THE BLOG

Interview: Why Josh Garrels Is Giving Away His Music to Support Peace-Building in Congo

03/26/2013 03:30 pm ET

Josh started his music career early in life singing for his mother in their laundry room, and has been delighting audiences ever since. In fact, his last two tours have been completely sold out. And I can understand why.

My husband and I, as well as my two sons, can be found listening to Josh in cars, on planes, while running, studying, eating or just thinking. With a truly unique blend of folk and hip-hop, Josh lives out his life just like his music -- honest, soulful and filled with longing for a world made better through those who live a life of faith.

And nowhere is this more evident than his counter-cultural desire to give away that which is best and most beautiful of his music for the sake of others. Three months ago, Josh patiently listened to me pour out my heart about the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and agreed to do a benefit concert with Ten for Congo. It was a wild success. We found a mutual desire to protest the pain of a war that has brutally taken over 5.5 million lives, and promote the beauty of the resilient Congolese people. There has to be peace in Congo -- grassroots and lasting. Josh has decided to lend his voice.

Walking on the edge, Josh and Noisetrade are near the end of a two-week free download including all five of his albums -- his entire life's work -- with all tips going to World Relief's peacemaking effort in the DR Congo.

It seems you've developed a little bit of habit giving your music away. Does your music label think you're crazy?

As a rule, record labels wouldn't allow me to give all my music away, as that would cut into their revenues significantly and they're in the business of selling albums to make a profit. I have the freedom to give away as many of my albums as I want to, simply because I've never worked under a real record label. I write, produce, manufacture and distribute all my own work -- so I own all the rights, which in turn gives me the right to give away as much as I'd like. The first time I decided to do this was in 2011 and 2012, when I gave away my album Love & War & The Sea In Between as well as its proceeds for one full year (June 15, 2011 to June 15, 2012). I was able to give away approx. 125,000 albums and $40,000 to invest in non-profits, ministries, and other musicians work -- all within that "year of jubilee." It was a very positive experience for me, leaving a certain "taste on my tongue" for giving away freely.

So, to you, what does it mean to give away your music -- your work and livelihood?

It's from a conviction that's been growing over the years. Since beginning this career in the early 2000s, I've always felt strongly that music doesn't have to be, and perhaps should never be, solely a means of entertainment for the masses. It should enrich lives in some way. Even if it's feel-good bubblegum pop, it doesn't need to be mindless or appeal to the lowest common denominator, and should never be made with the motivation of "pushing units" and making the next big "idol." Building upon this conviction, over the past two or three years I've felt strongly that any gift we're given is meant to be of service -- to be a blessing to the masses, and to ultimately to meet needs of others and not simply their wants and expectations. Taking the dollar amount out of the equation and leaving nothing between the listener and the music seemed like such a logical conclusion to this train of thought.

You have beautiful songs called 'Rejoice' and 'Lament' on your album Jacaranda. What role does lament play in your music? In your life?

Be it a gift or a curse, I feel things deeply, which means I've spent a fair amount of time in low, melancholy places of borderline depression. Yet, I'm convinced that suffering and sorrow are often the midwives to the greatest joys and victories. As the Lord says, the suffering of childbirth is immediately forgotten when the baby is in the mothers arms. Sharing in sorrow and lament is a necessary part of the transformation into healing and joy, but not just for the victim, it benefits all who take part in the sharing process.

We've spent many years now in lament for our brothers and sisters in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The war in the DRC has taken 5.5 million lives to date, and yet many media outlets have ignored this. What drew you to become an advocate for peace in the DRC?

The first step was to simply be exposed to the situation by those in the know, whose hearts were already deeply connected to Congo. Horrifying statistics being given amidst tears from the teller are a hard combination to ignore. When confronted with such a massive crisis that is in fact being ignored globally, I was left with the overwhelming impression of those in the midst of the suffering in Congo being relatively "voiceless." And this begged the question, if I've quite literally been given a "voice" to sing, speak, write, and have some measure of influence in my own media driven culture, why would I remain silent?

You become a pastor at age 24. In your opinion, what is the role of the church in brining restoration to this broken world?

During the middle ages, the Black Death plagued all of Europe, killing half of the population. Those with the means ran from the cities to save themselves from the outbreak and contamination. History records tell us that it was the Christians who stayed in the belly of the beast to help the sick and dying, and in doing so became sick and died themselves. I believe to bring restoration to the world the church must be lovingly invested and present everywhere corruption and death are found -- whether in war torn countries, broken political and economic systems, sick communities, or our own neighborhoods.

If you could give a challenge to the church today, what would it be?

The church cannot function as "holier than thou" separatists any longer - disengaging from society so as to not become "contaminated" helps no one. If the heart is clean what are we afraid of? We must go with the grace of God into the darkest, sickest, most dangerous systems, countries, industries, and communities and be both present and active, while staying anchored in the death and resurrection of Christ.