Kanye West’s Easter Sunday Service at Coachella Brought Christian Music to a Wider Audience

Musician Kanye West headlined a “Sunday Service” performance on a specially made hilltop stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, in Indio, Calif. Video screenshot

Troyer Goldman has a “complicated” relationship with religion. While he recognizes that much of his moral framework is built on Christian principles, he identifies as neither Christian nor religious.

But on Easter Sunday (April 21), Goldman, 21, was singing along loudly and “feeling the rhythm of the music” of Kanye West’s Sunday Service, an unmistakably Christian performance that was broadcast online from Coachella, the music and art festival in Indio, Calif.

“I did not expect to personally feel moved or challenged, but I was,” said Goldman, who watched the performance on YouTube from his home in Anderson, Ind. “The gospel songs are rich with meaning, but I really heard them and sang along differently today.”

Since early this year, West has been hosting what he calls “Sunday Service,” backed up by a gospel choir and rapping numbers that are shot through with talk of God. Before Sunday’s performace at Coachella, these performances have had a cloak of almost secrecy: Attendees have largely been celebrities, whom Kanye asks to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevent them from revealing the show’s content.

At Coachella, pop music’s premier annual event, where tickets go for $500, the rapper opened Sunday Service to a slightly wider, but still elite, in-person audience, while also allowing the masses to watch via livestream on YouTube.

Still playing hide-and-seek, West, dressed in choir robes, was barely discernible from the backup singers as they sang atop a low hill on the festival grounds.

Kanye West on Dec. 3, 2018, in New York.
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The choir sang a previously unreleased song, “Everything We Need,” before West emerged to perform two new songs, “All Falls Down” and “Water.”

Rap music has taken a spiritual turn of late, with Chance the Rapper and Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar sermonizing in their recent albums about a higher power. But no performer plays with religious themes more than West, the husband of Kim Kardashian West who has aligned himself with President Trump. West’s 2013 album, “Yeezus,” which is a nickname West has adopted for himself, contains the song “I Am a God,” and he has posed as Jesus for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Chris Morrill, 34, is Christian but didn’t go to church on Easter. Instead he hoped to get a spiritual lift from West’s performance. He took the day off of work to cook a lamb dinner at his Massachusetts home, spend time with family and tune in to the show on YouTube.

“I expected to feel something spiritual and I did,” Morrill said. “Seeing (West) cover his face as he cried was quite emotional. As was when he kneeled in silence after (the song) ‘Jesus Walks.’”

Beyond the emotional spiritual imagery, however, is a theological message that the average church isn’t offering, according to Jeffrey McCune, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis who teaches a course called “The Politics of Kanye West: Black Genius and Sonic Aesthetics.”

“We have Kanye West having church on a hilltop and giving a message of love,” McCune said. West tells his listeners that “our flaws are as natural as our successes,” McCune adds, “that our sins are as natural as our ability to have self-constraint.

“In the music, we get a sense of what it feels like to be in that really complicated space of being saint and sinner all at once,” McCune said.

The church typically doesn’t allow for this kind of duality, McCune said. “This is a space where people are allowed to be saint and sinner.”

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Source: Religion News Service