Recently there was a debate on social media, when one of our best known gospel artists was described as ‘the Queen of UK Gospel’. It caused quite a discussion, and some of the comments – on both sides – were very interesting, to say the least. So, I want to briefly explore in my own way why it may be a good thing to identify ‘the best’ among us in gospel music. After more than 40 years observing and experiencing artists come and artists go – and come again – I’m qualified to make a good judgement call on this subject. Right?
IS IT BIBLICAL?
The question that most people seemed to argue about in that social media debate, was: ‘Is it biblical to identify who is the best?’ – which, to me, is another way of asking: Who is the greatest? My answer is YES! Yes, it is biblical. All through the Bible, God recognises things, people and places as better than another. Have a good read of Luke 9:46 and Luke 22:24, where the disciples literally argued about who should be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I had to pause and laugh while writing this, because it just goes to show that the principle idea of having such debates isn’t new. Some people think that talking about such things are a carnal waste of time. Jesus was untroubled by the disciples’ question: “Who is the greatest?” We know this, because He answered in a very direct and matter-of-fact way. It was a legitimate and valid question, and He used it as an opportunity to expose their heart condition and to give them the candid truth. Next, He taught that the important characteristic of ‘greatness’ is being like a child in trusting God and being a servant to all. But, in the final part of His answer, He described that the seating next to Him in Heaven is reserved to be given by God the Father; therefore, everyone is going to know that whatever that person has done – they’re GREAT, and they would deserve that position, too! God recognises greatness.
WE LOVE KNOWING WHAT IS THE BEST
And that is why we love doing it. Let’s admit, it’s a very natural human instinct to recognise what is best. Of course, there is the everyday life level where it’s very subjective: identifying the best perfume or aftershave lotion, or choosing the best brand of toothpaste or soap powder, for example. Personal choice. We love recommending what we consider to be ‘the best’.
There are ways, however, in which we become more objective about it. Objectivity happens when the person, place or thing becomes so distinctive it amasses large consensus. Everybody comes into agreement, and there is little to no doubt that this place, person or thing is truly ‘the best’. Normally this happens by demonstration: what we can see, by works; what is done and, finally, by comparison – looking at the differences between two that are nearly the same. The choice of ‘the best’ should always achieve a minimum of two out of these three.
An easy example comes to mind: Usain Bolt. There is no doubt that he is the best. He can say it himself and he knows that EVERYONE across the world will “jus’ lif’ up dem han’” in his famous pose. Sorry, I had to go Jamaican lingo on that one. Usain qualifies on all three levels.
WHAT IS BEST BRINGS JOY
It is an extremely joyful experience when we can identify that there is something great among us. Because we know who is the Source of giftings, true ability and excellence, there is a deep satisfaction that, within the Kingdom of God, there are those who have made it their dedicated life work to express the best of what God has put within them. As an artistic and creative person, it would be the most depressive and ungodly experience to look across that divide between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God, and be unable to identify in His Kingdom anything that is ‘the best’. We all like the idea that we are associated with extremely high levels of goodness and achievement. It’s so inspirational to be up and close to ‘the best’, to invest in ‘the best’ and to follow ‘the best’. It doesn’t mean the rest is ‘rubbish’; it’s just that they haven’t reached the levels I mentioned above. Those who know will tell you it’s extremely hard, sacrificing work to be AND stay among the best. The best people are that because of their anointing, love, passion and dedication.
IDENTIFYING THE BEST ENCOURAGES FUTURE BEST
We are talking about art and craft, skill and ability. We are also speaking of legacy and continuity. It’s simple logic, really. If you want to keep seeing greatness in the future generations, they must have a model or framework to see it, and to be able to work within an environment that seeks and acknowledges ‘the best’. Don’t bring up that question: ‘Is a person born with greatness or made?’ That’s a different argument. I’m focusing on the fact that, if we are not willing to identify specifically and explicitly the standard-bearers and beacons of our music, others will presume there are none OR take the titles and use them as they will. That bothers me. That really causes concern.
WHY ARE WE SO SCARED TO SAY?
I think we are scared to say who’s the best for three key reasons. The first is because we don’t consider it the ‘Christian thing to do’. Secondly, we fail to provide factual-based evidence about ourselves. This includes record sales, work rate achievements. For some reason, we are scared to share data, not realising it is robbing us of validation within our own scene and how we are perceived outside of it. Remember, I said we need at least two out of three factors to qualify for being ‘the best’. Credible reasons for saying something is ‘the best’ is based on facts we know to be unassailable.
