By Oyindamola Esho
Gospel music for me is a place of safety, a house of solace, a time of release. You can find me in the midst of a congregation, face turned to the heavens, swaying to the beat of the drums. I’m usually trying to find a place for my voice in the midst of the three-part choir while also not really caring about being off-key because this is my time to cry out; a time to let go of the burdens of the week. Regardless of how strong or weak my faith is at that very moment, with my arms outstretched, a representation of my reach towards freedom, I can always find solace in gospel music. The rest of the week may not be as glorious but for those fifteen to twenty minutes I’m at peace.
“If you build a town and there’s no drummer in it, then it’s not a town. If you build a town and there’s no singer, then it’s not a town.”
- Kpelle Proverb
I’ve always wondered what makes this type of music so special, so awe-inspiring, so moving; it might have something to do with the history. It is said in the Kpelle tribe of Liberia, “If you build a town and there’s no drummer in it, then it’s not a town. If you build a town and there’s no singer, then it’s not a town.” Music has always been a mainstay in communities around the world. For example, the origins of Black gospel music can be found in melodies that survived the middle passage of the transatlantic slave trade, songs that were sung during slave work and what was learned from their masters. Each layer of the Black gospel sound - be it the strong voices in intricate harmony or the repetitive choruses full of lament - is marinated in pain but also hope for a better future at the hands of a saviour. This history can be heard in the lyrics, melody, and improvisations that fill churches around the world on Sunday mornings.
Yet this art form does not stay within the confines of the church. Some people believe gospel and secular should not mix but Black gospel music has always had a hand in the formation of other genres such as R&B, Blues, Jazz and even Pop. In more recent years, its influence is no longer understated but rather brought to the limelight and even used as a selling point. With bodies of work such as Chance the Rapper’s mixtape Coloring Book, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn and more recently Snoop Dogg’s Bible of Love, where there is rampant mention of God and little resistance to their messages from the audience, it’s no surprise that the genre is experiencing growth.
Studies show that intense musical experiences lower anxiety levels, decrease stress and offer clarity. So, whether you listen to gospel music for a good time not a long time or you connect with it as a means to heighten your level of spirituality, know that it is a win-win for all those who listen. If you’re looking for where to start, tune in to VIBE 105 from Monday to Friday 5am-6am for some great gospel tunes.