Makers and Mystics Live Podcast Recording Event

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You might know my friend Stephen Roach from his band Songs of Water. Or from his work with The Breath & The Clay. Or perhaps from his podcast Makers & Mystics, “the podcast for the art-driven, spiritually adventurous seekers of truth and lovers of life.”

Stephen often incorporates live events into the podcast recordings. The fine folks over at Axiom Church are hosting a live Makers & Mystics recording Saturday, September 14, 6:00pm. The theme will be “Art as Hospitality” and I hope to share a bit about how the Habañero Collective House Show Series accomplished just that, and how we tried incorporating art into the Gathered Worship time of Church of the Cross (now Missio Dei Peoria). Browse the lineup here.

  • Visit the official Makers and Mystics official website.

  • Visit Axiom Church’s website.

  • Purchase tickets at Eventbrite.

Why "Christian" Music Is Often So Bad

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If you know me at all, or even if you’ve just barely browsed this site, you know that I love music. Music of all kinds. Music from all places. Music for all faces.

And I am a Christian.

But, generally speaking, I do not love “Christian” music. I do not even like most “Christian” music. First of all, “Christian” is not a genre. Slapping a religious moniker in front of any word does not make the content any more religious, any more meaningful, or necessarily mean that it’s good.

Flip through the radio stations in just about any city in the US and you can immediately spot the “Christian” station even before the lyrics. You know it as soon as the music comes on. There’s just something about the sheen. It all seems to be produced in the same shiny music factory. But I’m already digressing and I’ve barely just begun.

But, many well-intentioned Christians just don’t seem to be too concerned with the quality of the music that bears their name. Or maybe they think it’s actually good. After all, they have their own awards shows, right? Who would give an award to something that’s not good, right?! But again I digress.

We could talk about the protectionism embedded in much of American Christianity. We are taught to fear the surrounding culture and withdraw by replacing things with their “Christian” equivalent. But, I think there are a couple of more immediate reasons why so I am disappointed by so much of what claims to be “Christian” music.

Point Of Purchase Discernment

One of the biggest reasons that so much “Christian” music is not that good is that many Christians are not good at discernment. By and large, in most American churches, we have not been trained in how to apply biblical wisdom to our own lives so that we become transformed by God’s grace. Much less do people feel comfortable examining an artist’s lyrics in detail to discern a worldview, because we’re not all that sure we can clarify ours other than believing people need to get saved. In short, many “American Christians” are simply not good at discernment.

As a result, the entire “discernment” process of supporting an art like music becomes outsourced. It becomes a “point of purchase” decision. Many people simply believe that if you buy something at a “Christian” store, that means that it’s good for your Christianity. For many, it doesn’t even matter if it is good or not, just that it’s “Christian.” That way, we know it supports our faith. And it’s a much easier approach than trying to process the worldview of a musician we don’t know. Why go through all that trouble when I can just go to the “Christian” store and buy something safe.

We just want to protect our kids from the evils of the “Secular World,” and we can’t listen to everything they do and analyze it and talk about it with them to help them develop their own discernment. It’s just safer (and easier) to buy them music approved by the “Christian” bookstore gatekeepers.

I’m not going to spend time debunking this point. If you don’t see the problem, then the rest of this post probably isn’t for you anyway.

Pragmatic/Utilitarian Understanding of Art

In addition, many American Christians have inadvertently adopted a Pragmatic/Utilitarian Understanding of Art in which something music is meant to serve a purpose. It’s not enough that something exist as art for art’s sake. It’s not enough that a musician wrote a moving piece of music because they themselves had been moved. What purpose does that serve? How does that accomplish the salvation of souls or the glorification of God?

Many well-intentioned Christians have come to believe that music exists for one of two primary purposes: to be evangelistic or praise and worship. Art, including music, is meant to serve one of these two purposes.

If evangelism is the primary driving consideration, then it’s the message that matters most, which is the lyrics, and then we have to find out the best way to get our message out, so let’s find out what the “other kids” are listening to, and then mimic the music, replace the lyrics and make sure they get our message?! In other words, we look to the “secular culture” to see what music is popular, we recreate it without the sincerity, replace the lyrics and then try to feed it back to the culture and can’t understand why no one likes our music. It must be persecution. And then there’s “praise and worship” music is fine since it’s already accepted our evangelism.

So, “Christian” bookstores stock themselves with bands that sound like popular bands but with a better message, or music already meant only for Christian use as praise and worship. Of course there are other factors here beyond a utilitarian understanding of art in general and music in particular. For example, many Christians believe that the “salvation of souls” trumps everything else, which only feeds the utilitarian approach. And, for some odd reason many well-intentioned Christians often believe that seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake is somehow sinful. So of course art can’t exist just for art’s sake. Tie all of this in with corporations that exploit well-intentioned Christians for profit and here we find ourselves.

