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“We’ve always heard local and global. But I think this term [glocal] was just an opportunity to really imagine how we look at the world, especially as a people of faith, recognizing that in order to reach people, you no longer have to travel out of your country.” –Aisea Taimani

In the newest Be the Bridge Podcast episode, Tongan American creative artist Aisea Taimani joins Latasha Morrison for a rich conversation about the beauty of different worship styles and the value of experiencing them. Glocal worship reminds us of the intentionally diverse creation of God and the amazing beauty found in the church, and it is an invitation to celebrate, to lament, to hope and to empathize as we work to bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.

Mentioned in the Episode:
Epic Will (Use promo code BTB20 for 20% off)
Charity: Water

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Aisea Taimani + Minor Island’s song Take A Stand

Sandra Van Opstal’s book The Next Worship

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Host & Executive Producer: Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer: Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor & Music By: Travon Potts
Transcriber: Sarah Connatser

Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.

The full episode transcript is below.

Narrator  0:01  

You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.

Latasha Morrison  0:06  

[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting!

Narrator  0:09  

Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.

Latasha Morrison  0:17  

[intro] …but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love.

Narrator  0:19  

We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.

Latasha Morrison  0:55  

You guys, I am so happy to introduce a new friend to the Be the Bridge podcast. I met him just a few months ago. And when I met him, I knew that I wanted to introduce him to the Be the Bridge community. I love the work that he’s doing. And friend, would you introduce yourself to the Be the Bridge community?

Aisea Taimani  1:22  

Malo e lelei. My name is Aisea Taimani. But friends and family call me Sea. So feel free to call me Sea.

Latasha Morrison  1:31  

Sea, I’m so glad to have you on the podcast. And you are a brilliant American creative. You’re based in the Bay Area. I tell you the Bay Area is producing some like phenomenal leaders out there. He works and serves alongside of his wife Elmira. And you know, I just love the work that you’re doing. I had the opportunity to hear you perform and sing, and I was just astonished. I love people who are talking about just global worship and then allow us to think bigger about just worship music as a whole and to get us out of our worship boxes. And I love what you’re doing, Sea. And you know, you are a Tongan creative, and you are from the country of go ahead and tell us. What country are you from?

Aisea Taimani  2:33  

Tonga. The Kingdom of Tonga.

Latasha Morrison  2:35  

Yeah. Okay. Now tell us a little bit about the country that you’re from. And I know that there were, I think I want to hear, there were some things that happened.

Audio Clip  2:46  

International aid efforts are being ramped up to Tonga. We’re three days on from that massive undersea volcanic eruption. And the tsunami that followed has cut off nearly all communications to the country. Tonga is in the South Pacific.

Latasha Morrison  2:59  

I’ve never had a chance to visit. This in the Pacific Islands, right?

Aisea Taimani  3:05  

Yes.

Latasha Morrison  3:06  

And, you know, but I met you. So tell us a little bit about your country and the culture there and how it has shaped you into the person that you are today?

Aisea Taimani  3:22  

Yeah, thank you so much. Yeah, the Kingdom of Tonga, we are humble island in the South Pacific near Fiji and Samoa and New Zealand. And so yeah, it’s a really beautiful island with deep, just as far as tradition and as far as the community there, yeah, really strong family ties. And there’s just a lot of that that continues to be practiced and incorporated in everything that we do here in the States. But yeah, my parents came in the 70s. So just growing up here in the States. Yeah, that’s…Sorry, I’m a little nervous right now.

Latasha Morrison  4:11  

No, you’re good. Yeah! And Sea, you served internationally as a minister of music for about 20 years with the focus on glocal worship. You know, you use that as a tool to invite, to equip, and to celebrate diversity in the body of Christ. And then I think just this year on January the 17th, you guys released your third full length album, and it was recorded in San Jose, California. I love the fact that you mentor and that you collaborate with local artists. And you know, you have built authentic, a real authentic spiritual creative community. And, you know, when you talk about glocal worship, can you explain to us like, what is glocal worship? Like, you know, what is it? How do we listen to it? And why is it really, truly, I believe the way of the future?

Aisea Taimani  5:19  

Yeah, thank you so much. I think, you know, this was a term that I didn’t grow up with. I mean, we’ve always heard, you know, local and global. But I think this term was just an opportunity to really imagine how we look at the world, especially as a people of faith. Recognizing that, you know, in order to reach people, you no longer have to travel out of your country. I mean, these are people that live right next next door to us. And so I think, for me, I grew up, you know, in my daddy’s church, First Tongan Assembly of God, where so many of the songs that we sang were songs from Tonga. And then, you know, we took a lot of the music that was around us here in the Bay Area, you know, Andrae Crouch, Shirley Caesar, a lot of gospel music. And my dad, as the minister of music, would take these songs and translate them, and write Tongan versions of it. So just growing up, I always had a deep appreciation for just the music that was around us and the way that we were able to make it our own. And so, growing up, you know, I will say that so much of the work that I do stemmed from a longing, never really quite feeling American enough and never feeling Tongan enough, even from my own Tongan community and finding myself in this middle space. And so a lot of my work, a lot of the work that I do is trying to create spaces where those who find ourselves in the middle can really celebrate just that place. And knowing that part of being a bridge is being okay in that middle space. And so I’ll say that with glocal worship, this was a new thing that was introduced to me by a community that was initiated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA, that really created a space for creatives and artists from all different denominations to be invited to learn and to share songs from our our own cultures. With it, you know, came some obvious challenges, but the things that we experienced is just recognizing, or like just one of just the beauty, the gift of being able to truly get a glimpse of what the kingdom sounds like with its beautiful diversity, it’s intentional diversity. And at the same time, also being able to come back home and see how scarce this is, and then begin asking the question why? Why is worship so, why does it seem to be so limited as far as the different styles of worship? Why are there certain styles that are elevated over others? And you know, so much more than arriving to answers, I think being in these spaces just gave me the questions to start asking, you know, why are we doing what we’re doing if we are trying to be reaching out to all people and really trying to be multi ethnic and multicultural?

