During a recent phone call, a respectable and well-known leader said to me: “Right now is probably the most exciting time of all in British Gospel.” He had heard an inspiring interview with an aspiring artist talking to the Breakfast Show presenter, Yinka Awojobi, on Premier Gospel Radio. Called Out Music (real name Samuel Nwachukwu) shared about his experience of travelling to various countries around the world, performing as a gospel artist,and stated this opinion:”There is a volcano of talent coming” and “UK Gospel is about to erupt”,because from what he can see British Gospel is getting huge recognition around the world.
Of course this statement by one of our brightest and, as Yinka described him, most celebrated young singer/songwriters is very interesting; global recognition of our music strand is of paramount importance to the growth and development of our industry.
It’s true that there is a real optimism about our future. However, his words have made me think deeply about the reality, and whether emerging artists really can build themselves global success. He spoke of the need for key players and investors to step in and support artists. Below I consider the success of those who have paved the way before him.
INDUSTRY – A DEFINITION
But before I say more, let me deal with this word ‘industry’. I know a lot of people have issue with the use of that word in our ‘music ministry’ circles. I’m hoping that this definition will help our understanding, as I continue to talk about our potential global impact: Ministry is whywe do what we do. Industry is howwe do what we do. This is the business side: to meet all the legal requirements (HMRC, Companies House, annual accounts, PAYE, insurance, etc). The list could go on to also include managing tours, business arrangements, sponsors’ or investors’ contributions, and we know not a single artist can go without these factors regardless of how spiritual they are. You know it makes sense. [By the way, I must acknowledge Michael Thompson from Psalm Music Distribution, who gave this definition while answering a question during the industry panel session at Gospel Explosion Summit. It’s always useful to listen to other people!]
It is with the ‘how’ that most artists and other creative practitioners make mistakes. Even after many years of experience, I include myself, because there are times when things could have been done better or more efficiently, and haven’t been conducted as they should have. As my good Music Brother Friend (Pastor) John Fisher would say: “You’ve dropped off!” How you do the ‘how’ is invariably the big difference between moving from local to regional to national and onto GLOBAL success. This is what we can look at now.
DEFINING GLOBAL SUCCESS – IN SALES
Firstly, our music history differs greatly to the USA’s, so it becomes pointless to make comparisons when dealing with notions of ‘global success’ in sales. For example, Donnie McClurkin, who recently held his Anniversary concert at New Wine Church in Woolwich, marking 20 years since he recorded his LIVE IN LONDON album, sold millions of copies according to the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America). RIAA collect and store such data, and he was awarded Gold and Platinum Discs. In fact, it is well documented that he rose to international stardom (to use a music industry phrase) by that one key product – and it was the Caribbean Medley that did it! Donnie has sold over ten (10!) million albums worldwide. In the USA, there are many gospel record labels and, as a consequence, albums by multiple stars over the years.
The UK version of the RIAA is the BPI – British Recorded Music Industry (commonly known as the British Phonographic Industry), and it is the UK music industry’s main trade body. They would recognise that our artists are selling albums, EPs and other products. Some, like Bazil Meade and LCGC have sold and been awarded music industry Gold Discs for sales but, unfortunately, artists and producers rarely speak of their achievements in this way. It may be because most of their sales are given for their contribution on the recorded material of mainstream acts, more than for their own sales results. That may sound like a negative, but this speaks more of the positive influence and contribution we are making to other’s skills. It’s time we highlighted what we do with official data. We need to have our own official data collection and archiving. We would be surprised at our level of success and the options for improving our industry status.
I am pleased to say this is an area that is now being championed by Black music historian, Kevin Tomlin, who is also GMIA’s music historian. Nontheless, it’s impossible to achieve data records without the cooperation of everyone involved. My hope is that in another three to five years we should see a great difference in data held on the British Gospel scene. We will then be able to officially put names to facts and figures to determine the global impact on the worldwide sales market.