Believe it or not, there was once a time when Christians were at the vanguard of the arts. It’s time to regain that perspective and practice and demand more. Demand more not just of our artists but of ourselves. The breadth and depth of human experience is sure worth more than a comparison chart. Shouldn’t we be encouraging the greatest art because we have the least to lose?

Zerzura Trailer

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From the Sahel Sounds Facebook page:

“Zerzura, the feature length Saharan acid Western is now available for streaming on Vimeo. Starring Madassane Ahmoudou (Mdou Moctar / Les Filles de Illighadad) Zerzura follows a young man from a small village in Niger on a surreal journey across the Sahara, crossing paths with djinn, bandits, gold seekers, and migrants, in search of an enchanted oasis. A collaborative project, featuring all original guitar score.”

The website says:

“After a year of work, we’ve finally wrapped up our feature film Zerzura. A collaboration between Sahel Sounds and the nascent Imouhar Studio(an all purpose film/music studio in Agadez, Niger), the film is a magical journey through the Sahara, following protagonist and guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane in search for a lost city of riches. Along the way he encounters nomads, djinn, bandits, and gold seekers – a nod to our docu-realist approach to the film. While the concept of a lost desert city film has been kicking around for years, Zerzura was written, produced, and filmed entirely on location. Scenes were done in single takes, sometimes completely improvised.”’

Watch the trailer:

  • Watch the movie at Vimeo for $5.00.

Musical Meals For A Snacky Culture (Thoughts On Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Live at WOMAD 1985)

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According to the Wikipedias:

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Urdu/Punjabi: نصرت فتح علی خان), born Anjum Pervaiz Ali Khan (13 October 1948 – 16 August 1997), was a legendary Pakistani vocalist and musician, primarily a singer of Qawwali, a form of Sufi Islamic devotional music.

Real World Records says that Khan’s voice is “universally recognised as one of the great voices in musical history and he was key in bringing the Qawwali music tradition to the Western world.”

Though Khan died in 1997, his powerful voice still resonate. Real Records just released Khan’s 1985 appearance at WOMAD. If you’re not familiar, “is an international arts festival. The central aim of WOMAD is to celebrate the world's many forms of music, arts and dance.” The album’s liner notes lay out the significance of the performance:

Looking back, it’s impossible to over-estimate the significance of this moment of musical history. On the remote flat lands of Mersea Island in Essex in July 1985 an eclectic programme of music was unfolding at the WOMAD Festival. New Order appeared on the same bill as Tabu Ley Le Rochereau, The Fall and Penguin Café Orchestra— it was a remarkable line up.

At midnight on Saturday night July 20 Nusrat Fateh Ali Khanand Party took to the stage. The group sit cross-legged in two rows and for some minutes there is a silent pause. What unfolded over the following hours stunned the audience. And it impressed upon Nusrat his remarkable skill at communicating with audiences from a different culture and language and with no understanding of the deep and ancient traditions of qawwali music.

“What unfolded over the following hours stunned the audience.”

Listening to this electrifying live performance, I have been meditating on those words: “What unfolded over the following hours stunned the audience.” And, even at that, as NPR says: “In all, it was a very truncated performance — in more traditional settings, qawwali concerts can go all night.”

I love music from all around the world and my “Western Sensibilities” are often challenged, whether it be tones, time signatures or time. It is not uncommon for my kids to complain about the length of something I’m listening to more than anything else. Though I regularly listen to long pieces of music, they do not. They have grown up with pop nuggets 3 minutes or less. This isn’t a “GET OFF MY LAWN” rant against young people or shorter songs. It’s just something I think about.

Non-western music often requires commitment. The first two pieces are each longer than 20 minutes. The shortest song on the album is over 9 minutes. These pieces are musical meals but I worry that ours is far too often just a snacky culture. Far too often, we are far too easily pleased with musical munchies when a four course meal is being offered. This is turning into a “GET OFF MY LAWN” rant, isn’t it? Sorry, I’m just reminded that, sometimes, things are worth our full attention. There is something meaningful in committing more than three minutes to the experience of music. Music can be entertainment but it can also be so much more. Khan’s powerful performance reminds us of that.

Watch the album’s official trailer.


  • Visit Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s site at the Real World Records website.

  • Watch the first song from the album “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo.”

  • Stream the album at NPR.

  • Purchase the album at Amazon.