Latasha Morrison  9:10  

That’s so good.

Aisea Taimani  9:10  

So, yeah, I think along this journey as I was asking more questions and creating more spaces, you know, just for people in our congregations, you know, I think we started to really address the reality that many of us have assimilated. Many of us have assimilated, and many of us have not just assimilated culturally but also we’ve been deeply shaped by a theology that seems foreign to many of us. Because just the reality that many of us came from different cultures. But yeah, it’s been fascinating, even if you go to Tonga now, a lot of the worship is is shaped by, you know, Hillsong and again, you know, these are…I’m trying to be careful how I do this. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  10:07  

Yeah, I get it, I get it. It’s shaped by, you know, Hillsong and Bethel and different things where it’s like we lose our own cultural connection and we assimilate into the sound. And I think, you know, I like what you were saying like, you kind of take it, your dad would take the music and the different inspirations of music and make it in a Tongan like style. You know?

Aisea Taimani  10:40  

Absolutely.

Latasha Morrison  10:40  

And I remember when I went to Africa, and, you know, when we were out in the rural area of Africa, we were here, like, I mean, no instruments, but they would like use, they had this like a piece of drum. And they would do worship and creative worship like with that drum. And it was just so like, it was so liberating. You know? And then I remember going to a couple churches in Africa and really seeing, like, just kind of like an imitation. I think there’s nothing wrong with us singing each other songs and all those different things. But when it even comes to the enunciation and how you present like. You know? They were, I think they were singing Good, Good Father, but they were singing it just like the guy who sings it. And I was just like, “Wait a minute. I’m in Africa! Am I in Africa?” Like, you know, and I think there’s something to that. And I was introduced to this word glocal. I think the first time I ever heard it is when I met Sandra Van Opstal. And, you know, she talks about this. And so I think that’s really important, you know, what you’re doing and the purpose of what you’re doing. And why do you feel like there’s this assimilation? Why do we want to sound just like Hillsong? Or why do we want to sound like Bethel or, you know, we have Maverick City, which, you know, why do we want to sound just like that? How do we take, you know, the elements of our culture, you know, because you think about all the derivatives of music that has been birthed out of just culture and place and language. I think about, you know, gospel music, I’m thinking about, you know, if there was no blues there would be no country or you know what I’m saying? Like, a lot of things build, like, you know, you think about the banjo that’s in country music where that comes from. How do we keep from losing ourselves, especially in the Christian space? And really seeing Christianity and music broader than Western culture? Well, not so much as Western culture, but I would say, rather broader than what you would say, white. (laughter) Let’s put it as easy as that. Like, how do we make it, how do we make it broader than white? Because, you know, you can go to a lot of like, churches that are ethnically diverse. But when you hear the worship, it sounds one way or they’re singing CCM. I just attended a conference and the people on stage, they were very diverse, but every song that they wrote, every song that they were singing was all CCM music. So how do we shift that? And how did we end up here?

Aisea Taimani  13:56  

Yeah, wow. Thank you. I love this conversation. And I want to begin by a conversation that I had with a really good friend of mine. He’s a phenomenal artist, someone that definitely you should check out. I think I told Lauren about him. His name is Micah Bournes. But him and I just talked about this specific conversation. And you know, it’s so funny, when you have this conversation regularly, you start to, you know, come up with pretty fun metaphors. But the way we were able to talk it about is the fact that, you know, we both grew up eating white bread, have a love for white bread. But, there’s something to grieve when that is the only thing that’s available. And so I just think about just the point that I got to was realizing like why is this the only standard? Why is this the only standard of worship, of style? And I think it’s directly connected. If you just look at the way that Black music has become more socially acceptable. You know, as long as it’s been around and influenced the music that we currently have before us and celebrate. And even just looking, I mean, even looking at the Super Bowl, right, like, we’re talking about this was music that was once banned. You know, now it’s something that is celebrated, you know, on this last Super Bowl, when you look at the just the place that hip hop has gotten. I would say that even just musically with different genres, there’s always been certain genres that have been considered more sacred than others. And so I think that we’re starting to see a lot more integrations with not just genre, but just music. You know, you look at reggae and the way that even just reggae has become more mainstream and even incorporated in just a lot of different other styles of pop music. You know, this was, this is what my dad did. You know, like, ultimately, yes, we grew up on gospel music, but, you know, we found a way to make these genres our own. And what that looked like is, you know, songs had a more tropical vibe to it, had a more reggae, had a touch of reggae in it. Not because reggae came from Tonga, but this was the kind of music that was really resonating with our people.

Latasha Morrison  16:47  

Okay.

