4 Keys to Translating Worship Songs
t was several years ago that I began my incursions into what I now call “The Art of Translation.” It began in 2002 when I received an invitation from my bother-in-law (Marcos Witt) to move from Durango, Mexico, to Houston, Texas, to take a position as a worship leader. The music that was being sung at the new church touched me very deeply, so I decided to translate most of them for the Latin American church to enjoy also.
My main goal when I translate a song is that when someone listens to the translated version, they wouldn’t even think it had been translated. I want it to sound as natural as possible.
I’ve learned a lot about this process and would like to share some very practical tips with you. This advice will help composers as well as anyone thinking about translating a song.
1. Keep Time
It is very important to keep the song’s rhythm intact. In other words, when you sing the song in its original language, you will perceive a unique cadence, rhythm, and phrasing, and these elements should never be changed.
2. Right Emphasis
The syllables and accents are also elements that I try very hard to keep intact. Every word has a certain number of syllables which have strong and weak accents. When you are translating, it’s important to keep the same number of syllables. If you have to add one, if you add it at the beginning of a word it won’t affect it as much as adding one to the end of it. The accentuation of the word you use in the translation should also stay as close to the original as possible.
3. Heart Translations
Some songs are written with a very specific meaning in mind and if they are translated literally, it becomes impossible to communicate the original idea because of phrasing and syllable counts and will result in a very poor translation. This is when it becomes very important to examine the CONCEPT of a song. When this happens, I have to look at the heart of the song in general and then to say the same thing in a different way so that the translated song can maintain a natural sound.
4. Beyond Barriers
When composing a song, I feel it is important to think about its transcultural effect. It’s easy to forget the impact one song can have, but I would encourage you to believe that your music will cross cultural barriers. That’s why, when you write a song, try to use words, phrases, and thoughts which are globally understood. That way, when the time comes for them to be translated, it will be easy to get the message of the song across.
I hope these tips will help you, in both your translating and composing of songs.
A well-established name in Spanish praise and worship music, Coalo Zamorano began its work by participating in various musical productions with CanZion records.