We have had singers Judith Babirye and Pastor Wilson Bugembe revolutionalise the gospel music industry – with the latter holding a concert almost every year. Then came in the Victory Gospel Academy (Viga) and Olive awards – at the time the Pearl of Africa Music (Pam) awards had crumbled, and both awards have been lauded for being well organised.
However, even when it seems all white, the perennial music genre still trails compared to other types of music. To make it to the charts, for example, gospel music has to wait until it is Sunday – as the other music genres enjoy a weeklong lion’s share of the airwaves.
It is also usually unheard of that a promoter would buy a gospel concert at a price near or even higher than that of a mainstream chap. This at times comes back to haunt them when they are booked for concerts many times, they are expected to perform for free.
1990s golden days:
Yet in the golden days of gospel music in Uganda – the 1990 – musicians such as Limit X, Fiona Mukasa and Martin Seku ruled the airwaves. They influenced genres and their sound was vividly consumed by all audiences regardless of their religious beliefs. Who didn’t sing along to Mukasa’s Weyambise, Seku’s Endongo Ya Yesu or Limit X’s Malimbogwe? The songs had a cult following, from the churches to the dusty streets of Kampala.
Today, many gospel songs either only make it in the churches or on Christian radios and shows strictly. Only a few cross to the mainstream. Winnie Nakate, a born-again Christian and an avid fan of both secular and gospel music, believes there is a lot of raw talent in church, who have refused to come out of their shells.
In her view, musicians shouldn’t be caught up in the confines of gospel versus secular music.
“One should just be an artiste, doing Godly music that can be appreciated by all markets,” Nakate argues.
She notes that locking yourself in the gospel corridors denies your music chance to spread to a wider audience. Nakate gives the example of gospel musicians such as Switch Foot, Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin whose music has crossed from churches to radio and nightclubs.
“Most gospel music is played on Sunday morning when it is indeed expected to. When shall we have a secular radio play the music because it’s good music?” she says.
Geraldine Nakuya, who listens to selected gospel songs, believes Uganda’s gospel musicians are just lazy.
“These people read the Bible way too much and start writing lyrics straight from the verses,” Nakuya says.
“We all know Jesus died on the cross. We know he loved us so much. So, there’s no point for ten gospel artistes to sing about the same thing.
These artistes take us for granted. They should sit down and compose better lyrics enough with plagiarizing the Bible.”
Nakuya further says that people listen to secular music because the musicians try to do their best to be creative.
“Most gospel musicians just play around with a few words, throw praises to Jesus and the song is done, usually with the worst production you have ever heard,” she notes.
“Music should be able to sound and grab your attention like what the secular music does. No one is willing to play a bad song next to Radio and Weasel’s Ntunga on a given Monday.”
She later asserts that some of the gospel lyrics are more condemning and scary than welcoming. Nakuya says it would be weird to be in a nightclub enjoying yourself and the DJ plays a song reminding you of how God will burn you for clubbing.
“Gospel artistes need to change the way they tailor their music – so that the wider audience can relate to it without feeling like they are being judged,” she says.
“When Babirye sings about marriage, with or without Jesus’ name slotted in the lyrics, she still preaches the gospel of an institution the Bible aocates for.”
This, according to Nakuya, is where secular artistes beat them, delivering a message people can connect with. When Julianna Kanyomozi, for example, did her Kanyimbe, it was easy to connect with regardless of your faith – just like Kanye’s Jesus Walks or Mesach Ssemakula’s Kankutendereze.
Today, much as Beyonceacute released a highly-acclaimed album at the end of the year, her leading song at the moment is a rendition of a Nigerian gospel track, Say Yes, with former band-mates Michele and Kelly Rowland. The song is about being blessed that even when enemies don’t want you to, you will succeed. What makes the song tick is its perfect production and catchy lines that one can easily sing along to.
James Paterson, a presenter with KFM, says that gospel music’s biggest undoing has been marketing. That is why many gospel artistes prefer to perform in their churches where they indeed become celebrities, but when the actual music world doesn’t know them.
“The problem is that they look at performing in bars or clubs as evil. Yet they are the same places Jesus delivered souls,” he says. He, however, praises Exodus whose music has spread from the walls of Miracle Centre to nightclubs and concerts.
“If you are to beat secular artistes, you have to work as hard to promote your craft as they do,” Paterson says.
An actor with a church drama group also notes that one of the problems with many gospel artistes is that they suffer from the “my church” syndrome.
“Some of these people are too loyal to their church – in that they sing from there and also collaborate with only artistes and producers in that church, and still stage their concerts there. How will even the Christian fraternity notice you with such an arrangement?” says the actor, who preferred anonymity.
Julie Mutesasira, a gospel artiste whose music crosses even to the mainstream radios, differs, though. She notes that some music is meant for the soul. It is not meant to be danced to the way people and radios want it even without getting the message.
Source : The Observer