It took me a while to decide whether or not to write this piece. Any time I wanted to write, something told me to stop or else some saintly Christians would tag me anti-Christ.
But I’d prefer to be an anti-Christ whose mission helps give a solution to gospel music than a Christ who would be muzzled by the fear of name calling, to see the work of God go down the drains.
A list of some 20 songs that had more air-play in 2017 was released to the media at a press soiree by the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) last week. The sad thing is that no gospel song made it to the list.
The list was borne out of a research done by Qisimah Insights, a digital research company which used software to monitor most radio stations in the country on the songs they play.
In as much as some have questioned the authenticity of the chart and have doubted the assertion by MUSIGA President Bice Osei Kuffuor that no gospel music had much radio air-play to have made it to the list, I strongly believe that, that chart is a reflection of what is on the ground.
The earlier the gospel fraternity admits that gospel music is atrophying in impact and popularity, the better.
For the past 4 years or so, gospel music has plummeted in prominence and visibility on the music market and this is evident in how well they have fared in the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards.
In 2016 for example, when I hosted Flex on Pluzz on Pluzz FM, I did a feature on the dwindling fortunes of Ghanaian gospel music. As of June 2016 (the time I did the feature), there was no outstanding gospel hit song in the system.
Some people attributed it to the impending general elections – that most of the artistes were not ready to risk a release of a song or album because the heat of the political system would submerge it. Meanwhile those in the secular world were making hits.
Almost 2 years on, and the situation hasn’t gotten any better. The days when Kwaku Gyasi’s ‘Ayeyi,’ Daughters of Glorious Jesus’ ‘Bebree’ and ‘Seth Frimpong’s ‘Mehuri So,’ ‘Cindy Thompson’s ‘Awurade Kasa,’ Esther Smith’s ‘Gye No Di,’ Tagoe Sisters’ ‘Yedi Nkunim’ made mega hits are gone. Now most Ghanaian gospel musicians are making average hits but they seem unperturbed.
Here are some reasons:
- Poor managerial/promotional strategies
Gospel musicians suffer the nemesis of poor management and production. The world of music is changing and that requires a change to suit the changing times but only few gospel musicians are utilising new ways of marketing music.
Most of them are not even active on social media and those who are there do not effectively utilise their social media platforms.
Because of this, their impact is always not really felt like their secular counterparts.
- The sudden love for contemporary/urban gospel
The painful truth is that contemporary or urban gospel does not guarantee monster hit in Ghana. But most of the young people doing music now have taken to that style.
It is not bad but it is one of the reasons gospel music is on the low. The fact is that for a gospel song to gain massive attention and visibility in Ghana, a church at my hometown Simbrofo in the Central Region must be able to relate to it and sing with ease. Mega hit gospel songs are those that can comfortably be performed in most churches in Ghana.
If your target is mainly the ‘swag’ churches, I’m afraid you may make impact in the eyes of the ‘guy guy’ Christians but you won’t get a mega hit (emphasis on mega). The song will not seep into the grassroots.
- Over secularization of the gospel
I have said time and again that most Christian practices and doctrines were grounded on ancient pagan worship. Hymns, for example, were originally sung in primordial times during pagan worship.
This means that there are vestiges of secularism in most religions including Christianity. So I don’t really have a problem when I see tinges of secular things in gospel music.
However, the extremes don’t usually help; that is where it becomes glaring that a certain orientation is taking on new apparel. The type of gospel that was sung in the 1950’s is not the same as what is sung today. From kete, to nwomkro, to ebibinwom, highlife to reggae, to R&B – our gospel music has transmogrified in form and style.
Change is a difficult thing to accept. It is a gradual process. It can’t happen overnight. It will take a long time for the ordinary Ghanaian to accept a gospel song that slurs Ghanaian words.
Now, to another disturbing trend: when churches begin to gleefully sing mainstream secular songs, gospel shows begin to play secular songs that sound like gospel, gospel artistes perform more mainstream secular songs than their own gospel songs at shows, what do you expect?
All the above are not sins but they have high possibilities of lowering the amplitude of gospel music in Ghana.
I love people who are creative. I love Joyce Blessing’s stage craft and her ability to make some near-gospel songs sound refreshing. But that must be done sparingly – not at the expense of what you really represent.
Today, most gospel songs have bleached their lyrical content. There have been too many adoptions of useless ‘secular jargons’ in these songs, making it difficult to really identify with the songs.
Take an artiste like Nacee. Super talent!
I don’t have a problem with him doing mainstream gospel and ‘other songs’ at the same time. It doesn’t make him a devil but it takes away from the synergy of the gospel army. Trust me, if he had channelled the energy he put into ‘Boys Boys’ and ‘Paddy Paddy’ to produce two gospel songs, we may have had mega gospel hits in 2017 because that guy has the Midas Touch to music.
