Interesting--African roots of "gospel"

Discussion in 'Spirituality/Worship' started by TwoCatDoctors, Jan 25, 2009.

  1. TwoCatDoctors

    TwoCatDoctors New Member

    The gospel music genre has its roots firmly planted in African song, and it has always been inspirational, even before recording technologies gave it a global reach. The word 'gospel' is derived from two words--God and 'spel', the old English word for story.

    Early gospel songs were first composed and sung by Africans sold into slavery and transported to work on the plantations of the New World.

    Surviving the Middle Passage, as the Atlantic crossing was known, and enduring a life of brutality and captivity, many of those taken into bondage believed that, one-day, they would cross to the Promised Land. Until that happy day they wanted to give voice to their faith through devotional song as they worked in the cotton and sugar plantations, expressing their faith and hope of a better life to come.

    As this album's producer, Gordon Lorenz, writes in the sleeve notes accompanying the double CD, the mid 19th century onwards was the golden era of American gospel song although earlier decades had also produced classic gospel music. Perhaps the most famous of the early classics were 'Kumbaya' and 'Amazing Grace'.

    The former song's African origins are lost in the mists of time, but the latter song's composer is known. He was John Newton, a slave ship captain who 'saw the light', converted and repented before becoming a church minister. 'Amazing Grace' is just one of a number of Newton's songs that still appear in church hymn books to this day.

    Lorenz also draws attention to Fanny Crosby, born in 1820 in New York and blinded for life in a medical accident when just a few weeks old. She went on to compose over 6,000 gospel songs.

    Sometimes known as spirituals, gospel music songs have become perennial favourites of churches around the world. Gospel has also evolved over the years to inspire secular music. Numerous gospel songs have made the crossover to become popular music hits, riding the hit parades of many countries around the world.

    Full circle

    Most musicologists cite gospel music as being the foundation of popular music genres such as jazz, blues, soul and even rock and roll. Artists like Elvis Presley were heavily influenced by the gospel music of the churches of the deep South, and many African-American soul music artists' formative years were steeped in gospel music. The great singing star Aretha Franklin, for example, was the daughter of a preacher, the Reverend C L Franklin, and she grew up singing in her father's church choir.

    Today, with the explosive growth of Christian evangelical church movements throughout Africa, it can be argued that gospel music has, in a sense, travelled full circle. It now inspires even greater numbers of African Christians--both in Africa itself and throughout the Diaspora.

    'The Best Gospel Music Album in the World ... Ever' was recorded in the UK a little over six months ago--at the famous Abbey Road studios and Angel Studios in London, as well as Frog Studios in Warrington in the north of England. On the two discs are the contemporary recordings of slavery days spirituals such as 'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands' and 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'.

    Lorenz brought together the 100-plus voices to be heard on this double album from various UK cities--members of the Urban Voice of Manchester, the Roy Johnson Singers of Leeds, Liverpool Philharmonic Gospel Choir, The People's Christian Fellowship Choir of London, and The One Voice Community Choir from Preston.

    The arrangements are by one of the British gospel scene's most highly respected figures, Tyndale Thomas, who wrote two of the albums three new songs--'Light a Candle' and 'One Day'. The other new song, 'This is my Desire', was composed by Pastor David Daniel. Coincidentally, both Thomas and Daniel worked with the legendary entertainer Stevie Wonder on his recent UK tour.

    The CD also features two songs from the American writer Andre Crouch--'Soon and Very Soon' and 'Jesus is the Answer'; has a rap track from Sheona Bradshaw, and a Zulu prayer spoken by Mgncini Thamusanga Mkwananzi.

    Purists may not immediately identify with the orchestration and arrangements, which they might find at odds with gospel's more traditional 'plain and simple' treatment of the old classics. But these songs still serve to inspire, enlighten, comfort and give hope.
  2. Rafiki

    Rafiki New Member

    thanks much for posting this interesting article.

    There is something about Gospel music that lifts one's spirit ~ I mean actually lifts the spirit, don't you think. You can feel it happening.

