Picture this: One minute there is frenzied jumping, the next — stillness – like when everyone raises their lighters at a concert and in the midst of the hush you hear spontaneous shouts in the distance.
Spirits are high, hearts are pierced and the feeling that everything’s gonna be alright is shared among everyone present.
Such is the contrast in energy and artistry the infectious music of Israel Houghton emits; such is the effect the voice of this “musical Moses” has every time he hits the stage.
He calls it the sound of “Glory.”
While today’s news headlines are consistently blaring what’s wrong in life,Israel Houghton says he loves encouraging people.
Recently the 37-year-old jammed for Jesus at the famous Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip as he performed songs from his first solo CD, The Power of One: Change the World, moving a crowd of adoring multi-cultural fans. The CD is a 14-track mosaic of cross-cultural tunes featuring collabos with some of his friends from diverse musical persuasions (Toby Mac, Mary Mary and well-known reggae queen Chevelle Franklin to name a few.)
“I just absolutely believe if there was ever a great time to be in the good news business it’s now,” Israel says.
The son of a White American mother and Jamaican father, possessing a stylistically colorful musical pallet (a combination of reggae, rock, pop, R&B and gospel) that far exceeds the sound of church music, Israel Houghton was introduced to the recording industry flanked by his background unit, The New Breed, whose collective voices contribute to the overall electrifying style he engineered. He plays guitar, piano and his primary instrument, the drum and prefers live recordings to capture the dynamic of God at work. As for all that jumping you sometimes see at his live performances? Well, let’s just say he’s the ring leader for a reason.
Israel Houghton makes no qualms about the ‘rhythmless’ part of his presentation: “I’m a bit of a disaster with the dancing, I’m half Black and half White and the White side definitely got the dancing.”
Driven to impact listeners’ one-on-one relationship with God, the lyricist admits that in the past he has written music based on fan feedback.
“Some of the best compliments I’ve ever received were when people say ‘you sang exactly what I wanted to say.’ . . .it’s a big driving force behind what I write, just trying to connect with people.”
The gift of guiding people to a state of intimacy with God was only perfected in him after the personal demon of rejection was exorcised. In a 700 Club interview Israel once stated he grew up feeling like he was an “accident.” His mother was advised to abort him. At the expense of being disowned by her family and sacrificing her future, the former concert pianist did not terminate the pregnancy; however, she turned to drugs after moving to California with her boyfriend, not knowing she was pregnant with a instrument for change.
Two and a half years ago, long before the presidential campaign, Houghton, married for nearly 15 years and the father of 3 (a son and two daughters) had begun to contemplate the link between justice and Christian responsibility. Around the same time a mainstream artist asked Houghton to pen a song for him. He put his thoughts to paper, resulting in the lyrics to The Power of One, words the mainstream artist would never see.
Performed at pre-inaugural festivities in DC, the title song is an in-your-face challenge that says “you can change the world, stand up or sit down …” The Power of One especially pleads for Christians to care about social justice and activate their faith to make a difference in the world. In comparison to his last album, the Grammy award winning “A Deeper Level,” this time the artist is out to start a global revolution to change a world wrought with poverty, racism, selfishness, and unstable politics.
Throughout his journey, the “Power of One” was instilled in him through a triangle of powerful women who individually influenced his life, starting with the radical inner voice of his mother who decided to face society’s prejudices and keep her unborn child. His wife, Meleasa, co-founder of New Breed, would join him in making major decisions. She stopped him from giving the title song of his new album to another artist. When she first heard what he wrote Meleasa insisted he save it for a later time, so he saved The Power of One for such a time as this.
Quite possibly, if it weren’t for the God sent intervention of another woman, a stranger in San Diego in 1971, he may not have been born.
Abandoned by her boyfriend while 17 and 8-months pregnant a woman stopped Israel Houghton’s mother while she was walking down the street just to tell her that she had made the right decision and Jesus loves her. Israel’s mom gave her life to Christ on that street corner that day.
