Gospel artistes have worn the metal wig of deliberateness and are gradually shredding the cloak of mediocrity that once hung on their necks…
By John Augustina
African gospel artistes seem to be doing better than their predecessors. What changed?
Nearly every African can describe the amusing, well-known, nostalgic sight in Gospel music videos where an artiste stands (usually on a mountain), with three backup singers as the artiste performs their rendition with the usual demo of hand stretching, lip-syncing, and the epic movement of their outfits which is supposedly caused by the wind. We have examples in Gozie and Njideka Okeke, Soweto Gospel Choir, and Agatha Moses.
African Gospel music has evolved when placed side by side with songs done in previous decades, when this level of creativity had not found its way into the craft. There was an obvious permeation of frailties on several fronts, stretching through poorly-written lyrics, to convulsive beats, boredom-stricken rhythms, unsophisticated recycling of old songs, redundant bleats owing to overly filtered voice texture during studio productions, and so many more. Significantly, the artistes in previous decades were tightly hugged with the mindset that Gospel music was directed to God, and whatever form it came in didn’t matter. This was a notion that weaved a sickening level of raggedness in African Gospel music.
Songs from few decades ago can hardly be compared to songs in this era. It does appear that the beat has changed. It goes without saying that Gospel artistes have worn the metal wig of deliberateness and are gradually shredding the cloak of mediocrity that once hung on their necks. Gospel artistes are breaking the binding shackles of historic deterrent in terms of style and genre, a thing which was, and is, of course, still considered as conformity to secularism for fame. Gospel artistes in Africa are beginning to sew in a noteworthy level of intentionality in their singing.
Gospel music in Africa now stride on inclusivity, and it is discarding the stifling belief that a Gospel song must sound sombre to be termed holy. Gospel music is now colliding with the delicate box of pop culture that clearly had the “do not disturb” sign written across it. Hence, the question: what shows that a solemn or a choral rendition is holy? Does solemnity or the sombreness of a song indicate the absence of profanity? Well, this is definitely not the core focus of this article.
Common threads associated with this evolution are in the area of live recordings, the mixing of subgenres such as Gospel Rap, Jazz, Rock, Afropop, rich lyricism running over heavy, enticing Afrobeats, and so much more. African Gospel artistes are also slowly drifting towards recording their albums live on stage due to the edge of having people listen and actively participate in the recording.
African Gospel artistes have scored undeniable points in recent times. Their songs have permeated different platforms and many parts of the world. Songs from renowned Gospel artistes such as Nigerian Sinach who is regarded as one of the most recognised Gospel artistes in Africa are being sung all over the world. Reliant on the invaluable edge granted by the leap in Internet culture and even the quality of production, her “Way Maker” made the rounds between 2015 when it was first released, and continued its ride in fame into 2020 after its official video was released.
Moving past the shores of Nigeria, and even Africa, the song was embraced by many international Christian organisations and individuals alike. The song was sampled by prominent international gospel artistes and worship teams, such as Maranda Curtis, Michael W. Smith, Leeland, Bethel Music, Mandisa, and others, and has over 200 million views on Sinach’s YouTube page.
The song bagged three major nominations, and Sinach ranked as the first Nigerian to win the GMA Dove Award for Song of the Year at the 51st GMA Dove Awards. She is also the first singer to top the Billboard Christian Songwriter chart for a period of 12 weeks. Adding to this is the BMI song of the year, and the recognition by the US Congress on one of her tours in the United States.
Nigerian Limoblaze has also become the face of the reform ongoing in African Gospel music. His recent album, Sunday in Lagos, is a good attempt at breaking the norm of stringent conventions and causing a stylistic shift in what popular culture demands of a Gospel album.
Dipping in the well of creativity, the album propels a visible cultural shift as the songs swim in what seem to be an ecstatic marriage between subgenres such as Afropop, Gospel Rap and Hip-Hop. “Jireh” from the album trended massively on TikTok for a long period of time. Limoblaze emerged twice in 2018 and 2019 as winner of the African Gospel Music and Media Awards respectively. He also won the Crystal Awards for Best International Act Award Winner in 2019. Adding to this feat is the Premier Gospel Award for Best International Act winner in 2022.