    I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Africa - part of it in Kenya, around Kisumu, where President Obama's family is from - and one is struck by the way people sing not only in worship but in life. Singing seems to accompany all labour. In fact, when I was with people who were laying pipe to bring water to a village, they brought shovels and pipe and tools and a drum to accompany the singing. The singing lifted the work up to a new place. (They were not singing Gospel music, they were singing traditional Luo songs.) None complained about the heat or the hardship and all sang.

    I love attending services with Gospel music. We need some Gospel links here!

    Thanks again,

    [This Message was Edited on 01/25/2009]
  3. TwoCatDoctors

    TwoCatDoctors New Member

    The episode of Wishbone that I caught about a year ago was based on African folklore about people long ago in Africa singing and having their "Wisdom" which I don't fully understand. Wisbone as a flying creature went to someone that was a leader to tell them slave ships were capturing their people. Wishbone as the flying creature smuggled on board the slave ship with a plant. When the people were in the new world as "slaves" they were unhappy working in the fields and Wishbone flew up and sprinkled this "Wisdom" from the plant that allowed the "slaves" to rise up, have their Wisdom return, and sing and be full of joy.

    I'm a white Christian who is trying to find out more about this and whether the "Wisdom" was their faith or whatever those captured held so dear. Considering that Gospel came out of Africa, I don't know if the "Wisdom" was their personal faith and to begin Gospel singing in the fields. I'm totally confused and trying to find out.
  4. Rafiki

    Rafiki New Member

    I know nothing about African myths, TwoCat. I would imagine it is a very rich area of study. Of course, Africa is a continent of many geo-political entities (why don't I just say countries - oy!), languages and cultures. And, before countries, it was always a vast land mass with many different peoples in many vastly different regions. I would think the study of all these peoples could last many lifetimes. My ignorance is seamless.

    I don't know how pre-colonial culture and belief blended with that of the... uhm... traders. I would think it's pretty certain that American Christianity, in particular, has been shaped in part by the rhythms of this far distant land.

    I wonder what remains with the music that never completely dissolves into the words.

    Interesting stuff, TwoCat.

    Peace to you!

  5. Rafiki

    Rafiki New Member

    I have been crazy lucky. There is a Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. I'm cursed.

  6. lrning2cope

    lrning2cope New Member

    but I do know that for many black slaves gospel was a Christian interpretation . It could be that , similar to Christians interpreting Christmas traditions that were previously pagan into their own way of worship , many black slaves did the same with the wishbone theory.

    I would love to hear more about this , if you find out more 2cats ! One of my papers in college was about Early American music and we have such a rich rich heritage of all people in this country . Song tells so many stories .

    I totally agree that the Black church has had an awakening and many have been touched with His fire.

    I am a very white ( my friends of color say I glow in the dark) nondenominational Christian who goes to a church that promotes reconciliation between churches of all color and ways of worship of the Lord. It has been my blessing to have been part of a mixed gospel choir and to know many wonderful people from the black churches in my area.

    If some of our white churches could only loosen up and just praise the Lord in full out song and movement we would really gain so much !

  7. windblade

    windblade Active Member

    Gospel music is my choice - it heals me so very deep down. Right around the holidays, I always have days of terrible depression. This past Christmas, after two brutal days of depression, I listened to Mahalia Jackson. I had never related to her before, but her singing was a healing that reached to the deepest, wounded part of me. I was able to stir around a bit, build up momentum, and create a joyful Christmas for my husband and myself.

    I also listen much to the Staples Singers, and Sweet Honey in the Rock. I can sing along from the deepest part of my being!
  8. lrning2cope

    lrning2cope New Member

    those are wonderful singers ! Have you listened to Etta Janes (sp) ? Gospel is so deep . I agree that it touches your very soul. Blues too.

  9. lrning2cope

    lrning2cope New Member

    Thank you so much for posting this information . I have read through it 3 times and it is just so cool how music touches peoples' lives.

    Do you know if the CD is available in the states ? Also , the 'plain and simple' treatment ;does this mean no feeling or just more orchestration with more modern background ? I like both , but just wondered if you know .

  10. windblade

    windblade Active Member

    Hi Holly,

    I'll look up Etta James, and any other gospel singers you can recommend.

    Also, who are your favorite Blues singers?