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Gospel music: Genre without borders

Grammy award-winning gospel artiste Kirk Franklin courted controversy a few years ago. So did Ce Ce Winans, Fungisayi Zvakavapano Mashavave and lately Tasha Cobbs-Leornard. Gospel musicians must always walk a tight rope because, in essence, gospel music is a genre that is not a genre. Hence you may hear of reggae gospel, jazz gospel, museve gospel, Christian rock and Christian rap!

State of the Art with Admire Kudita

Gospel according to funk

Franklin was among the first in contemporary times to first raise the ire of the church in terms of dalliances with the “world”, with others being the likes of the late Andrae Crouch, who worked on projects by Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.

Franklin’s music lends itself to rhythmn and blues and hip hop, which are secular music forms. His production God’s Property from Franklin’s Nu Nation and carried samples of funk master George Clinton’s music on tracks such as Stomp. Many were not amused at his blurring of the lines.

Franklin took a lot of flack for his efforts and in my view he is way out there. Sometimes I marvel at his work. He recently had some dubious collaboration with hip hop artiste Kanye West (who is known for his sacriligeous videos with images of Jesus Christ).

Gospel’s genesis

Much earlier, the much vaunted father of gospel music Thomas Dorsey had a run in with the church in the early days of the genre’s emergence over his blues and jazz inflections of gospel music.

They figured that he was bringing the devil’s music into the church. But he did not need to as a “reformed” blues piano player and composer. He was born again.

Dorsey later on became the head cornerstone of gospel music and proved intsrumental in shaping what the United States black church would call gospel music. His compositions such as Precious Lord take my hand, which was covered by queen of gospel, Mahalia Jackson, has since become gospel standards.

Fungisai tough as nails

Fungisai is one that I personally favour. She burst on to the local music scene under Elias Musakwa’s Ngaavongwe Records. To date she has defiantly segued into dancehall music with a collabo with Killer T Vanondibatirana.

Critics panned her for the effort. Fungisai makes a point to me. The gospel needs to filter through to uncharted places. What they call church music today was once upon a time called the devil’s spawn. But criticising Fungisai may have had its desired effect. Her recent album sees her returning to her “acceptable” groove. But she may alienate her newbie dancehall fans.

Perhaps Fungisai is genuinely trying to be good by the standards prescribed by those whose job it is to lord it over her.

Making a living

Making a living is a challenge for artists past and present who happen to be Christians especially. I do not believe that the church has truly understood how to deal with musicians within the temple. Some pastors, who righteous and well read, do pay their temple musicians.

Temple musicians, dear reader, are those musicians who will devote their talent and effort toward playing the Lord’s music full time so much so that it is their vocation. These ones follow the Biblical Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun, who served under King David. They are in a Levitical ministry.

Somehow this is not followed by most churches who strangely expect these same musicians to “tow the church line”. Well, the record is clear that soon enough, and in a bid to avoid hunger, the musicians will offer their services where they can be renumerated.

Still, the sanctimonious do not resist the temptation to formulate conspiracy theories and condemnation. How must a Christian, who is a musician survive this onslaught? Locally it seems from what I gather that Emmanuel Makandiwa’s church is one of the few churches where musicians are on a salary as gospel ministers and rightly so. The rest are, in my opinion, guilty of hypocrisy and robbery. But I digressed to give you the broader context in which musicians are expected to thrive.

Nicki Minaj goes gospel?

The recent furore in gospel circles is over Tasha Cobbs Leornard’s latest offering. She has a song featuring Nicki Minaj. Now for those not familiar with “plastic” pop music, Minaj is this age’s Madonna.

onstage during the BET AWARDS ’14 at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on June 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Whereas Madonna in the 1980s and 1990s scandalised whole families and nations with her overtly sexual imagery in her music videos, Minaj is famous for songs such as Anaconda.

The music is banal in my view and will not be around for long. But right now Minaj is trouble. She represents a generation without too much decorum and one that courts controversy with the gusto of hell’s very own fiends!

Somehow gospel sister Tasha Cobbs features Minaj rap on her latest single I’m Getting Ready. The track premiered last week and is featured on her new album Heart.Passion. Pursuit. The Christian community is aghast. Well, let me also admit to being surprised.

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