While the English dictionary tells us that gospel music is a popularised form of impassioned rhythmic spiritual music rooted in the solo and responsive church singing, gospel music is believed to be a shining beacon of hope, an incredible journey of divine joy and a triumphant victory in God that comes from deep down the souls of God’s followers popularly known as Christians.
There might have never been another event in history that has been more compelling, convincing or, perhaps, persuasive than gospel music. We cannot deny the fact that some of the most beautiful music of all times was born out of intense grief and suffering and that gospel music is no exception because it has a measure of strength and potency.
It reveals humanity in times of severe, brutal and persistent hardships. But throughout this ordeal, gospel music has always been a place of inspiration.
However, the definition of gospel music seems to vary among people. To some, if an artist declares himself a gospel artist, then every song that he records whether it talks entirely about God, little or not it is still defined as a gospel song. Whereas to others, whether the artist is gospel or secular, if the song he produces talks about God and his kingdom them it is gospel music.
But the question is, are all artists who deem themselves gospel artists sing gospel music? What could possibly be the definition of Malawi’s gospel music? Should it be entirely dependent on one’s music genre or the content of the songs?
Two tracks from two gospel artists whose content has little about God but rather expose the social evils happening in our society could be the late Grace Chinga’s hit song, N’dzaulura and David Kalilani’s hip hop track, Osaopa.
Chinga’s song basically exposes the ills happening in our society. She sung:
Chilichonse chochitika pansi pa thambo ine nzaulura
Zoti chuma chako udachita kulanda nchamagazi
Kunja kwako ngati ndi nkhosa nkati ndi fisi ndiulula
Unanong’ona mkanyumba komata zituluka
Unati katundu anasowa koma unamuba ndiwe
Zoti unakonza chiwembu chonse ndiulula
Zoti uli ndi ana ambiri ntchiremu ine ndiulula
(I will reveal whatever happens under the sky
That you have blood money
I will reveal that you are a hyena in a sheep skin
I will reveal whatever you said in secret
That you stole the property that got missing
I will reveal that it is you who plotted the ambush
I will reveal that you have illegitimate children all over)
With her words representing patience, endurance, survival, and staying prayerful, her voice rekindled the awesome power of God as she sung in some of her songs. It was a comfort that provided a renewed hope, a renewed joy, renewed peace and a renewed passion for life. Her music will forever be a deep well cast down into the refreshing stream of life.
Chinga developed a flair for composing songs that moved the heart and regenerated the soul of a people who looked to the hills from whence cometh their help. Her songs were so exciting and popular that congregations automatically joined in the singing and shouting as they lifted up the name of Jesus Christ.
The sound of her gospel music is still enthralling and captivating because it stands against the social background as a shadow of today’s community problems and dilemmas.
Unlike Chinga who, at least, tried to compose songs that were relevant to the society even though not entirely gospel, artist David Kalilani’s song Osaopa is entirely another side of the story.
The song doesn’t necessarily talk about the gospel but rather attacks a man of God, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, not even indirectly but rather directly. Part of the song goes thus:
Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?
Let’s call spade a spade, I don’t beat about bush
Bushiri you are not a prophet
You are not major you majoring the minus
Kaguru kokusatiraka tikapanga minus
If they don’t repent hellfire ah go burn dem
You need a light in your ministry
The girls you are having sex with are confirmation
Kuti utumiki wako is an abomination
Akuti mphamvu zake amazitenga kumadzi ,
Mphamvu zako umazipeza through divination
Asing’anga ako akuyalutsa uli mmadzi
Kapinga tikutchetcha njoka zionekere
Ndikumva ziwanda zako zikuti ‘eh’
Papa game yalakwa apapa
Ufiti! Ndi ndikupukusa legeni yanga kumwala
Ndine mwana wa Mulungu sungandiphe ndimankhwala
Blind followers please wear spectacles
And watch God making Bushiri a public spectacle
False prophets I will chop you down
like Elijah and the prophets of Baal
While other artists like the late Gift Fumulani, Lulu, McDonald Mlaka Maliro and Lucius Banda are popularly known for the contributions in the secular music world, some of their songs could be categorised as pure gospel music. One of Lucius Banda’s songs that is a typical gospel song and probably loved by gospel fans is Samueli. He sings:
Ambuye waitana usakane iwe
Utsekule mtima alowemo iwe
Ambuye wakutuma usathawe iwe
Kungatalike ukalalike iwe
Samueli, Samueli nathamanga mwana
Kupita kwa Eli mwandiyitana ine
Kufikana kwa Eli anamkana
Pita ukagone simnakuitane ine…
(God has called don’t ignore
Open your heart so that he should enter
God has send you don’t run away
Even if it’s far go and preach
Samuel, Samuel the kid run
Went to Eli you have called me
Eli refused go to sleep….. )
Listening to this song one would really come to terms that there is nothing secular about it but rather untainted gospel because the song is based on a biblical story that happened to a young boy called Samuel.
We might have also known Mlaka Maliro as a secular musician before he got born again but some of his songs he recorded during his secular tour reflected on various Bible stories as well. One of such kind of songs is Ophunzira a Yesu. The refrain of the song goes:
Mudzaona nkhondo padziko lonse
Mtundu ndi mtundu kuukilana
Nthawi ija yakwana
Mukadziona musalire ananga nthawi ija yakwana
Ali ndi mwana agwilitse
Ufumu wa Ambuye wayandika
Ichi ndichiyambe chabe
Zadzikulu ananu zikudza
(You will see wars
A tribe against a tribe
The time is here
When you see these things don’t cry
You have to persevere
The kingdom of God is near
This is just the beginning)
The song basically talks about the coming of Jesus Christ and warns us of the hard times to come. So, can we conclude that such kind of songs from Lucius and Mlaka are not gospel music because they were sung by secular artists? Of course not! This tells us that gospel music can be sung by either a gospel artist or a secular artist because the gospel is not the artist but rather the song.
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