World Music Day or Make Music Day takes place this year on the 21st June. The idea originated in France in 1982 with the premise that music in all its forms was to be celebrated on the streets and public places of the world. At present, almost 120 countries and 700 cities support World Music Day with a variety of outdoor concerts and events hosted by amateurs and professionals, all of which are free to attend.
I remember being unwittingly caught up in WMD celebrations whilst visiting Vilnius in Lithuania several summers ago. I walked through impromptu pop up folk moments showcasing extraordinary local talent nestled alongside dazzling stages of brickwalled guitar tones and cannon fire bass drums before being beckoned into a small music shop in a quieter side street. Fifteen of us, all strangers and foreigners two minutes ago, now gathered around a piano, helping ourselves to music books from the shelves and joyfully singing well known classics and West End musicals together; a unique moment of international unity and cross cultural friendship fuelled by the simple pleasure of music. Looking back, it was bizarre, hilarious and one of the fondest memories I have.
A common ingredient for many of the third spaces we inhabit will often be music. Many of the DJ’s we associate with will be present week-in week-out at junctions of social interaction where the common denominator is music. For some, this might be a converted warehouse that reverberates to a huge soundsystem in its resurrected club identity. For others, it might be private parties on boats that sail the River Thames. Others might get the opportunity to play at prestigious venues or award ceremonies. Whatever the setting, music will be the fast track for community, connection and relationship just as it was for me in Vilnius.
For some, the idea of a Christian DJ is a strange concept in itself. I imagine that for many Christians, music serves a very specific, and very necessary, corporate function in our western culture models of worship teams and Sunday morning praise. But what happens when we embrace a World Music Day ethos to our musical worship experience? What happens when we step outside, beyond our borders and combine such deliberate audacity with one of music’s primary reasons for existence? What happens when we take our worship into the public places at no cost to anyone apart from our comfort zones?
I believe for many Christian DJ’s, they carry the battle cry of worship into the places that can’t be reached by other worshippers. They carry a sound that certainly isn’t familiar to our contemporary experience of Christian worship. This, however, isn’t about a sound but about the heart. Backed up by prophetic vocalists and spirit filled MC’s, these unlikely pioneers have the potential to worship their creator outside of the confines of musical uniformity and demonstrate His greatness and glory on the streets and in the venues of our cities.
One of the DJ’s we know frequently plays at major events such as the Oscars. He describes his experience as “performing before an audience of one.” As far as he is concerned, even at these star studded events, this is all about God and the seeds of gospel truth he can sow through music and connection. On my Facebook feed, a video of a well known underground radio show pops up and I recognise the DJ and the rapper as Christian friends who are passionately declaring God’s truth to an audience who have probably never considered going to a Sunday morning service. In a hushed setting, a high profile dance music vocalist, newly saved and baptised, steps onto the stage at her concert and lifts her voice in unbridled worship. At an event in London, a DJ grabs the microphone and makes her love for God known to the room before dropping some more outlandishly funky vinyl onto the platter. At the other end of the spectrum, a Scottish movement uses Christian dance music to reach school kids and share the gospel in rented out nightclubs. Hundreds of teenagers make decisions for Christ.
My experience of World Music Day taught me that music has the power to connect and establish community beyond language, race and gender. However, when we step beyond the simple celebration of music to a celebration of the creator of music itself, we see so much more. Outside the safety of our church sanctuaries, we’ll see atmospheres shift, joy spread and life released to a whole new soundtrack. In addition to this, the aforementioned connections, relationships and authentic evangelistic opportunities to share the gospel remain; greatly assisted by the common ground that a love for music generates. Not only is this DJ led musical worship into the third spaces spiritually triumphant and dangerously countercultural, it’s missional as well. So let’s take the vulnerable, public, community driven creative heart behind World Music Day, be prepared to mix with the strangers and the outcasts and use music in the way it was intended. Worship.
If you want to listen to DJ and musicians sharing their heart for worship through the music they play, follow the link to the DJ Unity Mixcloud page where a number of artists from the DJ Unity group have uploaded their latest mixes.