The debate about gospel and secular music, specifically whether secular music offers anything to the religious person, has been a long– running one.
The popular hiplife artiste, now turned evangelist Lord Kenya, has given a new impetus to the debate by reportedly banning radio DJs from playing his so– called secular songs if they will not play his gospel ones.
Several musicians who have crossed over from the “devilish” to the holy side have expressed similar sentiments in the past; albeit with little venom as Lord Kenya attempted to do.
The frustration is very well understandable if one recognises the hunger of such people to pull souls to Christ. I remember once listening to the great Kofi Ani Johnson of blessed memory; to me he was one of the greatest musicians Ghana has ever produced, expressing similar views as Kenya’s during an interview.
He said he composed those songs at a time when he did not know God. Yet the more I play his songs even today, especially the ones he described as secular, the more I realised he had known God all along.
So what is secular music and how different is it from gospel music? Drawing from the word secular, which means non-religious or worldly, secular music is any music that is not religious in nature and also referred to as mainstream music. Gospel music on the other hand is religious music that seeks to praise and extol God.
This notwithstanding, both secular and gospel musicians can adopt any genre or type of music to reach their audiences. The main difference is usually found in the lyrics.
In contemporary times, it is not uncommon to hear gospel musicians using rock, reggae, soul, hiplife, R&B or highlife to put across their messages, just like their secular counterparts.
The aim of music is to educate, inform, entertain or even soothe, as was the case of David playing the harp for King Saul. Contrary to the perception that it is only gospel music which can perform the above roles, there are many examples to prove that in most societies, long before Christianity, there had been decent songs that extolled hard work, decency and promoted good neighbourliness. These virtues are what almost all religions seek to preach.
Tell me, what songs can be more religious than Kofi Ani Johnson’s Susu Bribri pa bi fa boa Ghana or Amandzeba's Ye dze biako ye. How many gospel songs have had the positive impact on our drivers like Lord Kenya’s Driver Susuko which educates drivers on safe driving or Sika mpo mfa ne ho, which preaches against vanity or excessive materialism in these days of sakawa?
What is wrong with Lee Duodu ‘s ‘let the children play,’ Or Thomas Frimpong’s ballad, ‘Ama?’ Even a song like Serwa Akoto and many others which seek to promote love and sustain marriages cannot be regarded as non-religious if we recognise that marriage is a creation of God, and the Bible encourages us to hold it sanctimoniously.
There was one particular song I used to like as a child titled Ye ne wa wa ma yen ko do. Though it seems to have disappeared, it was encouraging us to embrace agriculture and I cannot see any noble undertaking than this, or Ephriam Amu’s Yaa nom ebibi ma ee.
On the international scene, songs like We are the world has been used to mobilise millions in aid of charity work. Whitney Houston’s Greatest love of all is also one of the songs which seeks to impact positively on lives without being religious. How about the Latino classic Guantanamera by Jose Feliciano? The list goes on and on.
Of course, there are other songs with really questionable lyrics like A B Crenstil’s Soldier Alafia and I go pay you tomorrow, Rex Omar’s Abiba, Marvin Gaye’s Sexual healing, and I wanna sex you up by Colour me Badd. This list is equally endless. The quality of some of the gospel music being churned out these days leaves much to be desired.
Apart from the fact that they lack variety as far as lyrics are concerned, a lot more are also not soul inspiring and uplifting. Then there is the challenge of synchronising messages with a good rhythm. Sometimes, one may get the rhythm right and the message suffers or vice versa. As for the accompanying video clips, they are not well choreographed and smack of shabby productions. I am not privy to any of Kenya's gospel songs but the fact that other gospel artistes are still enjoying air play may put the blame on the quality of his gospel songs.
The Bible does not condemn any form of music. Philippians 4:8 is an excellent guide for lovers of all kinds of music: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
If the lyrics in a secular song are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, though God may not be mentioned in it, then there is nothing wrong with a religious person listening to it.
*The writer is the Head of Public Relations and Protocol at the University of Cape Coast and a retired Senior Military Officer.
Source: Kofi Baah-Bentum - [email protected]
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