- Gospel music on major radio shows on the low
In the recent past, it was a norm for almost every mid-morning show or late afternoon show on mass radio to play gospel music for long hours before they take a foray into secular songs. It became a standard practice. You tune in to all these stations and they are all playing some gospel music, trying to sound like Abeiku Santana. Gospel music was booming then.
Times change – and of course times are changing. Of late, most of these shows on radio are drifting from the monotony. People want to depart from what everyone is doing. While some would now start their shows with say hip life or hip hop or highlife, others are trying political talk shows, sports magazine shows and other concepts so they can also break into the radio market.
There are still some major gospel shows though – those in the evenings and dawn. But these are not prime times. How many people listen to the radio during these periods? The mid-morning and drive shows do the magic.
There have been live worship programmes, but most of the songs that are performed are not new songs. They are the same old inspirational gospel tunes that were produced in the past. A growing music industry must see to the production of equally quality new songs.
Another problem is that some of the stations that play gospel would rather go for foreign gospel. That is a killer!
- Puerile stunts by gospel artistes
I know how confused gospel musicians are – and it is ‘we’ [the people] who have created that confusion for them. As I always say, this confusion has led to most of them creating ‘ungodly’ stunts to hype their personalities than their songs.
Some of these things are robbing our gospel artistes off their dignity and reverence, thus creating a certain dislike for their ministry.
It has been difficult for the gospel artiste to decipher what critics mean by “our gospel musicians lack promotional strategies.”
When they wear straight dresses and shoot videos by flower pots, we complain. When they wear hip pads and make-ups we still have a problem.
Because they want to also make hits like the secular artiste, some of them have started venturing into some of the dishonest pranks their secular counterparts deploy as promotional strategies.
The end product is that once the public detects it, it casts a slur on the gospel artiste.
The place of gospel music in Ghana Music Awards
Last year, gospel minister Joe Mettle won over all Artiste of the Year at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards. It was the first time a gospel artiste had won that slot – good news for the gospel fraternity.
In fact when he was asked if he had expected to win the award, he said “as children of God, sometimes we get what we don’t deserve.”
Joe had worked hard but he has worked harder this year. Even though he did a good job last year, I did not have hope that he would win. In fact, there may have been a miracle on his side or as I stated in my assessment of his win last year, a concerted attempt on the part of all stakeholder to cause a whiff of change in the awards. The question is that can that happen again this year? Apart from Joe Mettle, which other gospel artistes can win the Artiste of the Year slot?
At the MUSIGA press soiree where the top 20 songs that had air-play in 2017 were named, I asked if this list won’t influence the VGMAs in any way since MUSIGA is partner to the award scheme and this release has preceded the nomination and all the processes leading up to the main award ceremony. The response wasn’t satisfactory, but I let it slide.
Even though we have had few gospel musicians make some impact in 2017, I pray this list does not influence the VGMA nominations – else, the place of gospel music in the scheme will be grave.
What is the way forward?
I have heard some gospel musicians say they are not in competition with secular artistes. To an extent, it makes sense but to a larger extent it raises doubts about the impact gospel music is making.
If gospel musicians want to move from the doldrums of low visibility to be up there, then they really need to change their strategy.
We need more professional artiste managers to handle the promotion of Ghanaian gospel artistes so that their songs can make impact on the Ghanaian soil and the international scene.
However, most people in their bid to hit international market have resorted to sounding too exotic. By so doing they are not able to appeal to a majority of Ghanaian gospel music lovers. I wish they balance their styles to cater for the masses too.
Songs of Professor Kofi Abraham, Mark Abraham, Daughters of Glorious Jesus, Jane and Bernice, Esther Smith, Stella Seal, Elder Mireku, Tagoe Sisters, Mary Ghansah, Helina Rabbles, Comfort Annor, and the like are still fresh in the ears of music lovers. They still inspire and convey and adulterated gospel messages. This is what I pray the current crop of gospel musicians do.
It is about time the church also pumped money into the works of our gospel artistes. Most of them are very talented but lack the wherewithal to make it. They need financial help.
Of course as media, we have a role to play in this wise – and for that matter, I will encourage all media practitioners to support good gospel talents.
Fledgling gospel acts like Stevein Oil, Perpetual Didier, Rose Adjei, Akese Brempong, Kingz Kid, Luigi Maclean, Obaapa Gyamfua, Calvis Hammond, Niella and the like need a real push from all and sundry.
If music that is supposed to project the gospel is almost always at the low ebb, then it should be the bane of all Christians and gospel music advocates; not to just reject researches like what has been done by Qisimah, but to work harder in upping their game.