A while ago I was having a conservation with friends on the state of Gospel Music today. I also was discussing with some people some time last year on Twitter on what Gospel Music is.
When Gospel Music comes to your mind, what do you think of? American Aunties and Grandmas in their Sunday Best shuffling, shaking their tambourines to ‘hallelujah’ sung music. What clothing does a Gospel singer wear? Do you think of a certain type of people singing Gospel Music? Is Gospel Music Black? Is Gospel Music White? Is Contemporary Christian Music different to Gospel, are they the same? Do you have to sing a certain type of music for it to be classified as Gospel Music? Can Rap be Gospel? Can Rock be Gospel? Do you have to dress a certain way to be a Gospel singer? Do you have to shout and have a strong voice to be a Gospel singer? Can you have a mellow and soft melodic voice as a Gospel singer? Is Gospel Music only sung in English or does it to belong to all nations? Can you sing both secular and Gospel? Is Inspirational music the same as Gospel or is it different?
These are some of the questions that I discussed with some friends of mine and that frequently pops up when discussing the state of Gospel Music today.
What is Gospel Music?
To define Gospel Music is hard and controversial. It embodies different genres of music but if you were to find a common definition of Gospel Music you would find:
A popularized form of impassioned rhythmic spiritual music rooted in the solo and responsive church singing of rural blacks in the American South, central to the development of rhythm and blues and of soul music- www.dictionary.reference.com
Other definitions include:
Intense, joyful music that is associated with evangelists in the South, especially among African-Americans. Gospel had a strong influence on many rock ‘n’ roll singers- www.dictionary.reference.com
Gospel spans many genres, races, ethnicities, nations and languages. Whether Gospel is sang in Hindu, Norwegian, Persian, Zulu, Arabic, English, Twi, Indonesian or Yoruba it remains Gospel. This is what this collage represents, Gospel is for all.
How many faces can you recognise in the collage above? Alexis Spight is one. She is known for her contemporary Gospel music that has influences of dance music. Yes, Gospel dance music!
Definitions of Gospel found in the dictionary would have you thinking that it belongs to one type of people. It does not. The misconception of Gospel music is that it is sung in African American Communities and Churches only. That is not strictly true, it is very much a stereotype. Gospel is sung by different types of people and in different forms of music. But what does the music have in common? Gospel Music’s purpose is to spread the message of Jesus Christ through music.
So you may ask again, what is Gospel music? The word Gospel refers to ‘Good news’, that Jesus died for our sins so that we may have eternal life. The Good news means that we have been given a extraordinary gift of forgiveness, grace, mercy and love. It is God giving his son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins, a gift of salvation to humanity. It is sacrifice, overcoming death, having the victory, resurrection and life. So when I think of Gospel music I think of these things. I do not think of Gospel music belonging to one type of people, it belongs to all. I think of the promises of God, I think of salvation, I think of deliverance, I think of love, forgiveness, kindness, peace, joy, comfort- all the things God has said in his word. That is what Gospel Music is.
Gospel music as a term is interchangeable with the term Christian music nowadays. Gospel music is also a type of Christian music, but can be described as Christian music. Now do not get me wrong, if you were to look at the Billboard charts for example you would find various Gospel or Christian charts. Some types of Christian music are described as Southern Gospel, Urban Contemporary Gospel, Christian Contemporary Music-this is all marketing purposes! Different forms of Gospel music are marketed to appeal to different audiences. So if you prefer R&B or Soul influences you would tend to like Urban Contemporary Gospel. That is the market tools of the music business. It does not mean Urban Contemporary or Rock influenced Gospel music is not Gospel. Some people get caught up if a song does not sound like traditional Gospel or Christian Music and rule it off. The Bible tells us that music we listen to must be spirit led, so listen to the words? Is it praising God? Is it speaking the message of God? Is it preaching the Gospel? Does it edify your soul? Does it speak the things of God-to love and to be kind etc. If it ticks these things and others, then it is truly Christian Music. There are no instructions in the Old or New testament on what type of instruments should be played or what style of music is allowed and forbidden. All God commands is for the music to be spirit led (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16)
Gospel Music, Insiprational Music, Secular Music…
Now this is very much a controversial area. Is Gospel Music the same as Inspirational Music ? Is it similar?
There are great inspirational songs, that are used to inspire people in their day-to-day activities. Inspirational songs often speak about peace, love and kindness. But is this the love or the peace or the kindness that God speaks about? The world’s definition of love, peace and kindness is different at times. I do not think Inspirational music is wrong, but to describe Gospel Music as the same or similar is wrong.
I have often discussed this with friends, is it okay to sing and listen to both Gospel and Secular Music at the same time. There are singers that do and did so- Whitney Houston is one. It is a area of conversation that you would find many people have heated conversations over. It must be hard to sing both Gospel and Secular Music, one is Godly and one is worldly. However it depends on the type of Secular music it is, if it is crude and vulgar and against the things of God, the two cannot mix. If it speaks of the things and promotes the things of God, then it may be acceptable.
What is Gospel music? It is music that praises, that worships, that sings, that exalts the goodness of God. No one has to look a particular way to sing, it does not belong to one particular group nor do you have to dress a particular way to sing it. Lara George, Andy Mineo, Daughters of Glorious Jesus, Oslo Gospel Choir, Jesus Culture, Shirley Caesar, True Worshippers, Benjamin Dube…are different artists, sing in different languages, dress differently but they all have something in common. That is Jesus Christ. Spreading the message of Jesus through music. Now, that’s Gospel Music!
P.S. these are all my opinions. You can disagree if you want