note to the English-speaking reader: this article was written to explain the significance of the Sanremo Festival of Christian Song. Contemporary Christian Music is not as well developed in Italy as it is in Anglo-Saxon countries. The Sanremo Festival of Christian Song was organized at the same time and place as the Sanremo Italian Song Festival, the most important musical event in Italy, followed by 65% share on TV, some 14 million people. This caused controversy, many felt it was a way to condemn the Sanremo Festival of immorality, as if to say that the “secular” festival had no right to be considered by believers and should be boycotted in favor of the Christian festival offered as an alternative. But the controversy has no reason to exist, as I tried to explain in the article.
“Give thanks to the Lord on the harp;
offer praise to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings with joyful shouts.
For the word of the Lord is true,
and he is faithful in everything he does”. Psalm 33
The invitation to sing to the Lord and to praise him, even using musical instruments, recurs many times in Sacred Scripture, which contains the book of Psalms, designed precisely to be sung. Monks and nuns sing them at various times of the day. Sacred music, to which countless masterpieces of classical music belong, resounds in the churches. Then there is modern liturgical music, or songs designed for the liturgy, but in a modern style. But even more extensive is the panorama of Contemporary Christian and Gospel Music. This is also music that is not primarily intended to be performed in a liturgy, but is inspired by contemporary musical genres and has lyrics with a faith-inspired message that is almost always explicit.
This is not to say that mainstream music songs cannot also be “Christian”. There are very famous songs that have clear references to the faith, just think of “Where the streets have no name” by U2, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, “Let it be” by The Beatles and we could continue at length including love songs because, after all, love for others and love between man and woman are deeply Christian themes.
Contemporary Christian music, however, also exists as a specific genre and there is no opposition to other genres. It can be expressed in different sub-genres: gospel, rock, pop, rap, country, metal, dance, progressive, alternative…. What unites it are the lyrics that refer to the Christian faith. The Sanremo Festival of Christian Song wants to be a showcase for this kind of music.
The event has been organized by the singer-songwriter Fabrizio Venturi and sponsored by the City of Sanremo, by the Church of Sanremo, broadcasted by Radio Vaticana and Radiotelepadrepio, the prizes have been realized by the same artist who realized those of the main Sanremo Festival, and important italian recording and producers associations have offered generous prizes. Here is the official website of the event: Sanremo Festival della Canzone Cristiana
There is no intent to oppose the much more famous Sanremo Festival -an Italian national-popular event-, or to believe that the Sanremo Festival is “too pagan” and therefore a “Christian” festival is needed to counteract its immorality. Nothing could be more wrong.
The organizers declared that the contemporaneity of the place and the period with the Italian Song Festival were only chosen as a formidable occasion for promotion, taking advantage of the massive presence of the media in the city. The winner of the Sanremo Festival is chosen every year to represent Italy at the Eurovision Song contest. But the Sanremo Festival is so popular in Italy that it is much more followed than the Eurovision Song Contest.
Many -there has been no lack of journalistic coverage in this sense- have welcomed the birth of this Christian festival, contemporary to the main one, with a smile of pity and superiority, accusing the organizers of wanting to relegate Christian music to marginalization (I do not like to use the word ghetto, out of respect for all those who have had to live in ghettos, the real ones).
The accusations against the Christian music festival conceal a profoundly mistaken approach: contemporary Christian music, in fact, is a specific genre that has a right to exist. No one would turn up their nose at a Jazz or Metal music festival in Sanremo… but Christian music seems strange in Italy. This denotes a lack of knowledge of the international situation, particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, where Contemporary Christian music is looked upon with respect and has a place together with all the other genres in the most prestigious music awards.
In the evening of the Grammy Awards, considered the Oscars of music, on the same stage where Adele, Beyoncé and Oasis have stepped on, 5 Grammy awards are assigned to Christian music. No one in America is surprised if after Pat Metheny picked up the Grammy for Best Jazz Album and Billie Eilish that for Best Song of the Year, Christian music artists take the stage to collect Grammys for:
Best Gospel Performance/Song Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song Best Gospel Album Best Contemporary Christian Music Album Best Roots Gospel Album
The Latin Grammys, which are very popular in Spanish-speaking countries, also have 2 awards for Christian music.
Contemporary Christian music also has its own awards, such as the Dove Awards, held every year in Nashville.
The musical quality is top notch, as an example here is a song nominated for the 2022 Grammy’s, by Cece Winans, multi-awarded in her career with 12 Grammy Awards and 28 GMA Dove Awards, 19 million records sold, almost 60 years old with a voice that has nothing to envy to Whitney Houston…
Or the more famous “What a beautiful name”, by Hillsong worship, Grammy-winner.
428 million views the official video (to have a term of comparison in Italy the most viewed videos of Vasco Rossi and Laura Pausini, the two most popular italian singers, are around 80 million views)
Here is the live version, performed at the Dove Awards:
One of the possible reasons for the little development of contemporary Christian music in Italy is, in my opinion, related to the fact that there is a tendency to clearly separate sacred music from secular music in the Catholic Church, and most of the population is Catholic. In the Catholic Holy Mass, music has an important but not essential place, it is the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist that is perceived as central and only sacred songs, considered appropriate, are sung.
Protestant and evangelical rites, on the other hand, sometimes increasingly resemble real concerts where songs in a modern style are alternated with the pastor’s sermon. The so-called megachurches, not exempt from events close to sensationalism, which appeal to emotion. This is attractive, but it is sometimes at the expense of silence-practically absent, which should be alternated with words and music to foster spiritual experience.
In Catholic churches there is no lack of silence and a sober depth of the rite that aids prayer, but on the other hand there is sometimes a risk of falling asleep. Each approach obviously has its pros and cons.
Yet contemporary Christian music is beginning to awaken in Italy as well. Alongside excellent productions, there is a large number of “do-it-yourself” songwriters, just like myself and the music I publish in this blog.
The level of the Festival della Canzone Cristiana alternated between excellent performers, even professionals, and less convincing performances (but even at the main Sanremo Festival there were some). The stage and the overall appearance were extremely simple and, in any case, as much as can be expected in a local TV station and in a self-financed event at its beginning. Yet it was an important and successful event, precisely because it had the air of a place where a new adventure has finally begun. Essential simplicity, after all, must be for Christians a reason for joy and a sign to be kept. Brother Vinicius won with “Vale la pena”, for a complete list of awardees, I refer you to this Vatican News article:
The Festival of Christian Songs is heading towards a future that will be all the more radiant the more it manages to be perceived as something that complements the beauty of what already exists, rather than opposing it. The Gospels show us the Lord and the Apostles on the evening of the Last Supper before the betrayal and the Passion: “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” Matthew 26. The Lord Jesus appreciated the music of his time and sang the sacred hymns himself. Certainly he also participated in the popular songs and dances on occasions such as the wedding at Cana. Music is a divine gift to be cultivated, in all its forms.
Least you can find here all the Contemporary Christian Music I released at this link: