Juliet Fletcher examines the rise of gospel DJs and sound systems in recent years, and learns how they are touching lives through this unique evangelistic approach to ministry
Did you know that since the 1990s there has been a growth in DJs and sound systems on the gospel scene? DJs who have thousands jumping for hours, and sound systems like those you see and hear at Carnival time: when the bass speakers blast, you feel it vibrate your breastbone and make a can of coke ‘dance’. LOL!
Jokes aside, these DJs are very sober and professional in what they do and, as I discovered, they are doing amazing evangelistic work.
DJ or Radio Presenter?
It’s useful to understand that DJs often operate in the role of radio presenters, but the two are distinct: a radio presenter’s priority is talking to the listening audience, introducing guests and specific tracks, while DJs combine collecting and selecting music – usually with specialist insider knowledge of a genre – with understanding and tapping into the technical sound of the production, plus mixing track to track or beat matching tracks, and creating an atmosphere for the listener to soak up the sound – and dance – for hours on end! So how does this profile of a DJ – and sound systems – gel with preaching the Gospel and the Kingdom of God?
Motivation and Purpose
DJs I spoke to used words like ‘outreach’, ‘scattering seeds’ and ‘changing lives’ to describe their motive and purpose. 1 Corinthians 9:22 says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some”.
Bristol-based DJ Mel, aka Mel Carroll, runs the Soul2Soul sound system, the only official gospel sound system with a live stage set at St Paul’s Carnival, Bristol. Mel states, “We choose tracks that push the die-hard words of Scripture in the music, or songs with positive lyrics, like ‘You can make it if you try’ – it all counts.”
DJG, aka Gary Smith (based in Oxford), is on the verge of becoming full-time. He shared, “I see myself as a DJ who is a Christian, and I go into major festivals alongside mainstream DJs, like Bob Sinclair. Once, a person came up to us at 2am in the morning to say, ‘I want to know more about Jesus’. We are scattering seeds – let the music do the talking.”
DJ Kelechi (or DJK), aka Kelechi Amadi (based in London), runs the brand IDONOTCONFORM. It’s based on Romans 12:2. He explained, “We’re encouraging young people through music that you don’t have to conform to the world.” His popular mixtapes, ‘True Love Waits’ and ‘Love Letters’, have helped people struggling with sexual purity. “More than once, young couples have contacted me to book me for their wedding.”
DJ Redz, aka Jason O’Shea (based in London), was deep into the reggae sound systems, like Love TKO and Europe’s No.1, Lord Gelly’s, which plays at the Notting Hill Carnival. But he had a life turnaround. “I totally turned my back on sound systems,” shared DJ Redz, “but the Lord clearly spoke and confirmed His Word.” He built up HMSS (His Majesty’s Sound System) from scratch as a 20,000-watts set-up. “We were at the God Corner at Notting Hill for years through a Pastor Efrem.” HMSS is respected by the secular scene and is renowned internationally. “The crowd don’t dictate to me; I play the music and preach the Gospel,” states Redz.
He is currently a missionary for London City Mission – as an Urban Mission Pioneer. Every Wednesday, he teaches Bible study at The Golden Anchor Pub in Nunhead, south London, and stages a Reggae Gospel night every first Sunday of the month.
DJ Spanna, aka Barry Panton (Birmingham), alongside Michael Miller, a DJ engineer, runs a similar sound system ministry called Shekinah Sound Ministries.
Miller explained: “A DJ moves a crowd and, depending on the type of crowd, we’ll use catchy beats, but it’s Word-based music. Our goal is encouraging the saints, while being a light to those in darkness. We are not carrying messages of ‘shake your booty’ but of finding life and being positive. Our focus is outreach. We’ve turned down lucrative, paid bookings for outreach work.”
Reaching the Masses
When we look at the specialist music that DJs and sound systems play, it’s certainly the type of music that appeals to the masses. For example, Soulful House is very dependent on soaring gospel vocals, rhythms, and normally uplifting and positive lyrics. A number of hit records, like British artist Rachel McFarland’s ‘Let The Music Lift You Up’ and US Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’, have done extremely well, played not only by gospel DJs but by DJs globally. I’m surprised that more UK Gospel producers, vocalists and choirs don’t systematically take advantage of this, considering that we know it is chiefly DJs who broker hit plays.
Sound systems are a major part of summer outdoor events, where the masses gather. Based on the testimonies of these DJs, we should be financially supporting DJs more effectively and increase the activities of gospel-based sound systems events.
All the DJs and sound systems mentioned are available for hire (see below).
DJ Mel: Visit www.s2sGospel.com or email email@example.com
DJG: Visit www.inspirationalsoulfulhouse.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
DJK: Visit www.dj-k.com or email email@example.com
DJ Redz: Visit www.hmss.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
DJ Spanna: Visit www.shekinahsoundministries.com or email email@example.com