When it comes to Sin City, the maxim is still as infamous as ever: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But for worship leader Freddy Rodriguez, the vision is a little different: He wants the spirit and the songs of his impressive Integrity Music debut Light in the Darkness, which he recorded in Vegas, to shine bright like a city on a hill, both locally and beyond.
Recorded live before a packed house at The Champion Center in Las Vegas and produced by Freddy himself, Light in the Darkness is destined to become a church classic that’s brimming with congregational value and a cross-cultural vibe for universal appeal. Gospel, Latin and pop influences converge to create a heavenly sound, one that transcends ethnicities and encourages worshippers to be united in praise.
“There was so much excitement and expectation,” Freddy says of the night of the recording. “That’s going to be a weekend the church will remember for a long time! There was great unity in the environment—great enthusiasm, great support. The Spirit of God was strong.”
From top to bottom, Light in the Darkness sounds ready-made to make an impact across ethnic and generational boundaries in the Body of Christ, with its explosive blend of contemporary gospel praise in the vein of Israel & New Breed’s Live from Another Level and Martha Munizzi’s The Best Is Yet to Come.
The Israel connection isn’t too far off. As fate would have it, Freddy had been in the audience for the recording of New Season, Israel’s first album for Integrity and a forerunner in the realm of gospel praise. So, Freddy returned the favor and invited his GRAMMY-winning friend out to his recording.
“He was an influence in my life,” Freddy says of the prolific New Breed leader. “He’s paved a way for something like this.”
For Freddy, the title Light in the Darkness has an even deeper implication: It almost serves as a metaphor for his own journey of faith, one that took him from a dark place of confusion and sin into God’s marvelous light.
A native of Chicago, Freddy was born into a poor Puerto Rican household, with parents who lived off of welfare and never quite lived the typical church life. His father was an occasional song leader at an old-school Hispanic congregation, but instability at home and the absence of a truly Christian upbringing rang more loudly than any song his father would sing.
His parents eventually divorced when he was 3 years old, sending the young boy on a rollercoaster of dysfunction and unsteadiness. By the time he was 13, he tried to find some refuge in music, joining his school’s choir, fostering a desire to learn piano, and reveling in the sounds of early Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight.
But a move to Dallas-Ft. Worth in Texas proved problematic for the would-be worship leader. He experimented with drugs, lived out of other people’s houses, and often found himself hanging out with the wrong crowd—he was a convicted felon before he was old enough to drive.
Providentially, a desire to reconnect with his father back in Illinois and an internship at a recording studio opened the door for him to find Christ and sow the seeds of a promising career in music.
“I got led to the Lord in a recording studio,” says Freddy, who was drug-free at the time but hadn’t quite kicked his previous lifestyle to the curb. “One time I came to the studio and the owner noticed I was under the influence. He just loved on me and asked me if I wanted to make a significant choice in my life.”
It was then, at 19, that he decided to follow Christ. Not long after he met his wife Julie, with whom he now has four children—Samuel Joseph, 13, Sabrina, 9, Michael, 7, and Stephen, 2.
But even with a fresh spiritual outlook and newly acquired musical skills, it took some time before Freddy caught a vision for worship ministry. Coming from the streets, he was disenchanted by the songs being sung by some of the churches he attended.
“There was nothing. It was strange to me,” he recalls. “It was out of date. It was sung with a lack of passion. They looked like they were depressed. It was really weird to me.”
Incidentally, Freddy’s imminent change of heart came when a friend invited him to watch a concert video by another Integrity artist who was forerunner in worship music: Ron Kenoly. Kenoly’s 1994 recording, God Is Able, spoke to Freddy in ways he didn’t think possible. Immediately, the scales fell from his eyes.
“What I heard and what I saw had a significant impact on me defining myself as a worship leader,” Freddy says. “When I saw that, I heard the Lord speak to me and say, ‘Son, that’s your destiny right there.’”
Freddy never looked back. For a time, he immersed himself in all things Integrity, trying to play catch-up to all the wasted years and opportunities. Today, he has 11 years of ministry under his belt and he is determined to return the favor and be a musical blessing to the body of Christ at large. And what better than Light in the Darkness, a parade of future anthems for the multicultural church.
Polyrhythmic grooves, horns, and congregational melodies are at the forefront of “We Lift Our Hands,” a terrific call to worship that’s equally invitational and accessible. Without missing a beat, Freddy and the Champions crew bring on the funk on the irresistible “Rejoice,” a fast-moving hand-clapper that works as a nice set-up for the last song in this trifecta of praise: “Lord You Are Amazing” recalls the Latin vibe of Salvador and Santana, as salsa-inspired syncopation anchors a jam that’s as cool as it’s worshipful.
These festive moments prepare worshippers for the very heart of Light in the Darkness. “No Other Name” is the first in line, a guitar-driven anthem of adoration that moves with the same fluidity and vitality of “Friend of God.” From there, congregants join the soaring melodies of “I Will Run,” a swaying ballad that bids everyone to run to the feet of the Savior—to pursue him with reckless abandon.
As Freddy and the team move deeper and higher in adoration, they press even closer to the throne with the disarming “Fallen,” a simple love song to God that’s also one of the loveliest melodies on the entire project. Later, the classical gospel arrangement of “Alone With You” works as a solo selection or a corporate one, as a female lead and choral backing sing of desiring solitude with God.
That’s only half of the recording. The rest of Light in the Darkness is just as compelling, thoughtfully arranged, and uplifting, with songs like the rollicking “Lifter of My Head,” the jazzy “That’s Who You Are,” the prayerful “Wrap Me in Your Arms,” and the get-up-and-dance closer, “We Are Champions” — all of which point to the versatility of Rodriguez and the Champion Center minstrels.
Collectively, it’s the work of one of the most promising worship ensembles of the new millennium, not to mention a surefire source of new songs for the church—from the heart of the entertainment capital of the world to the inner courts of the sanctuary.
“As a worship leader, my desire is for people to connect with God,” Rodriguez says. “I’ve already made up my mind that I’m going to pursue him with my whole heart. Nobody convinced me about it. It’s my reasonable act of service. When we find ourselves in the secret place of the Most High God, we should be able to hear his voice."