Sometimes it takes a new voice, a fresh perspective, or even a word breathed from a land far away and a culture not our own to remind us just how grand our Savior is.
Hyderabad, India is 8,000 miles from New York City and similarly distant in the consciousness of many around the world, but this City of Pearls and its population of seven million are in the midst of an awakening of global impact. In a city of confused religions, social and economic bifurcation, and almost two million living in slums, the light of Christ is shining through the vibrant music of a band called Pearl City Worship and their debut release, We Won’t Be Silent.
You won’t hear a strong accent in Pearl City’s music. You certainly won’t hear a stereotypical sitar, or Bollywood-style theatrics. But make no mistake, this music is the voice of a particular people, and these are anthems of prayer and declaration made even more meaningful by their context. When Allen Ganta sings, “When this world is falling apart, to You it’s falling in place” (from the powerful “Still”), he gives voice to a city and a nation thirsty for rescue. When he declares, “We’ll see this city dancing for joy, we’ll see this city lifting You high, we’ll see this city running into Your arms,” his vision might seem improbable to many but his confidence is contagious.
Authenticity of voice is vitally important to Ganta, and just might be the spark that so many notice about PCW. “When I was growing up,” Ganta recalls, “Christian churches in India were always looking to the West. Every church wanted to do music like them. Every church was always trying to be somebody else.” One day, a mentor of Ganta’s spoke a great truth: “The revival of your land is in the song of your land.” Ganta knew then that if he wanted to see India saved for God, he needed to sing the song of India. “Our music needs to be authentic. It’s the prayers of this nation that will save this nation.”
Local impact has been extraordinary. PCW songs have topped iTunes charts in a country where a “Christian” genre doesn’t even exist. That means they’re right there atop the “Religious” chart next to a Hindu record and a Muslim record. Every week, the music becomes a magnet. Crowds of children wander in, curious. Hindu women who are out sweeping floors hear the music, stop, and come and clap their hands and sing, even though they don’t understand English. A polytheistic ricksha driver has a dozen statues of little gods, but suddenly recognizes that Jesus is different.
It is that Jesus who undergirds Pearl City Worship. Every one of the songs on We Won’t Be Silent is either a prayer to God or a declaration for Him. One such declaration, “The One Who Saves Us,” has so shaped Pearl City Church that its lyrics are literally written on the walls. The boldness is refreshing, especially considering that the opening pronouncement, “We stand in the truth / We dance in the light,” is being sung from a very dark place. Similarly, “My Strong Hope” speaks confidently of the anchor that holds in the midst of turmoil. It’s a beacon to a church that’s faced profound persecution.
“The Answer” opens the album with dynamic energy, and it’s not surprising to learn that it’s been so warmly embraced. “It so belongs to India,” notes Ganta. “They have a hundred million gods here. They don’t mind adding Jesus into this pantheon of gods, but where is the real truth? The song came from that – after looking for answers everywhere, and praying to all these gods, it’s only after you find Jesus that you’ll have the answer for everything.”
One of the most moving songs of prayer on We Won’t Be Silent is “Where You Are.” Ganta recalls its early impact. “It’s a simple prayer, but the first time we ever sang that song in the church, I saw people literally weeping. They knew the presence of God came so strongly. Everybody meant every word. Everybody had the same thing on their heart. We want to see God’s presence in this place. I think God strategically put us here in Hyderabad so we can pull down Heaven into this place.” The song was so moving that when it was played during a 24-hour worship service, it lasted for hours. “People just didn’t want to get out of that prayer.”
It was a remarkable encounter that enabled this local passion to find a global audience. PCW had an interest in recording music, but failed to find the necessary infrastructure in an India inclined toward Bollywood music. “Then, one day,” Ganta recalls, “Ian walks into our church.” That would be acclaimed musician, songwriter, and producer Ian Eskelin (Francesca Battistelli, Sidewalk Prophets, Chris August, Hawk Nelson). “We asked, ‘What do you do?’ and he said, ‘I’m a producer from Nashville. I make music.’ It was a Godsend.”
Eskelin knew right away that he wanted to be a part of the music pouring from the Pearl City. “What I saw that day was a vibrant, exciting church where the chaos of the world was outside – poverty, people living in straw huts, cows walking down the street – and you walk through these doors and you see a thousand people praising God with guitars and vocals and smiles on their faces.”
Those smiles, that music, and that message have already begun to impact believers worldwide. From the US to Australia, PCW songs are being played in churches and covered by established worship leaders. It’s as if Ganta’s goal – to invite the presence of God into a particular city in desperate need – has been magnified, as if the bright Light of the World shines into darkness wherever it’s found.
Indeed, as more and more hear the songs rising from a faraway Pearl, the manifest presence of God is felt. Boundary lines blur. External circumstances fade. And the God who spans it all is praised.