Signs for a new era in British Gospel by Juliet Fletcher

I have been contemplating the number of times I’ve had to say “WoW!” at some story or announcement connected to gospel music over the past twelve months and more. There have been consistent occurrences of great moments of excitement as well as great sadness, and I’ve noticed that the compound intensity of these occurrences have so impacted our creative community that it is organically generating into a driving force with the potential to catapult us into a new era of British Gospel, under God’s grace and providence. I believe this prominence is to take place on a national and global scale, and we’re almost set to go!

In reality, it’s actually quite timely, since next year, 2020, represents forty years since British Gospel became a major phenomenon of a youthful (and youth-filled, church-based) generation. The decade of the 1980s is considered to represent the Golden Age, when choirs, groups and soloists heralded a wind of change for recognising the power of our music beyond the confines of our church walls. Now we have the ability to generate and negotiate new opportunities; create and expand our own brands and platforms; engage and build new audiences, and represent and influence in culture and the arts.

THE DEFINING SIGNS

There are two great signs to take us into this new era: first, the sign of the Millennials and secondly, the sign of the Legends. The first is fatally impoverished without the second, and the second fatally implodes without the first. They are therefore of equal importance to each other, intrinsically and irrevocably linked.

To give context to my view, I am using the following list as a guide to the generations:

  • Silent Generation are those born between 1925 – 1945 (73 to 93)
  • Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 – 1964 (54 to 72 years old)
  • Generation X are those born between 1965 – 1980 (38 to 53 years old)
  • Millennials are those born between 1981 – 1996 (22 – 37 years old)
  • Post Millennials are those born between 1997 to Present (0 – 21 years old)

With this list in mind, you’ll be able to locate where you stand in the generations, and how I’m using this social observation to reflect on who we are in this musical framework.

THE SIGN OF THE MILLENNIALS

Said to be deeply opinionated, independent, confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented; pampered and focused (some would say only on themselves), the Millennials (this goes for Post Millennials, too) have a great advantage of accepting difference. Many have grown up in a culturally and ethnically diverse environment. They are quicker to break through social barriers. However, they are less inclined to recognise traditions; the importance of heritage and legacy, and holding or looking to landmarks and historical virtues to inform or sustain what they do. Everything is ‘now’ or ‘the next new’. They often think or behave as if whatever they are doing has never been done before. The exciting factor with Millennials is that they are excited about everything they do. Once convinced of an idea, they are fully convinced it must be acted upon NOW! They will take risks, and have learnt the power of compromise and collaboration quite well.

THE SIGN OF THE LEGENDS

Legends. It isn’t a word used lightly. One can fulfil acts deemed ‘of legendary proportions’, however, in this context, I’m relating the term to an older generation.  It is a word to describe a person, who has contributed to such an extent that their influence – as well as their track record – speaks for itself. No floss, gloss or hype. The bare facts and evidence are like a ‘surround sound of many witnesses’, either in a local, national or international setting. The Legends class invariably speaks of two generations: the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. I’m part of the Baby Boomers (groan)! Like our parents (Silent Generation), we aren’t afraid to put in a hard day’s work. We were competitive, but invariably more towards each other and, at times, to our own detriment.

However, that competitiveness nurtured our individual personal excellence; we did team effort without financial reward. Our Silent Generation wanted us to maintain tradition, without considering strategic development – until now. Investment in ourselves was lacking – until now. We are focused, but we were not primed enough for taking on our legacy and heritage, sharing our knowledge and experiences – until now. The sad truth is that Legends and Millennials die – greats like Andrea Robinson and Solomon Facey respectively – when you least expect. We’re learning that if we don’t construct our scene, everything we have worked for will fizzle out – or, to say it plainly – die with us.

THE SIGNS IN A LIMITLESS ERA

There is a consciousness out there amongst both Legends and Millennials that indeed our moment has arrived. Let’s prophesy Joel 2:23-24. It is the power of the Legends and the Millennials together: the old and the new; latter and the former rain, joined in full strength and power. We must make visible the latter and former rain.