Aisea Taimani  16:47  

And so I think, ultimately, you know, so much of what I feel is happening, is I think people are starting to ask questions that they’ve never asked before. You know, why are there certain styles of worship? You know, or I guess, why are certain styles of worship the standard? And, you know, it’s all connected. To me, it feels like, if you look at the music that’s being pushed and played on radio, a lot of it’s the same. I mean, as a worship leader, I’m regularly trying to look up songs about a specific theme for a Sunday. And, you know, 90% of the artists, 95% of the artists are all white. And so I think, ultimately, there is a scarcity when it comes to what is actually available. And so I think, these glocal songs, you know, is being able to say, “Hey, this is actually, this is us.” If you look at your congregations, we are a lot more diverse than we would like to admit. And I think these glocal songs so much more than providing an answer, they give us the space to ask the questions, “Why does liturgy look, sound, and feel the same way when there’s so many different experiences and people just sitting in our congregations? And if there isn’t, then why is that?”

Latasha Morrison  16:47  

Right, right.

Aisea Taimani  16:48  

And so, yeah, I mean, for me over the last 10 years learning the songs from different cultures and different languages has really actually deepened my theology, and given me tools to move towards curiosity rather than judgments whenever I experience something that’s different, especially in church.

Latasha Morrison  18:51  

Right. And I think it’s because our spirit like kind of resonates. I remember, like, going to Venezuela or when you’re in like a worship service where they’re speaking Spanish and they begin to pray in Spanish. I may not understand every word that’s being said, but my spirit like recognizes it. Like you could sense the Spirit of God. And I think the thing that, you know, especially in the States, in America, we really feel like Jesus speaks English. And like when we read Bible stories of them praying or them singing, that we’re thinking like, “Oh, they were singing in English.” You know, because when you’re a part of the dominant culture, like you kind of see through that lens. And I think this is just a reality of, you know, more inclusion. And so when you talk about like, I think when you introduced yourself, you said your name and Tongan. You know? You introduced yourself in Tongan. And so what would you say like when you hear a song what is a song in Tongan like that we may recognize but I want you to give it to us in your own language. I know I’m putting you on the spot.

Aisea Taimani  20:24  

Yeah.

Latasha Morrison  20:25  

Come on. Come on. Like what is something like a song that represents your culture that you would sing?

Aisea Taimani  20:31  

You know ultimately, let me just share one song. So like okay Andre Andrae Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon.” (singing) “Soon and very soon we are going to see the King.” Like so my dad and a few other Tongan worship leaders, you know would take that and, (singing) “E vavé ni pē haʻatau mamata ki he Tuʻí.” So we would take, you know, a lot of these gospel songs and just make them our own. But, you know, one of the things that I think makes that, one of the things that I love about our people is our ability to harmonize. And that’s something that I feel like we have to offer. If you go to Tonga on a Sunday morning, first of all, there’s a church on every corner.

Latasha Morrison  21:22  

Okay.

Aisea Taimani  21:23  

And I think they’re using, some churches have the ability to have PowerPoint, but you know, they still go off memory. You know? Every Sunday, you walk into a church and you’ll hear three part, four part harmonies. And you know, nobody’s holding music charts. But it’s something that is is just deeply ingrained in our culture. You know, singing is not something that’s reserved for professionals or for the creatives. This singing and music is a way that we connect with Almighty God and we connect with each other. You know, and so that’s one of the things that I love about where I come from is how singing is just something. This is just what we do. That’s what we did growing up. Every morning, we wake up, we would sing, my dad would provide a morning devotional. But again, you know, that’s why gospel music really resonated with our Tongan community, just because of the ways that harmony, yeah, harmony is utilized in music.

Latasha Morrison  22:28  

Yeah. I was listening to one of your songs. And you know, you started the song that you were saying, the Andrae Crouch “Soon and Very Soon.” You have a song that’s similar to that. That was the first thing I thought of when I heard one of your songs. I don’t know if it’s on the album you just released with Minor Islands. But can you, do you remember the song? I can’t emember the name of it. But it’s similar.

Aisea Taimani  23:00  

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s, can I share the story?

Latasha Morrison  23:04  

Yes, definitely.

Aisea Taimani  23:05  

So. So that song is called Soon and Very Soon.

Audio Clip  23:09  

[clip from the song “Soon and Very Soon by Aisea Taimani + Minor Islands featuring Kate Lamont and Kiarra Taimani) Soon and very soon she’s coming. Soon and very soon. Soon and very soon she’s coming. Soon and very soon. Soon and very soon she’s coming. Soon and very soon. I will sing but won’t pretend like she is here right now.