Let me highlight this point a bit more. In the USA, when Christian and gospel music had no sales data, they were ignored by the wider music industry. Everybody was going around performing live, selling records, appearing in the gospel media. They knew, based on these things, that it was great music… but there were no hard, measurable facts. As soon as the retail music stores and others began to have sales legitimately recorded through the music industry platform, SoundScan, data came through that artists like Kirk Franklin were selling 500,000 units. As they counted up the number of sales across all the gospel artists, they realised the industry was actually turning over millions of dollars. It galvanised the scene. In poured more financial investment by major labels; greater exposure on media platforms; higher respect and the ability for gospel industry strategists to grow the sector. Audiences swelled into the general public and not just the church market. More people started to listen to gospel and go to church. The audiences rallied behind their favourites, and the mega tours began. Admittedly, more recently things have changed on the US scene. Nonetheless, if we in the UK can realise the importance of this point and change our attitude and ways of operating, we would be shocked to see the transformation we can bring to our scene.
The third reason is linked to the second, because in our media we don’t make a habit of declaring lists of who is ‘the best’. This is changing, but we are not quite there yet. My guess is that it’s largely because we don’t want to be viewed as being partial as we all know each other quite well. Do you think I’m wrong about that?
WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO SAY WHO’S THE BEST?
When it comes to INDUSTRY STANDARDS, anyone who is an established, credible source within the field should be able to say “This is the best” and it be received with respect and accepted. A credible source is one that has a proven public track record and/or comprises of professional and knowledgeable individuals of note.
Writers like Marcia Dixon and Yinka Awojobi are just two of the individuals who, based on knowledge, reputation and experience, can compile credible lists.
These are the people who can dub artists with titles like ‘Queen’, ‘King’, ‘Prince’, ‘Godfather’ or ‘Mother’. Truth is, you can have more than one in any field – as is true in real life. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, though 🙂 #letothersblowyourtrumpet. It’s what others say – not the artist themselves: “Hi everybody. I’m your King of Gospel.” Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
WHO’S BEST IN UK GOSPEL
Well, I’m taking myself a little seriously by putting pressure on myself to close this article in sweet controversy by naming my ‘Who’s Best in UK Gospel’. Based on my criteria, it’s those I see who were visible, working and achieving in 2016, and those I can see forging a path for themselves in 2017. I could have easily listed more, but I wanted to be hard on myself and restricted myself to five in each category. So, in no particular order:
Artists: GuvnaB, Lurine Cato, London Community Gospel Choir, Muyiwa Olarewaju, Noel Robinson.
These five are obviously and certainly operating at the top of their genre style – prime examples in song, deed and action.
Choir Directors: Ken Burton, Karen Gibson, Bazil Meade, Volney Morgan, Wayne Ellington.
My choir director list focused on those who have a profile and are shaping choir sounds. Some have spread themselves across a variety of choral groupings in different settings – both culturally and geographically.
Music Producers: Evans Ogboi, Ian Green, Ibe ‘Giantkiller’ Otah, Paul Watson, Adrian Moore.
Music producers have been critical to a lot of album successes in 2016 (not forgetting the engineers). There are others, but these are the ones I’ve chosen with current product(s) that have had a very good rating.
Influencers: Marcia Dixon, O’Neil Dennis, Audrey Gray, Roger Moore, Charles Koranteng.
These are individuals, who are continually pushing the boundaries of thought and view. They have something to say, keep in touch at grass roots behind the scenes, and communicate it regularly up front through some significant means or other.
Radio Presenters: Yinka Awojobi, LadyT, DaveP, Lavinia Goddard and Adaeze Chiwoko.
Radio presenters are a bit like Influencers, with the advantage of speaking to us every day and driving our interest in the scene. I admire these folks greatly for their consistency and for the excitement they bring to the table.
Ones to Watch 2017: Aaron T Aaron, Andrew Bello, A-Star, Jason Nicholson-Porter, Sarah Téibo.
In this mix, I’ve placed those who have been around a little while and seem to be preparing for something special. I think they could develop into being among ‘the best’; they’ve got quality music and really should find that strategy to take it up to that next level this year. Where talent ends, strategy begins to help someone be among ‘the best’.
So now you know a few of those who, I believe, number among our best. But, if you want to see my real list, get in touch. LOL!