God by the beach

Hillsong United, the world’s biggest worship band is set for its Mumbai debut at Girgaum Chowpatty

Every weekend, Girgaum Chowpatty sees revellers eager to bite into the bhelpuri and listen to the waves. Today, however, Mumbai’s beloved beach will be treated to sounds of a different tune.
The world’s hippest church service-cum-rock band, the Sydney-based Hillsong United — which has 1,00,000 members from branches across 11 countries — will take stage this evening.
The attractive 11-member collective, fronted by the toned, tattoo-covered co-pastor Joel Houston, is in the city for the first time. Dr Abraham Mathai, chairman, Prabhu Yeshu Janmotsav arranged for Hillsong United’s first trip to India free of cost. “Since an India visit was their priority, they found it appropriate to fund the tour,” he says.

Houston admits being fascinated by Indian culture and its people. “We are Australian so we love cricket and Sachin Tendulkar,” he says. The band was formed in 1998 at Hillsong Church, by close friends from within Hillsong’s youth ministry called Powerhouse Youth. “The purpose was to help people experience Jesus — not religion, not Christian karaoke. But to understand the personality of God — His love, grace, beauty, truth and goodness,” says Houston. What started as a close-knit group of high school and college students playing music at church events, today, has 10 million followers on social media, has sold 16 million albums, and counts Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens among its ardent followers. “We never wanted to be in a Christian band, and I still don’t consider what we do Christian music — I think it’s far more powerful than that — we call it worship,” says the 36-year-old. He likes to call their music, ‘a fusion of retro-electro-future-folk-alternative-rock-pop’, using organic instruments, analog synths, dynamic drums, guitars and some orchestral elements.The band released its first album, Simply Worship 3, in 1999, but it was the 2013 album, Zion that is the group’s most successful and fastest-selling album to date, debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard200 chart and peaking at number 1 on the overall iTunes chart in the US and seven other countries. This year in May, the band released their new album Empire.

Joel Houston
Joel Houston

Their astounding success, however, has not got support from the puritanical quarters. “Anyone who does anything significant these days is going to experience criticism, and it hasn’t affected us. We know what God has called us to do, and nothing can shake us from just trying to be … Jesus copped his fair share of criticism too — so it comes with the territory,” says Houston.

Where: Girgaum Chowpatty
 5 PM onwards


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