Aisea Taimani  23:40  

Soon and very soon, and I wrote that song years ago after a trip in Uganda. And so growing up, again, so much of my story is growing up in a Bay Area and my father moving us to suburban New York. That’s not so suburban anymore. But you know, that was the beginning of my assimilation. That was the beginning of my just wanting to fit in. And a huge part of my story is being ashamed of our tradition, our practices, and even our people. And so it wasn’t until years later that I actually went to Uganda. Even just the name right, even my name. The truth is the reason why I keep you know, gently correcting you because just growing up I actually just told friends as a part of just wanting to fit into pronounce my name Isaiah just like we pronounce it. And it was wild because it wasn’t until I was 22 years old, and I went to to Uganda to go do some some service work with a few friends. And when I got off the plane, this brother, not even knowing who I was just shouted my name. I don’t know how he was able to do that. But he literally said, “Aisea.” And when he said that my immediate response was, “ko au ʻeni.” And so that’s just, that’s a Tongan response of, “Here I am.” And in that moment, it’s wild that I felt closer to home in Uganda than I did in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, where I was currently living and working. And so I came back after that trip, this really transformative trip, and started asking my friends, “Hey, I know you’ve been saying Isaiah, but actually, can you pronounce my name right, Aisea?” And you know, a lot of friends didn’t didn’t have a problem with it and were willing to make that change for me. But yeah, I was surprised that there was some friends that would ask me, “What’s the difference? You know, what’s the big deal?” And I was able to respond back, that when you pronounce my name correctly, you actually celebrate my grandfather, and you honor my ancestors. So something as simple as a name, can really, actually make you feel seen and recognized. But I wrote that song shortly after, because of just the neighbors that I came to love in Uganda. And justice and peace and freedom were no longer things that I felt like I could truly celebrate unless those neighbors in Uganda were able to all share those freedoms. Before I left Uganda, I went to a fourth of July celebration that a lot of the missionaries from the states were celebrating in Uganda and in Kampala. And it was such an awkward experience. Because, you know, it was at the US Embassy, the hotel near the US Embassy. And, you know, to have God bless America, you know, blaring on the speakers in Uganda for its freedoms that I just felt like, man, after spending, you know, some time there, there were just certain things I could no longer fully celebrate unless my neighbors had access of those of those freedoms as well. And so that’s where that song comes from. And, you know, a lot of folks asked me, “Why do you refer to freedom, justice, and peace as she?” You know, and it was for me, it was just like, you know, when I think of freedom, when I think of peace, you know, I think of my grandmother. You know? And I’m just like, you know, so many times when we refer to things that are sacred and holy, it’s often masculine. And so for me, it was just an opportunity to write something. And it’s kind of wild, because this song “Soon and Very Soon” has actually made a little traction specifically in the Lutheran denomination, in the ELCA, because people have just really resonated with this collective approach, you know, to justice, to freedom, to peace, to love. Until it’s here for all of us, then then it’s not quite here yet. And so that’s where that song comes from.

Tandria Potts  28:37  

Wow, incredible insights. Don’t go anywhere. We’re gonna pause for a quick moment, and we’ll be right back.

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Tandria Potts  28:56  

Thanks for staying with us. Let’s get back to our conversation.

Latasha Morrison  29:37  

I love it. I love it. You know, when I was, when I heard it, I was just like, wow, this is like, it’s like it’s fresh. It caused me to think deeper. And so just to hear that backdrop of the why is so important. You know, when you talk about multicultural music and it’s importance in the church and also through the message of Jesus, you know, why would you say, you know, if you’re in a multicultural church, why should multicultural churches, especially multicultural churches, why should they do multicultural music? Why is that important?

Aisea Taimani  31:13  

Well, I’m mean, it’s beautiful. It’s also heartbreaking. I, regularly, whenever I do a song, in Spanish, or whenever I do a song. Yesterday, I was at a church in San Francisco, where I taught and led a song in sign language. You know, you have individuals that are oftentimes the minority in a congregation who will come up to me after and will let me know how much that meant to them. That’s something that they were surprised by, that doesn’t happen regularly. But there’s often someone who comes up and says, “This morning made me feel like home from just that one song.” And so I think it’s, you know, I think it’s a tool. Again, you know, like, I don’t think that it provides the answer, but I think it’s a tool to really ask the question, why is liturgy the way that it is? You know, why is history? Why are we are today, where we are, I believe it’s because we haven’t been given the whole story. And, I believe when your story, when your story meets my story, we find God’s story. And so I think, you know, these songs have a real important role in helping us to truly understand and know each other. You know, if we look at just the story of the Good Samaritan. Right? Like, it’s such a baffling thing that the people don’t see that when Jesus refers to the Good Samaritan, in telling that story, it’s really calling us to seek out the other – whoever that that might be. You know, not just ethnically, culturally, personality wise, like, politically, like, who is the other and that is the person that I’m calling you to love. So just from that place, you know, that continues to be what challenges me. Why? Why? Why should we seek out relationships and friendships with people that are different than us? You know, that story is a direct call, it’s a command, that these are the people that we ought to ask ourselves, why are they not here in our congregations? And I just think, you know, as again, you know, I find myself oftentimes a little intimidated being in these spaces feeling like, academically, you know, I can feel insecure sometimes. But again, my experience with music and these songs, you know, I love Bob Marley’s quote, you know, “Those who feel it, know it.” Those who feel it, know it. And I can’t explain to you how a three part, four part harmony from Tonga feels like. But I promise you that when you hear my people sing with all of their heart, they have something to teach the rest of the world about who God is. And when you stand in a church, a deaf church, and you watch these people engaging God with their bodies, and the subwoofers is thumping because they can actually still feel music. They have something to teach us about how to connect with God using our bodies.

Latasha Morrison  36:00  

Wow.

Aisea Taimani  34:39  

But you know, if you just look at the ways that we’ve elevated, you know, worship to being something that’s very cerebral and intellectual, you know, we really miss out. There’s people, our neighbors, there’s people, not just globally but these global folks are our neighbors and they have something to teach us about who God is and maybe even teach us about who we are as a people. And these songs again, so much more than singing in different languages, you know, the spirit, the feeling that you get when you experience something that both inspires and challenges you, I think is something that the church has been missing out on. And I really love, you know, Soong-Chan Rah, he came and spoke at our church a few years ago and just really speaking to, you know, just lament and the place that has and how that’s been missing in the church. And just looking at how so many cultures have a thing or two to teach us about what it means to lament as well, where oftentimes worship on Sunday mornings here in the States can be just just focus on celebration, praise, and gratitude. But I think part of worship is being able to cry out and ask God for help, and I find a lot of those songs coming from the Global South.

