Gospel Music

My life, as you probably know, is very music driven.  I love to listen to music, perform music–well, I used to–sing music, talk about music…everything music!  Well, gospel music that is.  I’m very positive that was intentional on the Father’s part knowing the path He’s laid out for me.  But anyway, as much as I *heart* gospel music, sometimes it just gets on my nerves!  I had the Shuffle going on the ride home–of course.  Hezekiah Walker’s “Faithful Is Our God” came on which forced a question into my mind:  why the heck is gospel music so repetitive??  I love the song and all, but boy is it long!  As least it seems long because there aren’t too many words in it and they just repeat x “n.”  Now of course, all “gospel” music is not created equal, and I will explain the ” ” later on.  Anyway, yes, all gospel is not created equal.  You have artists like my personal favorite Fred Hammond.  Most of his songs (in my opinion) have a formula.  There’s a verse followed by a chorus (and in a lot of his songs a pre-chorus, channel, or whatever you want to call it) followed by another verse.  Fred Hammond can be kinda wordy sometimes, so there may be a chorus followed by a third verse!  But either way, after the series of choruses and verses, there is always a bridge followed by the vamp.  The vamp (the repetitive part) gets milked for a short time, and then the song ends.  Or, maybe it actually IS quite repetitive and it fades out.  Either way, when the vamp is half the song, and you’re singing the same couple of words (i.e. “work it out!”) 50,672 times…that’s a tad bit much!  It gets annoying to me unless you have a funky bass player (like “Bless the Name of Jesus” by Lonnie Hunter & the Voices of St. Mark) or the music is just crazy.  But anyway, back to my question:  why is gospel music so repetitive?  Is it because they don’t think we’ll get the message the first 40,000 times?  Is it because everyone (the lead AND the musicians) have to get a solo in?  Is it more of a show then trying to drive a point home?  I’m not trying to be negative, however I’m just pointing out how I see this played out in most Black churches today.  It seems to me that a lot more heart and a lot more God is put into “CCM” (Christian Contemporary Music <– ” ” to be explained later!”  A lot of “gospel” music seems to be more about what God can do for US instead of what we can do for HIM like in “CCM.”  For example, I cannot count how many songs I know that have to do with Jesus working it out, God blessing me, Lord help me to hold out, I’m waiting on Jesus, what God has for me, thanking God for what He’s DONE, what we’re gonna GET when we get to Heaven, etc.  ARGGHHHH!!!  What do we think God is?  A genie in a bottle?  A butler??  Here’s a quick disclaimer:  by now I hope you realize that I am speaking in GENERAL terms and am in no way saying that ALL “gospel” music and Black churches are like this.  If they were, then I would not listen to “gospel” music or attend Black churches.  On the other hand, “CCM” seems to be more God centered.  It speaks of worshiping God, how one feels in His presence, what God has done in his/her life, how wonderful and awesome God is, being made to worship, etc.  Ahhhhh…that’s sooooo refreshing to type 🙂  But anyway, back to my question again:  why is “gospel” music so repetitive? “CCM” songs (for the most part) are very succinct and to the point.  As a matter of fact, whenever I hear a very repetitive song on the radio, I probably catch myself saying, “Wow…that song is STILL on??”  Not that I’m not enjoying it, but I’m not used to hearing songs on certain stations go on for more than 3.5 minutes!

OK…here’s why all the ” ” everywhere.  I absolutely hate the distinction and labels that Christians put on everything!!  OMG!  I mean, do we have to single out everything?  One of my fellow church members said on Facebook something to the effect of if worship is for God, then why does it matter what style it is?  That’s not exactly what she said, but that’s how I remember it.   I mean, true, we all have a preference; but to NOT worship just because you don’t like the style…what kind of mess is that?  Anyway, I don’t like all these stupid labels we put on everything–especially in the music.  Whenever I get on my soap box about gospel music and why Christians should listen to it, this is how it always plays out:  somebody makes the mistake of mentioning to me or around me that they don’t like [what we’re going to call for now] Christian music (which is EVERYTHING).  I ask why, and they say something that basically boils down to there’s nothing they can identify with as far as style goes.  So, because they can’t identify with anything they continue to listen to mainstream (“secular” as Christians call it) music.  My reply is always you can find WHATEVER you’re looking for under the Christian umbrella if you’re willing to look.  What plays on 102.5 and 104.7 isn’t all there is in the Christian arena!  If you like rock, we got it.  Rap?  Check!  Pop?  Got tons of it!  We even have neo-soul now!  Hark…did I just use mainstream terminology with Christian music?  YES!  I DID!  That’s the whole point!  Music is music!  Style is style!  Stick different lyrics in it and you have the difference between Christian and “secular” music!  It’s not rocket science.

If one day I found a magic lamp, and out came a genie who desired to grant me 3 wishes, one of my wishes would be to change name of our music.  I don’t want to hear anymore of this gospel & CCM stuff like there’s only two styles of Christian music!  We act like everyone who is Black is a gospel artist, and everyone who is White is a CCM artist.  What about Ayiesha Woods and Nicole C. Mullen?  They are not “gospel” artists!  What about Martha Munizzi and Wes Morgan?  They’re not “CCM” artists.  And then, what about artists like Babbie Mason  and Larnell Harris who are AWESOME, but are too “White” for the Black stations and too “Black” for the White stations?  I mean, talking about being slapped in the face!  You’re trying to do great things for God, but because you don’t fit in one of the TWO boxes that exist you’re not accepted.  Speaking of two boxes, why are there two different awards (Stellar & Dove)?  Dove awards go to mostly to the CCM artists, and Stellars go to ONLY gospel artists.  There are more Black artists who have won Dove awards than White artists who have won Stellar awards.  See, if you’re a highly successful Black Christian singer, then you might be able to “crossover.”  That’s a term used back in the 60’s when your music became popular amongst the White people and made you very famous.  CeCe Winans is an amazing artist who has crossedover and has won several Dove and Stellar awards.  While I think that this is awesome, it still saddens me and baffles me–quite frankly–that there is a separation in the first place!!  SO…back to my genie in a bottle:  Mr. Genie, I want for there to be ONE genre, and I want it to be called “Christian.”  Then, in the Christian genre falls a myriad of styles.  Just to name a few (feel free to add the prefix “Christian” to not be confused with the mainstream genre of the same name), there should be rock, rap, pop, neo-soul, jazz, R&B, hip hop, worship…I know…it’s not exactly right, and there are several categories under this too!  What else would you call it?  There should also be R&P (rhythm & praise for artists you just can’t describe like Fred & Israel!  Of course, there should be gospel–just couldn’t TOTALLY throw it away.  Personally, I’d like to just call it “church” music.  That is how most the world mostly sees “gospel” music anyway (traditional and southern gospel).

I know this post was long, but I hope you see my point.  As Christians, no matter what color we are, or what style we like, we are all on the SAME team!  We shouldn’t be trying to outdo each other, be more fly than anyone, or more popular.  Just BE YOU!  Oh wow, I think that’s the title of Mary Mary’s book that just came out.  Maybe I should read it.  Anyway, that’s why I love Israel Houghton’s music.  It’s not Black, it’s not White, it’s just solid!  He just does HIM (Israel), and HE (God) is glorified.  So awesome.  Anyway, stop trying to put folks in a box and let’s just reach out…yeah…OUT…not just to Christians!!

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