Indian worship leader and songwriter Sheldon Bangera is back with new Integrity Music album 'Raaja Hai Mahaan.' 'Raaja Hai Mahaan' documents both Sheldon's personal spiritual life and also that of the Indian church in 2015.
Sheldon says, "This album is a reflection of many seasons with God, some of them we've been singing for the last 5 - 7 years. They mark personal experiences and reflections of what God is doing with the church. They are songs of hope and I feel like the whole aesthetic of it will be a blessing to many, even people who don't understand or speak Hindi."
Sonically an "east meets west" vista, blending traditional Indian sounds with a western worship flavor, 'Raaja Hai Mahaan' is a celebration of cultural diversity at its finest. Inspired by a good friend in England, Sheldon decided to write what he describes as a 'new part of God's bigger picture of the east meeting the west in worship.'
Hallels: Thank you for doing this interview with us. Since the majority of our readers are from North America, tell us a little about Christian worship music in India. What are some of the blessings and challenges facing Christian music in India?
Christian worship music in India has a lot of variety. Depending on which part of India you are in, the styles are very different. That's because India is a nation with many different states, each has its own style, language and tradition. The use of instruments is different too... the easiest way to describe it is to broadly classify it into rural and urban. Rural music has a lot more folk elements while urban music is more western influenced with guitars, pianos, drum, percussion, etc. There is a great blessing in enjoying so much variety but the challenge for us as musicians and composers is while catering to a nation with such complex tastes, we have to try our best to see that no one feels left out. Or sometimes we just have to mix and match to create a new, revolutionizing sound and then wait and hope for people to enjoy and like it.
Hallels: How did you come to know Christ? Can you tell us more about your ministry?
I played for a college rock band, had no faith in God and was on my own trip. My life was headed downhill when I started to ask some important life questions. If life had a purpose, what could that purpose be? Is there a God? Needless to mention I was seeped into vices of many kinds. I was invited and reluctantly turned up as a guitarist on a worship ministry team. That evening, I had an experience with the Almighty God and had a glimpse of the power behind the Name of Jesus. That changed everything. I prayed a simple prayer handing over my life and talents to Christ. The next thing I knew was I reading the bible intensely and a couple of months later, started sharing my experiences with friends. My life had completely changed. I couldn't believe that the spiritual world could be more real and satisfying than the "real world". Years later, here I am with a bunch of worship songs flowing out of a relationship with a God who loved me when I was hopeless and at my worst. I am happy that I get to travel places spreading hope to others who like myself struggle with despair, depression and a lack of purpose. I often see God using my story and songs to touch and impact many.
Hallels: I believe you are the first Indian worship leader to sign with Integrity Music, how did that happen?
John Pac is a very well known pioneer in the Christian worship community. Although now, gone to be with the Lord, during the last few years of his life, he mentioned that God laid on his heart to seek what the other nations were saying worship wise. "Why should everything be in English?" He mentioned having to wrestle with this question. This led him to travel around searching for God's work in songwriters across different nations. I think our hearts resonated when we met in Mumbai. Prior to that, he had heard some of my music via a friend and an online link. John believed in what I was doing, extended tremendous encouragement and support and asked if I'd like to sign up with what was then Kingsway Music. That association has since then, led to two of my latest albums being produced through Integrity Music and we are seeing some of John Pac's dream become a reality and all that he used to speak of.
Hallels: On your new Integrity Music album "Raaja Hai Mahaam" you have deliberately mixed both Indian and Western influences together. Tell us more about the worship style of this album.
Yes. We have tried to get the best of both worlds. Western music has greatly impacted us for ages but so also has the Indian style of music which is a rich melodic raaga based system. In fact, we believe that all music is a gift from God... some was lost and needs to be redeemed. Certain elements used in Indian worship miss getting highlighted enough and there are frequencies and sets of notes in Indian worship that can transport the soul into unimaginable realms and moods. There are certain raags that can make you cry or smile, just an intense power of melody. It is a trip of a lifetime in itself. We've tried to mix them up to help the western world get introduced to and enjoy some of these realms and see what it can do to our worship life. (**A raga uses a series of four or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed.**)
Hallels: And you have both Indian as well as English songs on the album. Tell us about the English songs on the record.
It is interesting that I tend to think in English and so I end up writing quite a few songs in English too. A couple of these songs were born during our bible studies at church. There are three English tracks on this record. One is an adoration (entitled "Pause"), another ("Forevermore") I see as a corporate worship anthem and the "Upside Down Kingdom" is a strong kingdom discipleship song. It is interesting to see how they have turned out, especially because we have tried to integrate some Indian flavour into the music to retain the "Indianness." My prayer is for these English numbers to become sort of an east-west bridge especially for the western audiences who might not completely understand the Indian ones... and hope they become a common ground for us all to worship together somehow.
Hallels: Do you plan on recording a full-length English album sometime?
Sure. I'd love to see how the current English ones are being received. If people enjoy them, if it helps them connect with God and further bridges our cultures, I'd love to explore a full length English album sometime.
Hallels: For our readers who would like to hear your music or purchase your new record, where can they go?