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Latasha Morrison  37:20  

I just recently heard a young lady at a conference that did a whole album of lament. And you know and I was like, that’s something we need to tap into. But it’s an entire album of lament. And like you said, sometimes we don’t like to stay there, but how that has it’s place. Just like praise and celebration has it’s place. And I feel like, you know, even with gospel music and the history of the good news, the gospel music, praise and worship like, I have a deeper appreciation for even gospel now understanding how it has it’s place along with contemporary and, you know, and different genres of Christian music. And I think before I think we have to really expand our palates, you know, to enjoy other types of music and not just when we’re in another country, but even in our own country within our own church within our own worship service. I think some of the stretching of that is good. I think a lot of times people invite in like, you know, choirs from international choirs and different things like that. And so for that Sunday, you know, everybody’s okay with singing something that’s different. But if we’re not singing, you know, kind of like your worship language the next Sunday, you know, we feel some kind of way. And I heard this pastor tell me in leading a multi ethnic, multicultural church is that when you’re a part of a body like that, that you have to be okay, with only been comfortable maybe 60% of the time. You know? And are we all right with that? You know, we want things the way we want it. But in a multicultural church, when you are being expanded and being exposed to hear worship, different styles of worship, different styles of dance, being exposed to that, to me that makes us better humans and not one dimensional, you know, as it relates to that. What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen or maybe you’ve faced personally in your own experiences within churches and leading multicultural worship?

Yeah, oh man. I think one of the things that come to mind is how convenient we’ve, how convenient and how comfortable and how, for lack of better…let me rephrase this. I want to be very…

You can go ahead and say. We can always edit. So go ahead and say what you thinking. (laughter) 

Aisea Taimani  40:39  

Okay, all right. I think this right. Like, it’s very Western. I mean, and I’ve come to really have a deep love and appreciation for order. Right? So one of the things I feel that’s challenging is how convenient, how comfortable, and how predictable Sundays are. And I think, you know, like, when you’re managing something every week, that’s to be expected. But I think, for me, some of the pushback that I’ve gotten is that, you know, it’s too much change too fast. And, you know, that would be initially, you know, that’ll be me, singing…So if a formula for me on a Sunday morning is singing to CCM songs, a hymn, and then being able to introduce a glocal song, you know, a song in a different language, being able to story contextualize and connect that to the theme that morning. You know, that’s something that people can probably stomach, you know, for a few weeks. But in my experience, after a little while, you’ll have people who will either say, it’s too much change or they just don’t understand why we’re doing this. And even though, you know, I can contextualize and story and talk about the importance, I think it’s a deeper conversation to where staff and leadership have to be doing the work. You know? Whether it’s Be the Bridge. But I think there’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation, and oftentimes you find yourself appropriating when you’re not doing that work. So I think oftentimes people can even tokenize you know, glocal worship, wanting to do that without actually asking yourself, “Okay, who are the people that are in our congregation and how are we incorporating and inviting them, you know, giving them a seat at the table to be a part of what we’re trying to do?” I think sometimes we’re quick to, to fix or try to fix without actually involving the people. In our community. But yeah.

Latasha Morrison  43:10  

That’s so good. That’s so good. You know, like, the tokenism part, and how we can do that instead of, like, seeing the people. Like, it’s important to see the people and making sure they’re connecting. You know, I know, a lot of times people feel like, “Oh, if we have a multi cultural church, the challenges go away.” You know, it’s like, no, this is because you have so much diversity, and you’re trying to find that middle ground, you’re always in the tension. So it’s really easy to do homogenous churches, but, you know, because, you know, everyone likes the same thing. They look the same. But when you’re trying to really represent the kingdom of God in your local church, that’s difficult to tap into and to find that middle ground. You have some songs that I really want to talk about. Because let me tell you guys, and I know sometimes you hear people talk about music, and then you listen to it, and you’re like, “Oh, it doesn’t stand up to the hype.” I’m telling you. You have to download this music and listen to it and share it. Because it’s really good. I mean, I had the privilege of hearing you in person and how you engaged the audience. That was just great. I didn’t know what to expect. And, I think you got up there, you didn’t have your shoes on. And it reminded me of I had a worship leader in Austin, Texas. And her name was Ginny. And Ginny would, she sings with no shoes on. Like, that’s like, it’s just like her and the Lord. And I just love it. And so when you went up there, I was like, “He’s about to put it on us right now. He don’t have no shoes on right now.” (laughter) But I’m saying like being able to see that, hey, that is normal too. Having shoes or not having shoes on, that is a part of your cultural reference too. And you know, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. But I wanted to talk about some of the stories behind some of your songs and just some of the journey. And there’s just one song that you have that’s called “Be Still.”

Audio Clip  43:19  

Pain become ours. I will be still. I will be still.

Latasha Morrison  45:59  

And this thing has like over a million hits, I know, on it. But tell me a little bit about that song and the process and what it means to you. And maybe even some feedback that you’ve heard from other people who have been just blessed by the song.

Aisea Taimani  46:20  

Yeah, thank you so much. Really humbled, really humbled to just hear the way that the song has resonated with people. For me, and so many of my songs just come from my own, again, yearnings my own, yeah, my own experience. And so I think, you know, just like many of us, I found myself constantly triggered and reactive, especially over the last few years on social media, at church, with the kind of conversations that I was having with really close friends of mine, who are also, you know, people of faith. And I just realized that so much of my…I realized that some of the work that I needed to do in order to marathon, in order to continue this work is self care. I found myself just getting angry. I found myself, yeah, having to apologize, and just not being effective in bridge building. And so this song was just a simple journal entry, and just recognizing that sometimes the best move to make is not making a move at all. And just knowing that, you know, if I just take, if I just take a moment and do my breathing exercises, do my gratitude, I find myself more effective, and more grounded, to be able to reenter into tough conversations that I think the church is just learning to have. And so yeah, be still, you know, is being able to, you know, to remember what actually is in our control and then being able to let go of what’s out of our control. And so for me, this song is a, has been my, you know, a song that I’ve needed to practice and I still continue to. But yeah, it made it onto a Spotify playlist, I think Jesus and coffee. And so a lot of folks have reached out over the last, you know, few months, last couple years, since I released it, to let them know that this has been a tool that they’ve been able to utilize to be able to care for themselves so that we can care for each other.

