When it comes to praise & worship powerhouse Israel & New Breed, the cliché is true: hearing is believing. Don’t buy it? Ask Chris Tomlin what he thinks of bandleader Israel Houghton.
“Israel is a good friend and a brilliant artist,” Tomlin says. “Musically, he’s a triple threat: amazing voice, great songwriter and incredible musician. But above all his gifts, Israel has a consuming passion for the world to worship our great God. I love any chance to be in the same room when he and his band begin to play.”
A glowing endorsement, but by no means unwarranted. Since their fateful 2001 Integrity Music debut, Houghton and his tireless clan have risen to become one of the hottest praise aggregates in Christian and gospel music. They have the credentials to prove it: two Gold certifications, a GRAMMY® award and several Dove, Stellar and Soul Train statuettes.
But industry recognition isn’t what keeps them going. Israel & New Breed epitomize multi-ethnic, cross-cultural worship music, fusing gospel, pop, funk, rock, R&B and Latin influences to form a nearly indescribable stylistic mélange. Houghton calls this fusion a “kingdom sound,” a mixture more palpable than ever on the group’s sixth effort, A Deeper Level (Integrity).
“We felt genuine about widening the scope and broadening the reach of the music on this recording,” says Houghton, also a senior worship leader at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. “The cross-section of people who listen to us and connect with our ministry is incredibly broad. The actual recording certainly verified that. We had an incredible time in God’s presence.”
To see multiple cultures praising God hand-in-hand, without regard for skin tone or genre preferences, is the lifeblood running through the band’s music ministry. It’s a vision that remains consistent thanks to each member’s hands-on involvement in local churches and ministries, like Houghton’s own participation in Osteen’s services.
This at-home grounding, Houghton says, is what keeps the conglomerate from getting too adventurous with their music. To them, meeting every tradition halfway is paramount. “Lakewood is known for the cultural diversity that makes up nearly 40,000 worshippers,” he says. “They have always been an immediate barometer for new material, and their response has helped propel the changes New Breed is seeing.”
But more than an interest in redefining their sound, this time around their desire was to plumb the depths of profound, meaningful worship. To make sure that benchmark was met, they planned a group fast. Not your typical, one-day fast, mind you— but a 40-day abstention from anything that could sidetrack them from their goal, whether food, television or Internet use.
“Something about that experience changed everything this time around,” Houghton says. “It’s not that previous experiences weren’t as deep — our awareness and sensitivity have increased. We’ve been brought near, and the desire to be closer to the heart of God has grown.”