Invoking the Celtic Saints

Irish Christian band Iona defies trends, transcends tradition.
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The six virtuosos who make up Britain's Iona are confounding contemporary Christian music stereotypes, delighting both churched and unchurched audiences around the world with their broad musical and theological vocabulary.

Most of the band's U.S. performances are at Christian events, like Chicago's Cornerstone Festival. Back at home, Iona plays at such events as England's Glastonbury Festival, which is awash in paganism and pot.

But whether they are leading believers in joyous worship or challenging unbelievers to reconsider the relevance of the ancient faith, band members mix devout intentions with muscular musicianship.

"One of the main negative points about [Christian music] is when bands try to copy what is going on in the 'mainstream' music scene rather than try to be original," says Joanne Hogg, whose crystalline vocals soar over the band's sometimes dizzying mix of progressive rock and serene, Celtic melodies. "We're not interested in sounding fashionable, but we are interested in sounding innovative, emotive, passionate."

In the band's fifth and latest album, Heaven's Bright Sun, the music alternates between bold swells (featuring blistering electric guitars and pounding drums) and melodic lulls (with harp, flute, and uillean pipes). The band members' musical influences range from French impressionist composer Claude Debussy to jazz great Jan Garbarek and rock iconoclast Captain Beefheart.

Iona's lyrics focus on the transcendent reality of God, the centrality of the gospel, and the duty to worship God and serve humanity.

A CELTIC REVIVAL For several years, Ireland and all things Celtic have experienced an unprecedented popular revival. And a profusion of new Christian recordings show that contemporary Celtic music may ...

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