Latasha Morrison  49:01  

Right. I love that. Care for yourself so that we can care for each other. I love that and I know the value of just in the moment, especially when things seem like chaos all around you just taking those deep breaths and just being still and recognizing that God is at work, that God is in control. And you’re not like, those pauses are life altering and I think you know, songs like this, you know, are a reminder for us to do that. And then you have another one called, “Golden Kingdom.”

Audio Clip  49:41  

[Audio clip of Aisea Taimani + Minor Island’s song Golden Kingdom] And that’s when I found my way back home. Last one from a way back home, from a place that I can call my own. These mistakes is killing me, willfully dropping my conscience for pleasure. Forgive me. I’m a wretch forever seeking for your healing. Hoping that your grace is far more than just the feeling but if seeing is believing, I’ve been living in the dark man. Wondering where you are so I can give you my heart, mind, and soul. Finish line I must stop but it feels like…

Latasha Morrison  50:15  

So what’s the story about that? Tell me a little about that one.

Aisea Taimani  50:20  

Yeah again, you know that song is my prodigal son narrative, both spiritually and culturally. You know, really detailing my journey of assimilation to slowly finding myself closer to home. You know, I was humbled to be able to capture this song specifically with my whole family. So I actually made a music video that can give you a visual of what this journey was like. But yeah, I think you know, just growing up I never felt Tongan enough for my Tongan community.

Latasha Morrison  51:10  

Yeah. Yeah.

Aisea Taimani  51:11  

And I never fully felt American enough as well. And so I just constantly found myself trying to be one or the other. And the song is about really, you know, accepting that deeper than my title as a Tongan or an American is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. And that exists inside of us all. And so that’s where that song comes from. But yeah, I am really grateful. That song was birthed out of long drives with again, my close friend, Micah Bournes, and just having conversations with him just about that journey. And so, really grateful to be able to share that song with the world.

Latasha Morrison  52:02  

Yeah. And you talk a lot about like this, you know, this kind of move into suburbia. And there was this tension of like, okay, I’m not accepted by, you know, I don’t feel accepted by the Tongan community. But I also don’t feel like I fit into this other box, either, you know, this American box. And I know that a lot of people who are listening right now, that’s going to resonate with them. What was the turning point for you in realizing that, like, you didn’t have to fit in these boxes separately, but you are all of that, you embody all of that? How did you come to that conclusion or if you came to that conclusion? How did you kind of wrestle with that? And where are you now in this journey?

Aisea Taimani  53:00  

Yeah, I think music. If you just look at, you know, genres, and the way that music has evolved, You know, for me, that’s what kind of gave me like, almost the freedom to not try to fit into these boxes, but being able to celebrate all the different parts of me and to say all of that is me. So even on my record, Closer to Home, something that was really intentional is being able to have all these different styles from jazz to funk to hip hop to reggae to soul to gospel, r&b, all of that. All of that is heard and felt on my on my record Closer to Home. But it was just this moment of just acceptance that actually I’m all of the people who have who have raised me. I am all the artists and the music and the art and the sermons and the Sunday mornings that raised me, I’m all of that. So why have I tried to fit in these two boxes when the truth is, you know, even my own family, you know, my youngest brother married a white girl, my middle brother married a Mexican girl. And last year, I married a Persian girl, a girl from Iran. And so, ultimately, this is America and this is Tonga. And we are glocal as a family. You know? So just I think, I think more than just like an aha was an acceptance of being able to say, “Wait. Why? Why have I tried to be American or Tongan? When the truth is my identity as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven is what forms is what forms me from the inside out.”

Latasha Morrison  55:08  

That’s so good. And you have another song that and I think this one this one may have been on the…I just saw this. It was like, I think this one may be on YouTube. Yeah, it was on YouTube.

Aisea Taimani  55:34  

Take a Stand.

Latasha Morrison  55:35  

Take a Stand!

Audio Clip  55:36  

[audio clip of Aisea Taimani + Minor Island’s song Take a Stand) I thought the fight was black and white. My golden turned to gray. My fathers weren’t the masters, my mothers weren’t the slaves. My island full of silence as my neighbors mourned and raged. Just waiting for the ending of a war I wouldn’t claim. I’ve been a coward, been a lousy friend. If not for amazing grace.

Latasha Morrison  55:57  

Yeah. What has been the, what was the journey for that song? And what is the backdrop of that? I mean, you I mean, the words, it seems like your journey of like watching some of the injustice from the outside and it’s like, okay finding my place and my voice in it. You know? Can you tell us a little bit about that one?