The award-winning Ghanaian artiste, Joe Mettle’s most recent Kadosh album cemented his already existing notoriety, leading to a massive fan base. The album’s hit song “Kadosh,” gained over half a million views on Mettle’s YouTube channel barely few weeks after it was first released in 2022. He is widely known for his unconventional mix of instrumentation to achieve melodious sounds, and the fine blend of voice texture.
Gospel music has been a journey of unparalleled success for Southern African Gospel singer, Dr Tumi. Tumi’s musical journey has been well laurelled. Significant are the five awards he won at the 9th SABC Crown Gospel Music Awards, which was held in Durban in 2016. So is the case of South African Gospel singer, Benjamin Dube. Dube’s songs are known for intense and deliberate lyricism. The gold and platinum rankings he has achieved in the South African music ranking are all rooted in the quality of songs that he sings.
Collaboration, platforms and media culture: invaluable assets to Gospel music in Africa today
Beyond the intentionality that now exists in the African music industry, Christian gatherings, such as The Experience concert hosted annually by Pastor Paul Adefarasin, the lead pastor of House on the Rock, have become a springboard to upcoming and established artistes. The concert has played a conspicuous role in spotlighting many Gospel artistes in the international Gospel music scene through the platforms it offers them.
Recently, the concert returned to the historic Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos after two years of holding virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and hosted thousands of people from different parts of the world with a million views online. Popular Gospel artistes such as Nathaniel Bassey, Sinach, Eben, Chandler Moore, Mercy Chinwo, Muyiwa Olanrewaju, Travis Greene, Dunsin Oyekan and other popular Gospel artistes have performed at the concert. The Experience presents an untold level of media publicity and creates a fertile ground for collaborations among local and international Gospel artistes. Solid relationships that led to international platforms have been cemented as a result of the concert.
Interestingly, collaborations have fed African Gospel music into widely known media platforms and has, in turn, created more visibility for African Gospel artistes. Talk about the collaboration between Benjamin Dube, and popular American Gospel singer, Jekalyn Carr, in the song, “Do it Lord.” The views skyrocketed to more than 7 million views on Dube’s YouTube handle when the song came out in 2019. Well-known Nigeria Gospel artiste, Dunsin Oyekan, came to limelight after his collaboration with one of American best Gospel singer, Kim Burrell, in the song “Na You,” in 2014. Numerous other instances abound.
Media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook have bridged the gap of cultural familiarity. Acceptance is no longer a function of cultural familiarity based on the receptivity that African Gospel songs have enjoyed on the media. The emergence of Gospel artistes such as Nigerian Victor Thompson and Congolese Grace Lokwa owes greatly to how their songs were embraced on TikTok.
What does the future hold?
The world is changing. The evolution is fast sweeping through chambers of Gospel music in Africa. People are fast embracing the edible fusion between different textures, subsets, and subgenres. Speaking about the significant mark that Gospel music have made globally, Nigerian American-based singer, Dara, describes Gospel music in Africa as a “sharpened axe.”
Dara is immersed in the belief that Africa now holds the torchlight pointing toward world domination. This explains why two of the world’s major record labels, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group, have shifted their gaze to Africa in recent years, says Carlos Mureithi. Just two years ago, widely known South African music Gospel group, MTN Joyous Celebration, was signed by the Universal Music Africa (UMA), a division of Universal Group in Africa.
This can only mean one thing: African Gospel artistes are making significant waves, which, of course, is a good thing as the Gospel is being noised in different areas. People are getting blessed and lives are being changed as well. This growth cannot be denied. Africa is moving steadily towards the heart of Gospel music in their world. World dominance is possible if there is no decline in this building intentionality.
John Augustina is a writer, a journalist, a singer, loves people and currently writes for Afrocritik. You can connect with her on Facebook @John Tina and Instagram @johntina_tina.