City News chats with four-time Grammy Award winner Israel Houghton about writing songs for a worldwide congregation, two days before he and his band New Breed bring their heavenly harmonies to Singapore shores for the first time.
By Yong Yung Shin
You founded New Breed Ministries with your wife Meleasa in 1995. In the last 17 years, your ministry has seen many awards from Grammys and Dove Awards to a Soul Train Award. What do these accolades mean to you?
We have worked diligently the last 17 years, and have seen God’s favor on our ministry. The accolades are really just one more thing to lay at the foot of the cross and point the way to Jesus. As far as Grammys go, it is certainly music’s highest honor—so to be awarded by a voting pool of peers for four consecutive releases is certainly humbling and appreciated.
Tell us about your family background and how you discovered your gift for music?
My father is black of Jamaican descent and my mother is a French Caucasian. Most of my upbringing was primarily in the Hispanic community, which I think, combined with my background, is the tributary from which I draw a lot of musical inspiration. My parents went into full-time ministry as pastors when I was five; I became a Christian early in life, and was always around music and instrumentation, always drawn to anything that produced sound.
What is it like writing songs with your wife?
I love collaborating with Meleasa; we have such an easy chemistry when we write. She comes up with amazing melodic and lyrical ideas, and I tend to put the finishing arrangements and placement options on them. Our three children have really strong musical aspirations as well.
Your songs “Friend Of God”, “Jesus At The Center” are on the most-played lists of churches like City Harvest Church. What is it about your songs that have that cross-cultural appeal—is it a conscious effort on your part? For example, “Jesus At The Center” has an Eastern/Oriental flavour that makes it instantly familiar to congregations in Singapore.
I am very honored to hear that churches in Singapore have connected with our music and message! The idea of writing and arranging songs to have a cross-cultural attraction is very intentional. We find ourselves going to so many places worldwide, so we work hard to make sure it is relatable to congregations worldwide.
You lead worship at Lakewood Church—tell us about the church and how worship and music plays a part in the work that the church does; how does it complement what Pastor Joel Osteen does?
Pastor Joel’s message is an empowering, uplifting message of hope and grace, so the music and songs we write complement and accompany these themes. I’ve been on full-time staff there for 11 years. It’s been amazing to see history happening real-time all around us due to God’s faithfulness.
How does God use you through your gift? Can you give us an example of how He inspires certain concepts/messages and how that inspiration becomes a song?
I believe God uses people who are willing to be used. To have their hearts broken for the things that break God’s heart. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people He uses. So I pay close attention to Scripture and the messages preached to try and find a way to complement the Word with music and i achieve a corporate “yes” in response to what God is saying to them.
Is this your first time in Singapore? What have you heard about Singapore and what are you looking forward to?
This is not my first time to Singapore, but it is our first time performing here. We are very excited. We have many friends in Singapore and we look forward to connecting with them when we get there.
Israel Houghton & New Breed Live in Concert performs at Singapore Expo Hall 2 this Thursday, Feb.16, 8 p.m. Tickets at S$20 to S$100 from Sistic.