Aisea Taimani  56:26  

Yeah, thank you. That song Take a Stand is a confession. And not just, you know, a personal but just one that I just really struggled with over the last few years. You know, when a lot of the riots were happening, I was watching just the way that people were reacting on social media. And a lot of it were weren’t just strangers, but these are folks that I’ve worshiped with, these are folks that were family to me. And so, you know, I just really struggle with how to use my voice. And, you know, I was recognizing that a lot of folks were quick to post themselves at a protest, but at the same time, you know, I was really feeling like, “What now?” And so the spaces that I found myself in, or I guess for me, if I could say the conclusion I came to is that the work that I need to do, what taking a stand for me looks like is befriending and building relationships with people who think differently than I do, specifically politically, especially around conversations about justice. And so I think, you know, the invitation from that song, you know, so much more than taking a stance on a particular issue, what does it look like to to do the heavy work of sitting at the table with people that you disagree with and learning how to listen. So yeah, I think that song is a challenge to myself and also to all people doing the work towards justice and peace and learning that friendship is a really powerful tool towards change. And how do we position ourselves so much more than providing the answers but being able to create spaces where we can sit together and truly understand why it is that that we believe what we believe? But yeah, more than just taking a stand how do we sit, how do we listen, how do we learn?

Latasha Morrison  59:05  

Yeah. Sea, have you found that your music is kind of like a bridge builder in conversations?

Aisea Taimani  59:17  

Yeah 100%. You know, I think a lot of the music that that has deeply shaped me, you know, even on my album I have some spirituals that were shared with me by my Black brothers and sisters. Building Me a Home. I’m building me a home when when I’m seeking justice, when I’m loving mercy, when I’m walking humbly, I’m building us a home. Even just the song, the folk song, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.

Latasha Morrison  59:52  

Yes! All of those. Yeah.

Aisea Taimani  59:55  

There’s always been a deep fascination about these songs that recognize that we have come far, but we still have a long way to go. We have come far, but keep your eyes on the prize. I mean, these songs, you know, have really been a way for me to talk about the journey closer to home. You know, and it’s so much more than arriving. But it’s about the journey, right? You hear this all the time, but I feel like I’m just scratching the surface on what it means to celebrate how far we’ve come, but the work ain’t finished. And it ain’t finished until kingdom come. And so I think, you know, oftentimes we see people settle when they’re comfortable, we see see people settle when they feel like they’ve individually arrived. But I just love the collectivism of the Lord’s Prayer. And just the way that Jesus talks, you know, teaches us to be. Like, no we we ain’t finished until we arrive together. So you know, and part of that is my own story, being able to talk about where I’ve come from and where I believe God is calling me to. The ability to bridge build is also recognizing, you know, that the music so much more than the genre and style is actually the soundtrack to people’s lives. Like I didn’t grow up listening to country, you know, or having a deep love for it. But I went to summer camp, you know, in my 20s. And I remember just like them blasting country, you know, in the dining room hall and then a few of my friends that I swore like didn’t listen to country either were all singing along. And I was like, “Oh man, like, I didn’t know these people as good as I thought I did.” Country was now something that was closer to home. You know? And so, so much of my music, you know, is constantly challenging myself to venture into relationships with people of different soundtracks or different music or different stories. And so that’s something that’s very intentional in my music. To constantly, yeah, celebrate all the different genres that raised me.

Latasha Morrison  1:02:21  

That’s so good. I just saw, there’s a documentary (I think it was on Prime Video, I can’t even remember, so many streaming services) about country and just the diversity of people that are finding their place in that and, you know, where country has his roots, and just the expansion of the music. So I think there’s just so much that we can learn through music. Now, I want, like one of the things with you, we met at this event down in Florida. And I wanted to kind of talk about this just for a moment, just to help encourage other people and then also to remember that. But this was, I was going to this conference, and it was in this island outside of Tampa, Florida. And as we were driving in I was like, “Oh my goodness, like I’ve never been to a place like this. This is just like The Stepford Wives.” (laughter) My friend and I that were driving in and we were like, this is like, this feels like Get Out. (laughter) We were making all these references because it was like, everything was like, kinda cookie cutter. It was very white, it was a very white space. And, you know, I’m used to being in these spaces. This is a lot of the spaces that God has called me into, but a lot of times, you know, there is sometimes this discomfort like this kind of square peg, round hole type thing that you feel. Like you can feel displaced. And you don’t know how people are going to accept your message or what you have to say. You don’t know if you’re gonna be met with aggression or anger or fear. Like you know, there’s a lot that goes through your mind as a person that does what I do across the country. But it’s always great when you go into spaces like this, and there are people of peace like yourselves that are like, “Hey, I got you. You know what, I got you. Come sit over here, eat. Hey, come on, let’s walk over here.” Like, you know, introducing me to people and sharing your story and, you know, creating space. And that’s what you did for me and my assistant when we were down there and I just so appreciated that and just hearing your story. As soon as I came back, I was like, I want to have him on the podcast, there are some amazing things. And I think the work that we do, it takes us out into this space out of our boxes that allows us to interact and connect with people that are doing some beautiful things for the kingdom of God. And so it makes the kingdom of God more vast. You know? And we get to see it and so we want to bring a little bit to the community that we serve where sometimes people are not exposed to the things that were exposed to. And so I wanted just to say that and say thank you, brother, and I just appreciate it. And I told you, like, I’m gonna follow up, we’re gonna be connected. (laughter) And we did just that. And this is just, I feel like this is just the beginning. You know, there’s some things we’re doing within Be the Bridge that I definitely see you and your music being a part of. If you could dream big now, if you could write a song with anyone who would it be? And what would it be? If you could write a song with anyone.

Aisea Taimani  1:06:23  

I would probably choose Ben Harper.

Latasha Morrison  1:06:28  

Okay.

