Following the success of Israel and New Breed’s collaborative efforts, Christian artist and worship leader Israel Houghton is returning to his roots as a solo artist for his latest album “The Power of One.” More than just music, “The Power of One” has become a movement for the artist and his team. It is an opportunity to remind people that it only takes one person to set the wheels of change in motion.
Israel spoke to Beliefnet about the story behind “The Power of One”, why fans almost didn’t get to hear the title track, and shared his thoughts on the economic crisis and how we can get out of it.
How did "The Power of One" come about?
It sort of surfaced around a song that I wrote a few years back. Actually it’s been two and a half years now. It was just before we recorded the “Deeper Level” record, and I said, “Well, maybe this song goes on this [album].” But even before that, it was actually a song that we were asked to write for a mainstream female artist. As I was getting ready to send the demo off to this artist, [my wife] Meleasa was like, “Don’t you dare send that song, there is a moment for that song that you have to deliver, don’t give it away.” And I said, “Well, all right.” So then we started thinking, maybe it goes on the “Deeper Level” record and when we talked to the label and some of our team, they said, “’Power of One’ is a movement and a campaign all its own, so don’t tack it on to "Deeper Level," which is its own thing.” We felt like we had a good song, and started building the rest of the record around it and we feel very much like it was a mission accomplished as far as the whole record is concerned.
The theme around the “Power of One” is when you know who is with you, not being afraid, not being discouraged, knowing that goodness and mercy are following us all the days of our lives. It almost seems like--though it wasn’t intended--every song sort of has a bit of that theme in it. That he is near, he is closer than we think sometimes, and that it’s going to be alright. Every song speaks to that kind of uplifting, encouraging theme.
If you look at the last eight records that we have done, they have all sort of been a link in a chain. I first said “A New Season” is coming, and then after a while we started saying, we are “Going to Another Level,” and after that we actually went to another Level, in South Africa. And then out of that came “Deeper Level”, which was all about identity and really knowing who we are in Christ. And I think when you know that, you can...maybe not change the whole world, but you could certainly change your world, your surroundings, your family, your environment, the row that you sit on at church, your youth group and that sort of thing.
That’s where all of this works together and stylistically, if I had to declare this is who I really am, this record captures that better than anything, because it’s got all these sort of gumbo of sounds, styles, and cultures all mixed together, but there is this common thread in it. Even though some songs are way different than each other, it never feels like they should have never been on this record, you know, that’s like a true account of what’s coming out of my heart.
What inspired you to create this melting pot of sounds?
I think it’s really an evolution of just growing comfortable with trying stuff. Never feeling like, “Uh-huh, well the public will like this.” I have never based what I do on whether people like it and sometimes that’s been to my own detriment. For the most part, I have always felt good about the fact that I was just honest with what I wanted to say, be it lyrically, stylistically, or musically.
How can people to put “The Power of One” to work in their lives as far as the economic crisis goes?
Well certainly speaking to the westernized culture and speaking to that American mindset, on our worst day—job or no job—we are still in the one percentile of the wealthiest people in the world. And having been all over the world and realizing that many people all over the world live on a dollar a day at best, I promise you every American reading right now has a dollar in their couch somewhere. So I think there is a need to have a better understanding of the world around us and the real need around us. I don’t even think it's about economics as much as it is about the difference a smile can make. The difference a kind word can make.
I am here, 37 years later, as a result of the power of one. One lady who sort of crossed the uncomfortable line to tell my mother about Christ when she was eight months pregnant and messed up in her life. Out of that one encounter she obviously felt something and felt like, maybe I can make a difference in somebody’s life today. And she did and it has since had a reverberating effect in my life and the life of a lot of people that I have been able to communicate with and touch.