We have a very clear and potent message, one which has saved untold numbers from a life of crime, committing suicide, destroying their families or communities. We are unashamed of THIS GOSPEL. It’s based on TRUTH that His Kingdom has come, and He, JESUS, will come again in person. Therefore, in the meantime, we live and proclaim His virtues: love, joy, peace, righteousness, mercy and justice. How does God retain His truth in the world? Read Psalm 100:5 for the answer. It is as each generation speaks/relates and connects to the other. It’s worth repeating: the Legends and the Millennials  really need each other to do this.

The evidence of our experiences over the years is that, regardless of the setting, the circumstances, the communities, the social or political policy, our music always seems to fit into the place it’s given. If we follow the move of the Holy Spirit, we will see that our music – whether in its purest of praise & worship, or whether in pure form of inspiration within popular culture – it will be and do what it is anointed and appointed to do. This new era is not a sudden happening – although it may seem like it. No. This era had a post-manifestation that began in the 90s, when everything seemed lost. All it was is planting seeds of renewal. A ‘death’ had to happen before ‘life’ could come again. We must prophesy Ezekiel 37: Can these dry bones live?  This army of entrepreneurial arts and culture creatives must arise and march boldly into the new decade.

The whole sector has so much to it now: GMIA (Gospel Music Industry Alliance) surveyed and identified over 40 creative disciplines operating in our sector. and in every one of them are professionals – they do it for a living – or are in ministry too. Take the following practitioners for example:

O’Neil Dennis, founder-leader of StepFwd/UK Christian Charts last month celebrated five landmark years of successful delivery across the spectrum of Christian and gospel scene. He informed me that they have over 500 subscribing artists on their charts system.How can we maximise the powerful potential this exempifies?

Eloho Efemuai, making inroads into the Edinburgh airwaves with Heartsonglive.co.uk, an independent online radio station, represents the self-funded entrepreneurial spirit and risk takers with a passion to share and extend the popularity of the genre.  Eloho’s business quickly drew in more than 10,000 regular listeners, and now has over 60,000 followers.

Oliver Kamau, founder of Testified.com, makes filmed videos of people who’ve experienced the life-changing work of JESUS in their lives. Within weeks of operation, they had over half a million views. TBN UK now broadcasts their work. A new series features Amani Simpson, a young man who survived a vicious knife attack. At the start of 2019 he produced a powerful short film about his life. It stars Joivan Wade (Doom Patrol, Shiro’s Story) and amassed one million views in only four days! Do you think this is a growth area, since its predicted audiences are moving towards mobile and Smart TV viewing?

Later this year, Drs Pearl and Errord Jarrett (pioneering film and music distributors) and super coolproducer/vocal expert Lawrence Johnson (co-founder 80s soul group Nu Colours and presently Music Director, New Wine Church) will be launching the first Professional Gospel Theatre and Performance Training Company. Can you imagine the potential impact of this project?

All of the above adds to the ongoing success and contribution of many others, including  Roy Francis, British gospel pioneer and media consultant/author of a new book, ‘How to Make Gospel Music Work For You; Muyiwa Olarewaju, international artist and station manager of Premier Gospel Radio (and Awards); Karen Gibson & Kingdom Choir (on tour now); Mark De Lisser and Singology; choir leader Colin Anderson, conductor of NHS B-Positive Choir; John Fisher & IDMC, soul gospel choir (look up his new music venues initiative); RnB/soul artist, Ni-Cola (Ni-Cola.com) – find out about her new workshops practical session on how to draw-down funding and sponsorship in the arts, and Audrey Gray, artiste management professional (see leveltickets.co.uk) providing support for artists like Jake Isaac.

Take the time to find out more and get involved. If you haven’t got time to ‘do’, then let your financial support ‘do it’ for you. Although it’s an unpredictable future, let’s not hesitate to get the best out of it: imagine, research and implement.

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