(pic credit: Ndola session ©2017-2019 by crisbaj. Used with permission

Having lived outside the United States for a significant chunk of my life…having been a cross-cultural minister for over a quarter-century… having been a mid-level ‘practicing and performing musician’ since my youth… having been an amateur Ethno-musicologist my whole time in missions…

Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it (Source: Society of Ethnomusicology). Britannica defines it as the “field of scholarship that encompasses the study of all world musics from various perspectives. It is defined either as the comparative study of musical systems and cultures, or as the anthropological study of music.”

Ethnomusiology has a great deal to do with missions, ministering cross-culturally, and engaging music in the move of worship amongst people groups.

It involves way more than studying the cool and unique instruments that a particular people use in a region, or just their ‘unique sound’; it looks carefully at the use of tone, rhythm, scale, chord and melody, as well as the use (or lack) of lyrics and words along with the music… and all that with their cultural identity.

Ethnomusicology teaches us that each cultural-people group have an enormous identification to ‘their’ music. Music is inter-woven into the fabric of each culture, and each people-group will invariably have their own musical expression that can only be understood from the ‘inside’ of that culture. Within every culture, a baby is born into the stream of ethno-music for that people group, and is ‘tacitly’ trained to recognize and respond to that music in a way that will always elicit a heart-cry, “that’s OUR music!” when experienced throughout life. Sure, other musical expressions will be adopted and appreciated, but the ‘heart-language music’ will remain an imprint for all of that person’s life. People from outside that culture cannot experience the ethno-music of a culture to a deeper degree than a member of that culture group.

The musicians and composers within that culture are essentially tasked with writing, playing, reproducing and affirming the ‘heart-language music’ of that culture… unless, of course, they ‘cast off’ their culture and go for the big bucks on Western top-40 radio… in English…

Culture, and it’s expression within a culture-group is a very, very complicated thing. Within American pastoral circles and worship-leader circles, the issues of culture, people-groups and cultural expressions are very poorly understood. For instance, the ethno-musicologist in me estimates that over 80% of the ‘worship wars’ that rage on in churches across the land are related to areas that are touched by ethno-musicology. (Example: the ‘hymns-vs-modern worship songs’… ever think of older Denominational members as their own culture?? The new ‘Modern members’ as a different culture?? ‘Worship wars’ is fundamentally a culture clash…).

Why all this ethno-musical anthropology as preface to a Blog about ‘Original Songs ‘en Español’ –vs- Translations’? (Note: I’m turning to the Latino ‘en Español’ consideration)

Simple. Regarding these worship songs and musical works that were composed in a Western pop-folk-rock format;

regardless of popularity and appeal in the English-speaking world, how can these songs be translated into Spanish and adopted for the peoples of Central and South America in a way that transfers the deeply-communicated meanings in ways that enhance and give Scripturally-based worship experiences for these Spanish-speaking peoples? (whew!)

Answer: Basically, they don’t.

Answer: Most of the time, it’s complicated. There are up-sides and there are down-sides.

Answer: Many would be surprised that the warm reception in the Hispanic world to these songs has little to do with the meaning and theology of the songs… more on that at the end.



I belong to a number of ‘worship leader’ Facebook pages.

Here is a recent post, with my answer

Q: (from E.B.)

“I would like to ask if there are if there is an app that can translate worship songs into Spanish.

I work on a Spanish speaking team/church and we would love to implement songs in Spanish, but I’m not sure what to do, even though the majority of people can, at the very least, read English, I know there are some that don’t.

Is there any Spanish alternative that we could use? Thanks a lot!!”

A: (from crisbaj)

“Consider this: there are MANY Hillsong and Bethel tunes already translated, and translated WELL… Delirious has also recorded a number of well-translated songs…

Many ‘translation programs’ really mangle the meaning of the lyrics, SO access songs with tested translations… you don’t want your native Spanish speakers coming to you after the service, saying, “you really didn’t mean what you put in the translation of that song, did you??”

More important to know, Latin America experienced a massive worship-music explosion in the early 90’s, while the US was still stuck on ‘Christian pop music’… we have HUNDREDS of solid, well-written, Biblically-tested songs IN SPANISH that are completely original, and in the Spanish heart-language. I guarantee many of your Spanish-speaking peeps will probably and passionately know these songs WELL… so, don’t re-invent the wheel when there is a well road-tested one right in front of you!

[…and I attached at this point the same list of Hispanic worship leaders found in the first Blog in this series,

[   https://adorethelord.blog/2019/01/22/adoracion-en-espanol-worship-in-spanish-1/   ]

written by crisbaj

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