I used to think the idea of changing the world meant going to the passport office, getting a ticket, running to the airport, and flying to Africa or India or somewhere. And I realize to do all of that, you are going to drive past, walk past, and step over a whole bunch of hurting people. So you don’t have to cross the world to make a difference. You can cross the street, you could cross the room to make a difference in somebody’s life. Our stuff is not super deep, we are just saying, "If we bear the name of Christ, if we are Christians, then there is certain sort of responsibility that comes with that. There is a distinct difference about us, and if we are the people that we say we are, then there is just the natural response that comes with that, there is a natural responsibility that comes with that. And I think in our busy noisy lives we can totally miss it sometimes. When people understand that and realize, God is in control of my life and God is in control of my time, my day and everything else, then you start realizing, he is orchestrating certain events and certain things that can truly change my world and change my environment.
What are your personal thoughts and prayers regarding our economic situation?
I always look at events like this and obviously this apparently is the greatest type of recession we have ever experienced since the Great Depression. You see it and definitely hear word's you haven't heard before. But I always thank God in these moments for the vacuum that it creates, for the desperation that it creates, for the turning back to God from every distraction. I have had to repent so many times. And I think as a nation we really have to return back to the giver of all life and all blessings and all the freedom that we have experienced, and we have to say “God we’ve returned and if this takes this season that we are in to help us to return to a greater understanding of who you are and still have the confidence that you are still in control…” I think that's the confession.
It's like, when economic downturn hits and when this hardship kicks in we tend to do one of two things, either try and fix it for ourselves or return to God. I just believe that turning to God is the right move and our prayer is that not just the church but that America as a whole, the westernized world as a whole, would turn to God and realize he is still in control and let him be in control.
Is there a scripture that's connected to "The Power of One"?
It didn't really revolve around a scripture. I think in the moment that I was writing it, I had been very inundated inside Amos 5. It essentially says—I am totally paraphrasing right now in the sort of the King James Brown version—I am tired of church as usual, I am tired of you guys getting together and singing a bunch of great songs and the fact that you haven't emphasized the poor, the widow, the orphan, the voiceless...I am not even hearing your songs.
I mean this is God talking to his church and I remember reading that, meditating on it, and wrestling with it like, “You are not even listening to these songs that we wrote for you?” It's like a conversation that's going on like I am tired of your noisy ego music and your fundraisers and your campaigns and all these things that you are doing. It basically says, “I want justice, I want oceans of it, I want fairness, take care of those that cannot take care of themselves, do that first, that's what being a Christian is about. That's what carrying my name is all about.”
So whereas your previous albums were talking about what's going with the church and the individual’s Christian experience, would you say you are talking about what we should do outside of the church walls on this album?
I think for years I have thought the church is the building and God shows up in there on Sundays and then we all drive away and we sort to feel home sick because we just left God in the big church box. And that couldn't be any further from reality. The reality is, we are the church. We are a house of living stones. So the church is living, breathing, active people in the earth and if we were called to be the hands and feet of Jesus that doesn't mean we were only called to rescue those and help those who make it inside the four walls of the building.
You know it's insane to think that's church and I have been saying a few phrases for a long time. One, I am tired of doing church, I want to be the church now and the other thing is I am truly tired of salting the salt and lighting the light. You know, we got enough salt in here and we got enough light in here, let's get it out where it's needed.
What are the last words you’d like to leave us with concerning “The Power of One.”
I remember in ‘95 really writing out what I thought the 10 years would look like for me and then I realized everything that seemed like a crazy unreachable goal had been met and had been reached in that amount of time.I feel like this record is more than a record but it is the convergence of all of these things that are a part of the core value of who I am and what I am trying to communicate.
Regardless of color, regardless of age, regardless of denomination, there is this sound and at the heart of it all is love. Love for God, loving ourselves, and loving each other. If we could just start loving one another and finding the good in people and maybe that's where the "Power of One" revolution starts. Where we just see good in everybody and everything. There are obvious evils, there are obvious challenges in life, but love conquers all of that and either that's just a cliché or it's real and I choose to believe that it's real.
So beyond the music--although I pray that everybody reading gets a copy of the record and takes it in--we hope that the prayer behind what we were saying connects with everybody.