Freshman's talent is the talk of Canyon Worship

Baraka Shekanena made Canyon Worship 2022 as a freshman with his song, "Burdens to Bear." (Photo by Elizabeth Tinajero)

Third in a series

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

For a guy who insists he doesn’t like to talk, Baraka Shekanena sure has a lot to say.

About his faith in God.

About the Worship Arts program at Grand Canyon University.

And about how he quickly found his place in it even though he has considered it overwhelming at times.

Shekanena downplays it, but he brought a lot of musical talent with him from Wyoming, Michigan – so much so that his song, “Burdens to Bear,” was chosen for the Canyon Worship 2022 album even though he was only a freshman.

“Man, he is just one of those mega-talented individuals,” said Dr. Randall Downs, the Worship Arts Coordinator.

But Shekanena would rather talk about the talent around him.

“I’m really impressed by how much the students knew before they were taught by the professors and teachers,” he said.

One of those students is Colter Bonaroti. Shekanena heard him playing the piano in the Recording Studio one day and, on a whim, sat down and played right alongside him.

A friendship was born.

“It was crazy,” Shekanena said. “Music is the language, so once you understand that language, it builds the community.”

And yet, despite his crazy talent, he refuses to let it go to his head. He prefers to look up to his elders in the Worship Arts community, including the Canyon Worship producers, Geoff Hunker and Dave Willey.

Shekanena expressed his admiration for producers Dave Willey (left) and Geoff Hunker.

“This whole experience is way too much for a freshman just to come in here and think he’s big stuff,” he said. “I have no reputation, really. But with the help of juniors and seniors like Colter and of Geoff and Dave, it gives me that confidence and gives me the ability to say that even though I am young and I have little or no experience in this realm, I still have a place to say what I’m going to say and room to do what I want to do.”

Shekanena’s talent runs in the family. His mother and grandmother both are singers, and all but one of his five siblings are musically inclined. He also says Mom is a “prayer warrior, always singing about God,” so it’s easy to see how he wound up writing and performing worship music.

Finding his way to GCU isn’t that much of a mystery, either.

“I really liked the program that they had for Worship Arts, and it’s very warm over here, too,” he said. “I like the weather here a lot.”

He found the inspiration for “Burdens to Bear” during a trip to South Korea with gospel singers from his high school. A friend was talking about Christ’s declaration that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30), and Shekanena took it to heart.

“Whatever problem you have in life, it’s not going to be bigger than God,” he said. “God is going to always be there to carry whatever burden you have, and He’ll give you beauty for your ashes and your joy for mourning.”

Note Shekanena’s eloquence. Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson certainly saw it right away when the freshman started using the studio’s rehearsal rooms.

“When you hear his music and hear this song, you hear this amazing spirit and this amazing talent,” Johnson said. “But when you meet him in person, he’s just humble and shy. He doesn’t talk about himself. But I also get this strong sense of character in that he knows who he is – he knows who he is in Christ.”

Said Downs, “I love the fact that the song’s a reminder that we’re not meant to walk through the burdens of life alone. Through a lot of the album, I think you see a theme that abundant life is happening here and the Lord walks with us and carries our burdens for us. His yoke is easy.”

That belief helped Shekanena feel unburdened as a freshman. He appreciates what God has instilled in him.

“For my entire life, I’ve been told, ‘You are talented,’” he said. “It’s not like I should receive this, but I understand why I’m here.”

And it’s why he’s on Canyon Worship 2022.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Canyon Worship 2022 is scheduled to be released Sept. 9 on Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. It will be available in the iTunes Store.


Related content:

GCU Today: Canyon Worship 2022 is in step with collaboration

GCU Today: Fearlessness propelled ascent to Canyon Worship

GCU Today: Students make their voices heard in Showcase

GCU Today: Songwriters Showcase returns with range of voices


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Bible Verse

(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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