Singing Christian worship songs in the Hindi language for an American evangelical audience can't be an easy sell. Not only is there a formidable language barrier, but cultural and theological challenges abound—like working within the Indian classical-music tradition while conveying deep Christian truths. But that's the approach used by Aradhna, a group of American and English musicians who have spent significant portions of their lives in central Asia. (Lead singer Chris Hale, for example, was raised in Nepal, where his parents were missionaries, and later served as a missionary to India with OM International.)
Amrit Vani (4 stars), Aradhna's fourth album, offers a wonderful if challenging alternative to contemporary worship's standard fare of three-chord jingles. The otherness of this album is actually its strength. Aradhna (Hindi for "adoration" or "worship") focuses on quiet, meditative devotional songs derived from the spiritual movement in India known as Yeshu Bhakti ("devotion to Jesus").
There are sitars and tablas— à la Ravi Shankar—and they sound as exotic as you would expect. There are acoustic guitar arpeggios that wouldn't sound out of place on a Windham Hill album. And in the merger of East and West, Aradhna forges something utterly fresh and beautiful. They keep it mostly calm and contemplative, but on "Narahari" (the Man-God), the final track, they showcase a soaring, post-rock crescendo:
You, who have offered yourself up, suffering agony, humiliation, and disgrace / The sacrifice of your life, destroying the poison within me / And you, who are the Desired One, my Beloved / The delight of my heart, you soothe my vision / And you, Victorious Crusher of cruel death.
Then Hale sails off ...1