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18 August 2011

Ishmael: finding answers

Ishmael: finding answers

Ishmael, respected songwriter and worship leader has a new album out. Your Stories spoke to the artist to see what has inspired his new sound.

A much loved performer, leading thousands in worship at Spring Harvest and making music for nearly 40 years, Ishmael says that inspiration for the new album Ishmael's Songs and Hymns has come from events in his life over the last three years.

"It is [refreshing to make a different sounding album] - and it is where it has come from that is different. I had just finished my chemo, and then we discovered that my little grandson also had cancer and he died in September."

Ishmael says that through these very painful experiences he recognised that as well as questioning in tough times, there also needs to be space to worship, even through difficulties.
"For the album I was coming from the perspective that we know God is in charge but questions do come to mind and we try to make up answers. I am content to do that as well as acknowledge that God works for the greater good - he is in charge.

"Because I had been known for my children's praise music I couldn't do the same. It is different if you have had tragedy - it is often difficult to give praise and thanksgiving."

Featuring Martin Smith and Dave Bilborough, Ishmael wanted the album to help people who may have experienced similar challenges to be able to worship, and felt that something a bit different musically was the way to do it:

"It's often difficult to worship with praise and thanksgiving. I wanted to help people to be able to do that and a lot of the songs on this album talk about heaven and the second coming. I wanted this to be a feel-good album to help people get back into thanksgiving and it was very refreshing to do.

"I don't know of anyone who doesn't know of someone who has died of cancer," continues Ishmael. "We are all going through difficult times in that respect. The album is about encouraging young and old to get praising and it really does [give] a real release. I think of David who was going through a lot of suffering but who always ended his Psalms with praising God. If you can break through the pain and come through to praising - it really does help."

Still training children's workers outside of his song writing, many of the songs are hymn-like in sound and the album also includes some of the older material.

"I deliberately wanted to write [songs] that had biblical content in them so they were like hymns. The new content is very basic simplistic hymns - simple melodies - that both children and adults can enjoy. It will also bring more depth to the songs for everyone. I have also put in some of the older stuff I wrote for the children's ministry that meant a lot to me and which adults can enjoy as well."

Your Stories also asked Ishmael about his health following cancer treatment recently.

"I am in remission and have got my energy back and am touring," he says. "I am doing well but this is why I have other singers on the album because having chemo gives you real side effects. As well as having had a throat operation I was worried about the effect on my voice - there was a time where I couldn't even speak."

Through his cancer experience, Ishmael feels that he has been given a new ministry, regularly visiting patients at his old hospital.

"Through all of these experiences you learn so much. I love writing songs for children and adults but I also love giving testimony. I spend a lot of time at my hospital where I had my treatment and go back and talk to the patients.

"I think it is far easier to talk to someone who has been through the same thing. I sit down with people before they are going to start their chemo and say 'this is what it will be like, it won't be easy but this is what I have experienced'. I always travel with a bottle of oil as well - one of the reasons I have been kept alive is to pray for people."

Asked whether he still enjoys what he does, Ishmael is clear: "I've done this for 40 years and love it now just as much as I did when I first started. I now feel I have more to give from my experiences over the last three years than any other before." 

If you would like to invite Ishmael to perform or hold a tour in your area contact him at www.ishmaeldirect.com