitario participants. He explains: ‘We thought that (our) music was a sin, and we simply put it aside. The people use this music, but it is always associated with wild parties and alcohol.’
During the first few days of the workshop, the group spent some time reflecting on this and other related subjects, before getting down to some songwriting. The group then spent a whole day composing new songs in their own languages, using the same music and instruments as untold generations before them.
Finally, the day came to record. A small but functional recording studio was improvised, and from 9am to 6pm groups came by to record their new songs…. There were 21 recordings in one day! Everyone asked for another workshop. They promised to present the new songs in their churches and to continue composing. They know that in any upcoming activity they will perform better and their creativity will be better honed and attuned to the Holy Spirit.
This blog post is adapted from a story which originally appeared on the Wycliffe Global Alliance website. Read the original story and see more pictures here.
Intrigued by the concept of EthnoArts? Read more here.