The UK Gospel According to... Karl Nova.
Part ONE: History
Gospel music. It is a powerful thing. Sometimes I don’t even know
what it is. But when you hear it, you know it. Well, sometimes you do.
Let me explain.
You see when I say the words 'gospel music' it can mean different
things to different people. For some it is a genre of music with a
particular sound and style of singing - that throwback Hammond organ playing particular chords along with a mass choir hitting high notes and a soloist riffing with abandon, singing a song that is faith-related. It doesn’t necessarily preach as much as testify of Gods grace and faithfulness found in Christ.
For others it is any genre of music that is gospel-centred i.e centred mainly around the explicit message of the gospel of Christ, and is mainly evangelical. For them if the music isn’t straight preaching with the aim of winning souls then it is not gospel music.
These different views of gospel music and probably others that exist pose a lot of problems and lead to many debates about what gospel music should be. To my knowledge these debates are never resolved and in my opinion they never will be.
One of the things I have observed is that some folks seem to feel that gospel music = gospel of Jesus Christ. No, no and again I say no. Sometimes the music contains an explicit setting forth of the gospel of Christ with a call to repentance but most times it does not and when the term “gospel music” was first officially coined by Thomas A. Dorsey in America in the 1930s, I don’t think it was the intention.
Gospel music will never replace or be on the same footing with the explicit preaching of the gospel of Christ. Our personal witnessing with our testimony (i.e how Christ has actually saved and changed your life) through word and deeds is way more effective, and if 'ministry' is what you lean towards then you need to understand this from the start.
Many confuse the two and this leads to endless debates and even some being looked down on because their content and style is not as preachy or theologically loaded as others.
'Hitting the charts does not equal hitting the hearts...'
Gospel music CAN be used as a tool of evangelism but as I
have said sooooooooooooo many times I think we place too
much emphasis on it.
Some people think if gospel music 'blows up' and becomes mainstream that it means the gospel
would have been “preached to all nations” but gospel music hitting the charts does not necessarily mean the gospel of Christ hitting hearts or even explicitly being spoken to people. Don’t crucify me! LOL!
This does not mean we should not take gospel music as far as possible which we should do. This does not mean that gospel music as a genre shouldn’t push to be seen and heard in the sphere of the mainstream. Those who see themselves as gospel artists should aim for that.
Old School/New School
I remember I once asked my mum to buy me some gospel music - she got me Mahalia Jackson’s greatest hits!!
What did I expect her to buy for me? At the time I expected her to buy
Ron Kenoly, Don Moen and The Maranatha Singers because at the
time this was the kind of music I saw as gospel as a kid.
This was until I discovered Kirk Franklin, The Cross Movement and
Fred Hammond. My mother was unaware of the gospel music I listened
to and I was unaware of Mahalia Jackson (picture) who is seen as
gospel music's first standout artist in America from the 1930s when the term "gospel music" was first used.
She represents what people think gospel music is. She sang so passionately and with amazing range about her faith in God. She would normally open for evangelical crusades.
The UK Scene
So here I am and over time I have seen different artists in the UK Gospel scene rise to prominence.
The first gospel artists or Christian
artists I saw in the UK were
Raymond & Co (picture), Siani,
Royal Priesthood and Green Jade.
These groups are so key to the UK
Gospel scene because they’ve been
doing this music since the late 90s.
They came into the scene before MySpace, Twitter, Facebook and even iTunes. They came before the digital explosion we see now and before social networking became so integral to our lives.
I have found out that before them that 2 of the pioneers of gospel music in this country have been LCGC (London Community Gospel Choir) and Bishop John Francis. They do the kind of music that is more identified with what is widely known as gospel music because they incorporated choirs and the chords that are more associated with what is known as the sound of gospel music.
I'm sure there are others gospel musicians and singers who
I don't know that were pioneers too forgive me for not naming them.
LCGC (picture) formed in 1982 and are still going strong today.
In terms of gospel music, they have taken the gospel choir sound
out of church and even into the mainstream.
Some might frown on the fact they've backed numerous secular
artists including, Madonna, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Puff Daddy
and many more but this is what they have done and keep doing as well as singing gospel songs.
Another group that most people don’t know about but have had a huge impact is Nu Colours. I never knew about them.
I knew about some of members like Lain (picture) who did a very popular song
with a guy called Wookie called “Battle” which is a huge anthem from the early
noughties Garage scene.
I knew Faye Simpson as a worship leader at a church I visited. I knew
Lawrence Johnson who I knew to be a great musician and I know Priscilla
Jones who is an amazing artist who has a great album, but what I didn’t know
is that they were in a group called Nu Colours that was signed and even had a
I’m sure there are other groups that have been out too and I can only think of The Wades. I would really love someone to school me about groups that were out before and how things were (is there anyone out there who can help me?)
In my own opinion, I think UK gospel went to a whole new level when Raymond & Co dropped their debut album. I don’t know if I can call it debut because they had already released something before. I guess you call call it a re-release.
Anyway “Playing Games” from Raymond & Co is a certified classic and broke so much ground musically and otherwise. It showed the rest of us in the younger generation what was possible because they were affiliated with Sony/BMG and Integrity music.
It was such a high profile release. The packaging was professional and slick and the timing of its