Last time I went back to my small midwestern hometown one of my friends from High School asked, “do you still listen to weird music?” I assured him I did. Even though I don’t really think of it as strange, I knew what he was getting at. I grew up listening to an eclectic array of music since both my parents had cassette and record collections. My first Cassette was Beach Boys “Endless Summer” and my first CD was actually the Coolio album “It Takes a Thief” …which my parents promptly confiscated because of the inappropriate language. I went through a phase of listening to Contemporary Christian Music like you do. And then just whatever was on the radio. Often my friends and I would go to the Books/Music/Video store in my hometown and browse, which is where I found their “world-music” section! In a small city that’s a big deal.
I gravitated to music without words or with lyrics in non-English languages. Something about New Age music like “Deep Forest”, Renaissance music like “Brumel”, and World Music like “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares” resonated with my whole being. My friends thought my music was odd, but I didn’t care. One day a friend came over and shouted, “You HAVE to listen to this song.” She played me a song called “Alane” by Wes Madiko, an artist from Cameroon. I had never heard anything like it before. It starts out with soft rhythmic chanting that turns into a lively dance track with a soaring chorus that elevated my spirit every time. I had no idea what the song was about, but I immediately downloaded it on Napster. The next day I went to the world-music section at the store and miraculously found the full album called “Walenga.” Why was it here in my town? Was this meant to be? A sign from God? Yes, obviously. Each track was a whole glorious journey in itself, or so I imagined. (btw, I saw the music video for “Alane” years later on YouTube and it’s pretty fantastic.) I played it on repeat for weeks.
Apparently “Alane” had been somewhat of a hit in Europe, which is why it was available in the middle of Kansas. And why, if you were sitting on Main street in 1999, you might’ve heard it blasting from a pickup truck going by. Don’t get me wrong, I also loved Savage Garden and Shania Twain like everyone else, but I had this special connection to songs that most of the people in my life didn’t know. A special playlist of rhythms and sounds that seemed to speak just to me.
The internet eventually gave me the power to look up the translation to “Alane.” The chorus means “Come on and dance in a love song, All together, forever.” When so many songs were about straight people’s “hearts going on,” this had been a love song for me and my queer self. Wes’ “Alane” was my glimpse that the world out there was so much bigger and more fabulous than I could ever imagine.
Caleb Crainer (he/him) serves as Pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, California, as the Dean of the LA Metro Conference in the Southwest California Synod, and as the First-Call Accompaniment Coaching Convener in Proclaim. His favorite parts of ministry are having his congregation sing in different languages and the grace they show each other when things are mispronounced.