But, even being raised with the love of a Christian mother, it was hard for him to connect with God the Father in worship because his biological father and maternal grandfather had both forsaken him. His grandfather literally pushed him off his lap during their initial encounter at the age of 7, almost permanently clouding his understanding of fatherly love.
This is how we arrive at the Israel we know today, the one using his voice shaped by a painful past to change the world when he yelps for Heaven’s help.
Israel Houghton has testified that once God revealed to him in Psalm 138 that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” his identity complex was resolved.
The “Friend of God” singer now has had no problem connecting with God and helping usher people – across all ethnicities – all over the world into His presence.. After all, Israel Houghton is the burgeoning International King of Contemporary Praise and Worship. Along with a Grammy he is a multiple Dove and Stellar award winner, the worship leader at the largest church in America (Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, TX) and the first Christian artist to get and iPhone application. In a room full of critics and peers alike, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to disagree. His songs have become “hymns” for this generation, a staple in many communities of faith around the globe. He has written or co-written 11 CCLI Top 500 favorites and produced music for well-known praise and worship singer Martha Munizzi. But it’s not titles or adulation Houghton is after with his latest work.
Here we take a deeper look into the heart of the singer, writer, and humanitarian:
Mona Austin: We are a transitional period in our country and change is in the air. That’s what the ‘Power of One’ is all about isn’t it?
Israel Houghton: It really is. It’s pretty amazing that the song was written a couple four years before we knew how the whole political thing was going to shake out. It’s kinda on point with what we’re seeing, where change is not coming change is here. I just love how timing works to our advantage sometimes. This song is really pertinent to the times we’re in.
MA: Are you an introspective songwriter, extroverted or a combination of the two?
I tend to gain a whole lot of inspiration from other people’s story. I so write some based on introspection, but very little actually. Most of my writing or collaborations all tend to almost subconsciously ask the question: how can this attach itself to somebody’s life? Some of the best compliments I’ve ever received were when people say ‘you sang exactly what I wanted to say.’
MA: Where did that gift come from?
IH: I don’t know. Obviously I believe it comes from God, but I don’t know if it’s so much a gift as it is a sensitivity toward people and humanity. Part of it has been an evolution … people tell you exactly how it made them feel. You sort of remember that the next time you go and write. . .it’s a big driving force behind what I write, just trying to connect with people.
MA: We also know you as a musician. What do you like best writing or playing?
IH: It’s definitely a hybrid of the two. When it comes to music I don’t consider myself a world class musician by any means.
MA: Really? How did that become so dominant in your presentation when it’s not your forte?
IH: I enjoy what I do and I’m passionate about it, but I’m fairly limited as a guitar player … For it to be good, it doesn’t have to be complex.
MA: As a minister of the gospel, what good news would you share with President Barack Obama under these very dire circumstances?
IH: The Bible says God oversees all things pertaining to government, kings, lands , nations. If I had the opportunity to encourage the president it would be that God is absolutely in control and that the history he has been part of making wasn’t solely on his shoulders, but that God did it. When people begin to understand that God did it, it’s a very freeing feeling. . .
MA: What is your message/goal with this album?
IH: In everything we do we really try to provoke the listener to an action point. The idea of ‘do something now.’ You don’t have to cross the ocean and cross the world to make a difference. Sometimes you gotta just cross the room you’re in to make a difference in someone’s life.
MA: You’re saying start small.
IH: Yeah. You know changing the world starts with changing your world, your environment. That’s really what we’re all about. In the age we’re living in we need good news.
MA: Considering that you are interracial, did the election have any impact on your psyche knowing Barack Obama’s story? Or did race matter at all?
IH: I can’t say I didn’t think about it. I was pretty amazed that here we go in history and it happened to be somebody bi-racial I just thought that was pretty cool. I know that people have stopped emphasizing that he is bi-racial. He has a White mother and so do I. To see the parallel is pretty cool.
Israel and the New Breed are preparing for the next live recording and will be embarking on a world tour beginning this May. The Power of One is available in stores and online now.