Aisea Taimani  1:06:29  

So Ben Harper has been a real big influence. Because his ability to sing about everything and to be able to do it in such an authentic way. You know, I didn’t always feel, I didn’t always love my voice. But I just, I remember just hearing the way that his emotions were able to cut through the speakers. And I realized that so much more than having people understand the words that are coming from my mouth, I wanted them to feel what my heart was feeling as well. And so I just really started to learn how to, so much than sounding pretty, how can I how can I really connect my heart with my voice? And, you know, a lot of the songs that he sung just really did a great job for me of confusing the box. Right? Like, is it sacred? Is it secular? Is it worldly, is it gospel? And I’ll never forget my mom asking me you know, “Son is your album going to be a gospel record or is it going to be a worldly record?” And I just told my mom, I was like, “Mom, it’s going to be honest. It’s going to be honest.” And if you don’t know that I’m a person of faith by the end of my music then maybe, you know, you weren’t listening. And as a person of faith, I’m also incredibly aware of my humanity and my depravity and my need for a savior, my need for community. And Ben Harper’s music, specifically a song called Better Way. And this song, you know, it’s got a lot of the ingredients of a Sunday School spiritual. You know, like, This Little Light of Mine, you know, like, even just Building Me a Home, a lot of the songs, you know, are really just simple phrases. But, man, anybody can say those words, but can you say it with that much conviction? And I think for me songwriting is so much more than wooing and impressing people, how can you relate? How can you connect? And I just love just the authenticity, the vulnerability that Ben Harper’s writing has, and just the ability to, again, inspire and challenge at the same time.

Latasha Morrison  1:09:25  

Okay, wow. I never heard of Ben Harper until, I may have, but I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ve heard of him until now you just mentioned him. See how you’re exposing us already! And I know a lot of people are gonna go look him up and his music because of what you’re saying. I think that’s incredible. What are some things that you know…and there’s a book that I want to tell those of you who are listening and if this is your first introduction to this type of conversation as it relates to worship, maybe you never even thought about the type of worship and really thinking more glocal or you know, thinking beyond what we would deem as, I guess, American music as it relates to the global church. So if we have a global church, then our worship should also be be global. But I know, I mentioned Sandra Van Opstal. She she has a book called The Next Worship. And I think this is something that goes along with what we’re talking about today. What are some things, you know, I ask as we get ready to close, I typically ask each guest, you know, in this work of racial bridge building, in this work of when we think about racial justice and reconciliation work, there’s a lot of ups and downs. You know? When you’re dealing with such a complex issue, and we’re dealing with not just our own brokenness, but the the brokenness of the world, it really be discouraging. You know? But I think it’s important, like we were talking about, like, important to…50% of the Pslams are, like, about lament. And I think there’s breakthrough in lament. I’s our petition to God to ask God to move and to change and to transform. What are some things that you are personally lamenting now in this space?

Aisea Taimani  1:11:49  

I think access. If I could say that one of the things that I’m seeing is just how convenient and how comfortable, again, we’ve made church. People can now just zoom in or go to church online into their pj’s. And, again, I think as simple as it sounds, I think convenience and comfort, you know, is what keeps us, and security. I’ll say that. I’ll say security is what keeps us from our fullest potential. But I think just the importance that lamenting and these songs that come from other people, other cultures that can teach us about what sacred lament or prophetic lament looks like, I think it’s necessary. Right? Like suffering is the thing that leads us towards compassion. And so, I lament how convenient and how comfortable the church has become, because I think it’s what keeps us from bridge building, it’s what keeps us from pursuing justice. Because I think we value our convenience, we value our comfort, we value our security, and unfortunately this movement, this kingdom is all about giving our lives up for our faith and for one another. And so yeah, I just lament, you know, that there…it’s weird to say, right, like I lament that there isn’t enough, there isn’t more spaces in the church for us to lament.

Latasha Morrison  1:14:12  

That’s good. That’s good. What’s bringing you hope right now?

Aisea Taimani  1:14:21  

I think more than ever, I mean, as hard as these last couple of years have been specifically with how divided I’ve felt the church has been, I am seeing a lot of hope. I am seeing people having conversations that just we’ve never had. And I’m seeing people have conversations that I’ve never seen. And just even just the work that you’re doing, the kind of access that you’re giving me and that you’re giving the church to just simply, you know, remove the shame from the fact that, “Hey, so much of who we are, we’ve been conditioned, you know, in school and in church.” And so I just, I’m finding so much hope in the work that you’re doing and the work that many churches are doing to be able to remove the shame from where we are, and then to actually do the long work necessary to truly be about God’s kingdom. So I’m so grateful for you, I’m so grateful for just the work that the church is seems like we’re just beginning. But yeah, and you know, more than ever, I am seeing an openness from churches who are saying, “Hey, you know, we heard on the street that you do this thing called glocal worship and I think our church is ready for it.” Where that wasn’t really the case a few years ago. I was constantly, you know, just brought in to do the typical. But I think as people are learning that there’s another way of incorporating, you know, our neighbors into liturgy it’s been really hopeful and exciting, just to be a part of that.

Latasha Morrison  1:16:29  

Yeah, that’s beautiful. And, you know, we’ll have all your information listed. But, you know, you guys go and download this, and purchase this album Live and Direct. This, I mean, I know it will be a blessing to you. An Aisea, just really, I will say, just continue to be authentic, you know, and creative in the space that God has created for you. I’m grateful to have met you. I feel like this is just the beginning of that. You know, I feel like I’m struggling with pronunciation and stuff, but we’re gonna get that. You know, Sea. (laughter)

Aisea Taimani  1:17:40  

That just means we got to spend more time together.

Tandria Potts  1:17:43  

Go to the donors table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast.

Narrator  1:17:49  

Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai