India’s oppressed Dalits often go thirsty.

Tradition dictates that these “untouchables” must not draw water from a public well because they are considered unclean. As a result, Dalits must often wait hours until someone else offers assistance.

Now, Caedmon’s Call’s “Share the Well” arrives to offer encouragement and plead for assistance.

The folk-rock group is known for creating worship music but its new CD highlights the struggles and concerns of people in foreign lands.

“We’ve been asked to be the voice for the voiceless,” said Caedmon’s frontman Cliff Young.

Members of Caedmon’s call “Share the Well” a “world record” and it does much more than add a few of India’s sitars and Ecuador’s pan pipes. It captures the voices, rhythms, concerns and moods of the countries it visits. All of this is woven seamlessly into a sort of folk-rock tapestry designed to inspire others to take up the concerns of these lands.

“Share the Well” opens with a Dalit chant and drumbeat and then breaks into the title track, with its simple but effective chorus about the need to “share the well with your brother.” Despite its serious topic, the song is like a refreshing spring bubbling with life. Its energy sets the tone of the entire disc as it describes hope amid difficulties.

Interest in the developing nations isn’t anything new for Caedmon’s, which for years has participated in mission trips to Latin America and supported the child-sponsorship program Compassion International. However, it wasn’t until meeting a Dalit man during a concert in North Carolina that the band turned in that direction. The man described the oppression India’s 250 million Dalits experience under the traditional caste system.

“These are people who have been told they are worthless, they are untouchables,” Young said.

Because of this, many Dalits have looked for ways to escape the caste system and some have converted. Young expects the trend to continue.

“God’s really done something,” he said. “You can really feel it in the air. … This could be the biggest revival of all time. … This could be a worldwide revival.”

The desire for change prompted many Dalits to tell their stories and offer their talents to Caedmon’s Call during recording sessions in India. “We had some musicians travel by train, standing up for three days just to tell their story,” Young said.

That enthusiasm inspired and challenged the group.

“In one sense it was the most challenging CD we’ve every done and in other it was the easiest CD we’ve ever done. It was all inspiration. … It just came together,” Young said. “... At the same time it was a lot of work. We put a lot of time into it.”

The result is a disc that’s bursting with great music and powerful lyrics. A quick survey doesn’t do justice to the depth of this well.

“Mother India” is a majestic song about how Father God sheds his tears for and reaches out to Mother India. It’s a simple, acoustic song that relies heavily on native drumbeats and Danielle Young’s pleading vocals as it expresses heartfelt yearning for an end to oppression.

“Bombay Rain” was written in reaction to the swirl of color, confusion and culture of India. Its lyrics paint some of the most vivid pictures on the disc. “Sarala” describes a young American girl’s reaction to the Indian homeland of her parents. This is followed by a brief description by Dalit leader Joseph D’Souza of the conditions in which his people live. Then, “Wings of the Morning” urges continued hope.

“Dalit Hymn” is the most assertive of the calls for justice. Among its lyrics are, “Prime minister, free the Dalit,” and, “Prime minister, caste is a lie.”

“It’s talking directly to the prime minister of India,” Cliff Young said. “… We recorded the entire song in India with Dalit musicians.”

Although the plight of the Dalit is the major theme of the CD, Caedmon’s doesn’t forget about its roots in worship music. Amid the rhythms of other nations, “There’s Only One (Holy One)” sounds a lot more like a traditional Caedmon’s worship song — but that’s just fine. It packs an energy spawned as much by enthusiastic lyrics of hope and praise as by a powerful folk melody. Another standout is Danielle Young’s ballad “The Innocent’s Corner,” the haunting account of a woman facing hunger with her children.

Neither does Caedmon’s forget its links to Latin America. Danielle Young’s voice again strikes the perfect notes when the disc jumps around the globe to Ecuador in “All I Need,” the first of three tracks that extol the simple joys of life. Also from Ecuador is the exuberant “Volcanoland.” Clapping hands and tambourines keep the beat as a pan pipe provides the perfect accents in this song about a simple and happy life in the shade of a volcano. Finally, “The Roses” also tells about the quite joys high above Quito.

Ecuador has a prominent place on “Share the Well” because its poor also face problems with water. Cliff Young said digging new wells to provide clean water will be a major emphasis for the group’s new Share the Well Foundation.

“We’re going to give them physical water as well as living water,” he said.

As a final note, Young was eager to send a message to troops deployed in the war on terrorism. While some have charged that the fighting is about policy, oil or land, Young said that we are mistaken “if we think that what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t a spiritual battle. … This is a battle between good and evil.”

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Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry. It appears on the Religion page.

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