Times they are a- changin.
SEX, DRUGS, and rock and roll. Hardly an image any church would want to associate with. But as Bob Dylan once sang, the times are a- changin and more and more churches seem to be moving with the times. As a result, rock music, once shunned by the Church "as the devil's music", is today being played with its blessings, by devout Christian bands all across India. Sometimes, the bands even play within the confines of churches.
As Christian rock artists point out, the road to acceptance has not been easy.
Moses Mathuram, former Christian rocker- turned- IT professional, says that when he formed his Chennai- based band Stones in 1992 the reception was very different.
"Stones was made up of students from Karunya and Madras Christian College.
We did covers of Christian rock artists from the West like Stryper, Petra and Recon, as well as our own songs. Most of the lyrics were focused on the fact that we needed god in our life and that Jesus was the only one who could satisfy our most innate needs," he says.
But Mathuram's story is no longer the case today. With India going global, growing knowledge of western music, especially rock, has encouraged many The band Magdalene, who claim to be the first gospel- rock band in Mizoram, plays in churches during Sunday school.
in the Church to take a more tolerant stance.
Christian- rock- turned- rap artist Billy Day, who has been playing since the 1990s, points out, "Today, many parents are familiar with rock and rap, so rock is no longer the big evil it was in those days. There are a number of younger priests too I'm sure, who have grown up listening to rock music in their teenage years." Day seems to be describing Father Rajorshi Sweet. A priest in the Global Christian Life Center ( GCLC) in Delhi, Rajorshi believes "soft rock music with words that are decent" is acceptable to the church.
"In my teenage years I used to listen to Iron Maiden," he chuckles, adding at once that Iron Maiden is not acceptable to the church. But he is just as quick to confirm what a difference Christian- rock has made.
The GCLC has a rock band which plays on special occasions like Easter Sunday in the church and Sweet believes they have helped in increasing the turnout of young Christians.
" We have an estimated 450 people in our churches and I see an increasing number of youngsters in their ranks.
Their number has grown from 10 per cent to 25 per cent in about four years." Christian bands across the country echo the father's words. Magdalene, who claim to be the first gospel- rock band in Mizoram, say they shy away from hard metal, opting instead for a softer punk sound. The band plays in churches during Sunday school and mainly caters to the young.
Gospellers, a Meghalayabased band, say their aim is to stop youngsters from getting addicted to pre- marital sex and drugs and to get hooked instead to Jesus. Rimanbor Judah Cunville, founder and lead vocalist of the Gospellers, says: "Rock music sheds this image of a Christian life being dull and boring. It also tells youngsters there is an alternative beyond singing hymns." But while Christian- rock may be getting young Christians in the mood, some bands confess that at times they do get extreme reactions from non- Christians.
Bryden, lead guitarist of Bangalore- based group Slain, says that the band has had to deal with their fair share of hecklers.
"Some people shout ' leave the country' during a gig. "Privately, other rock groups say they have been accused of encouraging conversion," he says.
Says a rocker who did not wish to be named, "There are some bands out there who make it clear their agenda is to spread the word of Christ, but we are not all like that. What most of us want is for people to just enjoy the music." It's not just the crowd reaction.
Christian rockers confess that they also get the third degree from other bands anxious to know why they don't embody the rock- n- roll lifestyle.
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