Theologian and composer/songwriter Tony Alonso has released 23 albums to date, and Caminemos con Jesús is the latest release in this long line of resources for the church. In 2015, Alonso was invited to compose the responsorial psalm for the first Mass Pope Francis celebrated in the United States—a fitting recognition of his work. Notably, this album has been nominated for a 2020 Latin Grammy, and after just the first few bars you will know you’re in for a treat. Alonso, a Cuban-American Roman Catholic, has crafted a joyful, somber, lyrically- and musically-rich album of songs helping Christians walk with Jesus.
Lyrically, the catechetical potential of Cuban music is fully realized here as most of the songs include call-and-response. This method of teaching the lyrics and the melody makes it easy for the listener to sing along, as each part is introduced and then repeated. Alonso also alternates between Spanish and English in several songs, helping to connect worshipers in either linguistic context. The English is sometimes a translation of the Spanish, other times a complementary section of call or response. As a novice Spanish-speaker, it was meaningful to me that the Spanish was sung clearly enough and phrased such that I did not have any difficulty understanding the lyrics. Most of the songs could function well in either a Protestant or Catholic liturgical context, with the exceptions of Gloria Estefan’s “Caridad” (a song to the patroness of Cuba) and “Letanía de la Madre de las Américas” (a song to enrich Marian feasts).
Musically, Alonso has brought together a top-notch group of Cuban-American musicians. Although this may seem daunting to a smaller church or a church with volunteers of lesser capabilities, the strength of these songs is still found in the core of the melodies. Simplified arrangements of these songs could be crafted around the melodies without sacrificing much of the energy. The harmonies are textured tastefully to curate the call-and-response experience, with room for the listener to sing along and feel part of the song.
Grammy winner Juan Delgado produced the album with exceptional skill. Each of the various instruments has its own space in the mix and the songs never feel crowded. Frankly, it’s a very enjoyable listening experience for any music lover. Notable songs include the title track “Caminemos con Jesús” and the first track based on Psalm 122, “Qué Alegría Cuando Me Dijeron.”
If you have any Spanish speakers in your congregation, or Spanish speakers in your church’s area of influence, this album is a tremendous resource. The joy that permeates Cuban music is tangible on this album, and these songs could be simplified for churches who lack the musicians to pull off the percussion or flute parts while maintaining their melody and energy. The global church is edified by albums like this that are simultaneously specific in their expression and broad in their potential reach. May this album, and many like it, continue to knit together Spanish- and English-speaking congregations and neighborhoods.
Click here to watch a short documentary about the making of the album
To buy the album, go to: https://www.giamusic.com/store/resource/caminemos-con-jesus-cd1064
Review provided by David Calvert, who is the Creative Arts Director for Grace Community Church in rural North Carolina and a PhD graduate in Theology and Worship from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.