9 Dec 2013 by Jason Law CM –
Good music is the call of the spirit. They express the innermost emotion, passion and often spiritual yearnings of composers. Some examples are the sacred music of J.S. Bach, and Handel’s ‘Messiah’. Often times, the intensity of these innermost depths of their emotional and spiritual state can only be expressed through the form of music. And when we add poetry, often called lyrics to the music, we get songs of great stature. All of us have this affinity for music in one form or another. It is proof that all of us are spiritual beings, whether we admit or not. And what better way to celebrate this gift of expression God has blessed us with than through the form of Gospel music, in itself a genre dedicated to the Creator of this affinity in us.
Last Friday night, the 6th of December 2013, FGA was blessed with a 2-hours concert by the Gospel People, who have the motto ‘Having a Good Time’ and ‘Spreading the Gospel through Music’. This concert had the theme of the History of Gospel Music, covering its origins in the sub-Saharan up to North America’s colonization, and reaching into our times. Various elements of influence were showcased, among which was blues, jazz, R & B, and Soul.
Gospel music as a genre originated through a rural folk music tradition. In the form we know today, with the African American traits, traces can be traced back as far as the 17th Century. Great developments in the music form had already developed by the end of the 19th Century. Like much of oral tradition, they typically utilize a great deal of repetition, heavily encouraging a participatory nature and a call-and-response method, and many were sung in a capella fashion without the help of sophisticated instruments.
The Negro Spirituals and work songs that emerged from this form of music were a great source of blessing and comfort to the African Americans living in difficult situations in those days. In those days, many could seek refuge only with our Lord Jesus, who granted them succor, reflected in the themes of these songs. Taking the scriptural direction “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord” (Psalms 150), Pentecostal churches later welcomed timbrels, pianos, organs, banjos, guitars, other stringed instruments, and some brass into their services.
The distinctive traits of Gospel music are its syncopated rhythm, and compared to hymns, Gospel music expresses itself much more dynamically and energetically. Improvised recitative passages, melismatic singing, dominant vocals, and extravagant expressivity also characterize Gospel music.
The Gospel People started their concert by bringing the whole congregation back to time, with the song ‘Kum Ba Yah’. This is one of the most well-known Negro Spiritual songs. It originated in the 1930s, and the title means ‘Come By Here’. Before the influx of cynicism and pessimism concerning spiritual values, hypocrisy, and a naïve view of human nature and its effects on the world, this song had a much purer meaning. In its original meaning, the song was highly regarded as one about unity among humans and with God, closeness and compassion.
Many other evergreen songs were sung, such as ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, ‘Oh Happy Day’, and ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ before the concert took off in a really dynamic direction. Each of these songs has their own significant history and stories behind them.
Apart from the slower songs like ‘Kum Ba Yah’ and ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, which were like mood-setters, akin to setting the fuse of fireworks before the main event, many highly vigorous songs were also performed. When lead singer Owen Nixon called the congregation to get on their feet, everyone knew that the concert was about to kick off into the stratosphere. Nixon proved and put the lie to the belief that Gospel music is a staid and boring genre.
As Nixon led the call for his team members throughout many songs, led the congregation in call-and-response sessions, invited all in claps-and-dances, sang in an expressively powerful and potent voice, and performed highly energetic dance moves, many times we wondered where he got all the energy from. Finally, we concluded God must be really lending His strength to Owen Nixon. The musical head of the group, Charles Creath, a much more mellow man on the piano, made a perfect counterpoint to Owen Nixon’s dynamicism and energy.
Much symbolic meaning infused the whole concert. One of these distinctive meaning was presented through the use of costumes. They started with black, and songs like ‘Kum Ba Yah’, signifying grief and brokenness, and the strength found amidst such situations when we rest in the Lord. At the midpoint, when the tempo of music picked up, the costumes were changed to red, signifying the newfound freedom and joy reflected when we are bathed in the Blood of the Savior. After a mid-way intermission of 15 minutes, the concert progressed to the second part of the programme, where the congregation was invited to stand and celebrate together with the performers. This last stage can be seen to signify the progressive and vibrant life when we are born again in the Lord.
“The Gospel People” are Charles Creath (Artistic Direktor): Owen Nixon (lead singer), the Queen of ‘The Gospel People’: Deidre Valentine (vocals), Ernest Vaughan (keyboards), Ernest Meredith (drums), BJ Rice-Hubbard (vocals), and Brightnie Jones (vocals). Owen Nixon and Deidre Valentine are both outstanding veteran performers and they have performed in various groups and venues around America and other parts of the world. Owen graduated from Norfolk State University with a Bachelor of Music, majoring in media studies.
Their performance in FGA was their very first one in Malaysia, and it changed a huge part of our perceptions about Gospel Music. Many times people may think Godly and Spiritual Songs boring, but concerts like The Gospel People’s prove how exciting and fun they really are.
References for pictures