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Opinions Sat, 9 May 2020

The journey to contemporary gospel music in Ghana

The sound of Gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Many have classified Gospel music as a genre rather than what the lyrics and meaning depicts. A genre is basically pieces of music that share a certain style or fundamental musical language like reggae, highlife, funk, and fusion.

Clearly, Gospel music shares several styles and musical language found in many genres. The defining factor rests on the lyrics of love, compassion and the common faith that Christians uphold. Nonetheless, the world has succeeded in categorizing Gospel music as a genre and a viable commercial act.

There have been recent conversations on what contemporary Ghanaian Gospel music is, how it started, when did we realize it, how has it affected our music, and what the future holds. This article attempts to answer these questions in a holistic approach.

First, it chiefly begun with people who were inspired by the great commission of Christ to evangelize through music. They translated the word of God into melodies attached with great Ghanaian rhythms heavily laden with percussion beats and Yaa Amponsah melody (original guitar piece that is used as the foundation for many Ghanaian music).

Pioneers of this music includes Bro. Asiamah And His ‘Som Nyame’ Gospel Band, The Ahinsan Happy Gospel band, Prof. Kofi Abraham, Wofa Asumani, Comfort Annor, Mc Abraham, YABS, Elder Mireku, just to mention a few. Then came another breed in the early 80’s with a fusion of foreign music styles, melody lines, vocal harmonies, and composition. These lasted through to the late 90’s.

These breeds included, Tagoe Sisters, Bernice Offei, Daughters of Glorious Jesus, Amy Newman, Naana and Dan, Diana Hopeson, Rev. Thomas Yawson, Rev. Kusi Berko, Yaw Sarpong, Stella Seal, Rev. Mary Ghansah. At the final episodes of this breed emerged a generation of musical talents that were going to improve on the Gospel music sound to meet the demand of the contemporary Ghanaian in a fast-growing world.

Globally, the sound of music has evolved over the years and Gospel music is of no exception. Ghanaian contemporary Gospel music is an evolution from this history- a modernist approach to music sound, thus, new melody lines, fresh and enhanced vocal harmonies, and sophisticated compositions.

Contemporary Ghanaian Gospel music has been influenced by foreign Gospel music styles and artists like; The Winans, Shirly Ceaser, and Integrity Music. Integrity Music was at the forefront of contemporary worship music's widespread popularity of praise and worship music. Integrity published many of the top songs in the Church and was widely known in the 90s.

They produced artists like Don Moen, Ron Kenoly, Darlene Zschech with hit albums that was wide spread around the world. Africa became one of their biggest market and even recorded an album in South Africa. In Ghana, City Rock Productions was producing albums from Integrity Music on cassettes for wide distribution that caught the attention of music lovers and supported the evolution efforts of the new breed who were going to change the face of Gospel music in Ghana.

Furthermore, there were people who pioneered this evolution and introduced what has today become the sound of Gospel music in Ghana. The first of them would be The New Creation group that was based in Kumasi. Mr. Dzokoto, father of the Dzokoto brothers of IMPACT fame was an instrumental member of this group. This group had a sense of a new Gospel music sound in the late 80s and performed them in churches.

Also, there was a group called Abundant Life who were around during the same era and attempted to fuse foreign accent on our local Gospel music. Then came the second episode of the evolution- I like to call them the “Accra Academy Boys” because they all schooled in the famous Ghanaian secondary school, Accra Academy.

Rev Tom Bright-Davies, Rev Eric Kwarpong, the late Danny Nettey, and Zapp Mallet, these gentlemen would go on to introduce a replica of the Gospel music we were listening from the west. They started composing songs and recording tunes that were based on western Gospel music styles and harmonies.

They ministered in churches and even at secular events like the Miss Ghana Pageant were the late Danny Nettey would perform contemporary Gospel songs. At the same time in the western region, the late Bishop Ofori Twumasi of HOLY FIRE Church was also breeding an environment that will shape artists like Rev Charley Sam, Pastor Joe Beechem, and Koda.

On his return from American trips, Bishop Twumasi will come with DVDs of integrity music albums and have his church perform them on Sundays. His church was one of the three churches that owned a drum at the time. Koda and other colleagues of his will visit the church to listen and watch what was contemporary Gospel music then.

No wonder Pastor Joe Beechem had a good sense of music with a unique style. There were also groups like Joyful way and commission family were also composing and recording songs that had a deep Ghanaian root but polished with foreign style and beats. In the early 2000, contemporary Gospel music was becoming popular and had gained widespread reach in our secondary schools and universities, and this begun the second episode.

Out of this emanated groups like Shining Stars, Anointed Psalmist, E,mpraise, Harbor City Mass Choir, Echoes of Calvary (UCC), God’s Instruments (KNUST) and IMPACT. They were made up of young people who loved music and have been influenced deeply by foreign Gospel music. These groups had people like Nii Okai and Eugene Zuta leading them until they recorded their own albums and became solo artists.

Then came the third episode of the evolution! This breed is a hybrid of the first and second episodes. The hybrid outdoored artists like Joe Mettle, Eric Jeshrun, Denzel, Cwesi Oteng, Koda, Calvis Hammond, MOG, Kobby Mantey, Akesse Brempong amongst others.

This breed had mostly worked with people from the first and second episode mostly as backing vocalists. Gradually, they formed and started their own perception of Gospel music and have succeeded immensely in their efforts, even so, winning the overall artist of the year position at the Ghana Music Awards.

This breed created a new sound of Gospel music that was original and could match-up to any foreign song from the west. Also, this was made possible by young instrumentalists like Lord Listowell, Chalie Keys, Prince Sennah, Jay Zymera, Opoku Sanaa, Jay Loops, Ernest Eshun, and Emmanuel Bludo just to mention a few. These instrumentalists have worked with singing groups from the second episode and have understood and perfected the language of foreign Gospel music.

They will go on to support the music compositions of the actors in the third episode, creating a unique sound we call Ghanaian contemporary Gospel Music today.

Further to this development, Fifi Folson, a celebrated radio and TV presenter helped to promote the compositions of the second and third episodes in the evolution. He will play on radio, songs from these artists and organize events for actors of the third episode to perform and get their songs heard by the new Ghanaian.

Further to this exposition, Ghanaian contemporary Gospel music has gained wide acceptance in the last 10 years due to its recognition in mainstream media. Formally, you will find such compositions on phones and other media carriers like computers, iPod and tablets. TV shows and channels like Foofprint TV, Praiz TV and other church-based channels predominantly play contemporary Gospel music. They have contributed immensely to its growth and profitability. It is no doubt contemporary Gospel music has come to stay and it will continue to evolve as global music sound evolves.

Finally, many people have become stakeholders and continue to push the agenda. My next article will address the structural weaknesses in the Gospel music industry and how we can improve for a more sustainable, scalable and profitable industry.
Columnist: Nicholas Solomon