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ON REFLECTION: Gospel artists have come of age

Ricky Jordan

ON REFLECTION: Gospel artists have come of age

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Upon attending a thoroughly enjoyable gospel concert over the weekend, I could not help but reflect on the fact that most of the performing artists – indeed, some of the top musical acts in Barbados – had come a long way.
Paula Hinds, Promise, United States-based Learie Nurse who was a rare sight back home as part of the New Testament Chorale last weekend, Shelton Perkins, and emcee Reverend Dr Mark Harewood who once sang and played saxophone with Promise reminded me that the gospel music scene in Barbados used to be a thriving, almost frenetic activity “back in the day” when groups and individual talent seemed to be springing up from every corner of this land.
The proliferation of talent included the Nazarene Silvertones, founded and managed by Harold Britton and known more recently as the interdenominational Silvertones Of Barbados; the Miraclettes; the 100-voice Mass Choir; and even before them, the Gospel Comforters.
Bolstering the presence of these artistes at churches and other fora in Barbados, across the region and beyond has been a large volume of recorded Barbadian gospel music.
Amid such a hive of activity, particularly back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, those knowledgeable about the musical art form have deemed Hinds to be not only the top gospel singer in the country but the best vocalist in any genre, “bar none”, as Smokey Burke, himself one of the country’s most versatile entertainers, would say.
It has been a thrill to have basically watched Hinds and several other gospel artists grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord and in their careers.
But I’ve often wondered why there has been the marked absence of major recording or promotional contracts – or even commercial advertisements – as obtains among some of our secular artistes whose labels have included Def Jam, Sony, Jive and Universal.
Admittedly, some developments occur in the local gospel music arena but are not seen by the public as truly “glamorous” nor are they widely publicized, including news of a recent “breakthrough” by young artiste Hoszia Hinds.
But on reflection, maybe that’s not the aim of these Christian artistes anyway, for as they become truly committed to spreading the good news of salvation, contracts and material gains, though necessary and practical, might become secondary.
My advice to gospel groups and individuals, therefore, is not to let anyone make them feel as if they’re just a band that may or may not get called to perform at a social event, or as though what they have been doing for years is nothing more than entertainment. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Songs like It’s Not Raining Any More, I Seek U (Your Face), I Run To You, He Never Failed Me Yet, Walking Up The King’s Highway, Royal Telephone – “big choons”, according to youthful vernacular, in the Barbados gospel songbook – are either exceptionally introspective, inspiring or celebratory.
We rave about the Donnie McClurkins, Yolanda Adams and Israel Houghtons of this world, but right here is Barbados, not just now but for years, we have had solid gospel music performed and recorded by the likes of Joseph Niles, Sister Marshall and many others.
These songs, live and recorded, have changed many a life, brought tears to people who became overwhelmed at the message of the love of God and the ultimate sacrifice of His Son, soothed patrons who would have left home burdened with the cares of life but left some church or venue smiling in the end.
Having covered the entertainment beat as a reporter and editor, I’m also aware that for nearly 20 years now, the annual showpiece for lovers of Christian music is Gospelfest, which has continued to attract good artistes in Papa San, General Stitchie, Canton Jones and others but doesn’t get the hype or the crowds associated with other events where the feeding of human souls is not a priority, far less the major element.
My advice, therefore, especially in a time of recession when daily living is a financially challenging exercise and most people live from pay cheque to pay cheque and even pension to pension, is for Barbadians and some of our visitors to spend some of their hard-earned cash to support those who are spreading a message that is beyond the peripheral, beyond the mere “good time”.
As easily as one can waste money getting drunk or high at a show, one can also invest in something truly uplifting.
To the Sanctuary Empowerment Centre, which celebrated its 20th anniversary with a concert that will be on the lips of many for some time, keep up the fine work.
To the promoters of Gospelfest, their determination to provide a positive and viable alternative to the proliferation of other festivals must be commended.
And to the group Promise led by evergreen vocalist and writer James Leacock: continued blessings and peace.

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