I commented here that I don’t think Aussie missionaries should try to make Aussies dance like Tanzanians, but there’s something appealing about the verve of African worship, isn’t there? You may well see something in the below video from our church that you want for your church.
One of the great things about being part of a global movement like Christianity is being able to learn from other cultures. However, this needs to be done in a respectful way, one that recognises the full dignity of other Christians. A temptation for those of us in the west is to treat other cultures as a resource to be used. What I mean by that, is that we can easily adopt things that we think are cute and cool without actually engaging with that culture. Though our intentions are good, we end up exploiting instead of celebrating.
So I thought it was appropriate to take a few moments to reflect on how to do intercultural stuff in church in a more thoughtful and respectful way. Here’s my guide to using African music in your Aussie church.
1. There is no such thing as ‘African music’. Africa is a vast continent with many different cultures and while some generalisations could be made, there’s much more to the picture. Let me give an example from Australia: Hillsong and EMU are both ‘Australian music’ but they come from very different church backgrounds. You can’t lump them together! If it’s from Tanzania, say ‘Tanzania’, not ‘Africa’. If it’s peculiar to a tribe or region or denomination, say so.
2. Recognise the complexity of the culture the music comes from. Africa is known for its music but that’s not all there is to the African church. Did you know that many Tanzanian churches do public offering and publish the amounts each congregation member gives in their church newsletter? That kind of thing is much more challenging for Aussies so we tend to overlook it.
3. Make participation voluntary. Cultures express engagement in different ways. Having to dance can be profoundly alienating for some Aussies, just as what Aussies think of as Bible study with lots of reading and an egalitarian set up seems weird to some Tanzanians. What works in an African culture may make people in Aussie culture very uncomfortable and that’s OK.
4. Connect it to specific mission partnerships so that it has at least something to do with relationship. You can have fun, but let that lead you pray.
5. Know what you’re singing – not just the meaning but the context of a song as well. The ever popular Siyahamba is in Zulu, a language that is most common in South Africa and very rare in Tanzania. If you’re going to sing it to remember Tanzanians, get the Swahili translation, or better yet, look for a song that is Tanzanian and is popular today. Arthur’s got some suggestions about pambios.
What feeling do you have on using music from other cultures in your church service?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.