Many second-generation (and beyond) Asian American ministries tend to use worship songs from white megachurches like Hillsong and Bethel. It is hard to find distinct Asian American voices in worship music. However, there are a few songwriters that I know of who have written songs from and for Asian North American English-speaking contexts. While much remains to be explored and written, below are 4 different approaches to Asian American worship songwriting along with song examples:
1. Drawing From Asian Cultural Themes
Julie Tai is a Korean American songwriter whose song “Revere” contains lyrics about the reverence and fear of God. These themes are strongly present in Tai’s Korean American Christian community. Click here for lyrics/chord chart. Email email@example.com for song usage permissions.
2. Addressing the Lived Experiences of Asian Americans
“Well Pleased” is an original song of mine about God’s freely given grace and love. Asian Americans who have a Confucian cultural background or are children of immigrants may feel pressure from their families and communities to be perfect and successful. However, this song assures us of God’s unconditional love for us, which does not depend on our performance and behaviors. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for song usage permissions and music charts.
3. Telling the Stories of Asian North American History
“Our God Goes With Us” was written by David Kai for the Centennial of the Japanese United Church in Canada. The hymn tells the story of the people of the church – Japanese Canadians who were unjustly incarcerated during WWII. Lyrics & music scores available here.
My own song “God Who Sees Us” also addresses anti-Asian racism and was written during the pandemic. The original recording (above) also incorporates the Chinese erhu instrument. Email email@example.com for song usage permissions and sheet music/chords.
4. Using Asian Musical Themes
Rev. Ricky Manalo, CSP, Ph.D., who is Filipino-Chinese American, wrote the communion song “Many and Great” using pentatonic melodies, which are found in traditional East Asian music. Manolo’s music is used and known in Catholic circles. Click here for music scores and mp3’s of the song.
As always, thanks for reading and feel free to share additional songs or resources in the comments below!