DEFINING GLOBAL SUCCESS – BY MAJOR LIVE PERFORMANCES & MEDIA ATTENTION
This is probably the key area that most UK artists would use to define their global success, and not surprisingly so. I support the view. One of the sayings I have long admired from LCGC is to “sing in every hamlet, village, town and city”. And they have done that to such an extent the question is now asked: “Where has LCGC not performed”? LCGC has visited many countries around the world on behalf of the British Council. The British Council is the international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, building lasting relationships between the UK and other countries. Through this agency and many other recommendations, LCGC has performed for royalty and government leaders in numerous African countries and Arab states. Bazil Meade MBE (who has recently released a solo single, My Journey Now) has led the vocal outfit in various configurations and guises to perform in many European countries, establishing festivals and workshops that have transformed those places. Over 35 years of performances, I wouldn’t counter an argument for their live international and major performance stats to be before over one billion people.
In 2009, Muyiwa Olarewaju became the first international artist to perform on America’s BET show Celebration Of Gospel with a live TV audience of 2.6 million. His performance became a real door opener for the African Gospel sound, permeating the usually conservative gospel audience. He is a longstanding TV presenter for Turning Point, an international TV programme with an estimated 70 million viewers/listeners, which finds him meeting noted individuals in Africa, USA and Europe. Therefore his face and name are known and recognised on many fronts. For years he had his own radio show, produced by writer/journalist George Luke, on Lufthansa Airways, called Sounds Of Africa. And this does not include his audience on Premier Gospel – the leading UK Gospel music radio station.
For more than 25 years, composer, conductor, producer and music director Ken Burton has operated at the very top of the performance and recording industry with his various choirs and groups – the renown London Adventist Chorale, Croydon Gospel Choir, vocal ensembles AVE and TESSERA – exciting elements to spreading performances across international boundaries. With them he has toured Australia on numerous occasions and, like LCGC, represented British Gospel in European and African nations. Ken has achieved numerous performances within the film industry, and his credits include soundtrack music for the globally successful film, Black Panther (2018).
GuvnaB and FaithChild are contemporary hip-hop/rap creatives. These two amazing artists have singularly furrowed their own track into becoming performing artists across festivals all over Europe, Africa and North America. They have smartly utilised opportunities that internationally based festivals have given. They’ve combined working with high profile international organisations that support significant social causes. In my opinion, without fanfare or self-glorification they have stood front and centre as relevant social commentators. With those already mentioned, each in their own distinct way, they have been an active part of ‘giving vision’ to millennials in gospel, heightening their ability to forge a way forward.
The media attention garnered by their various high profile activities culminates the peak of what helps define their global success.
GLOBAL SUCCESS – BY YOUR OWN DEFINITION
I recall, from his interview with Yinka on Premier Gospel, Called Out Music describes how he decided to not put any boundaries on where he would go to minister/perform. He shared that his first public performance was in Paris! Yes, this is unusual. The standard principle working in gospel follows the advice given by Pastor Marvin Winans (of the legendary Winans): first work your success in your local church/area, then move on to impacting your region (eg. Midlands), after which your national profile should follow more easily to you becoming an international artist with an evidenced record of success.
Now, I don’t think we should abandon that guidance, but I do believe that the season we are in, with the advantages of technology and the powerful way we can engage directly with our audience, the practicality around defining and delivering your own global success path has never been better or greater.
Below I have two lists – neither of which are exhaustive. The first list comprises factors which seem common to most of the artists mentioned in the second list, whom I consider (i) have achieved, (ii) are destined to achieve, and (iii) ought to achieve global success as we enjoy 2020.
- They have a strong song repertoire
- They have a powerful ministry performance
- They are passionate effective communicators about their faith and themselves
- Their photographic imagery and graphic brand design with dress sense are engaging
- The level of communication with their audience and media outlets is consistent and authentic
- They have and share significant life stories
- They have a great sense of their responsibility/calling and high standard of professionalism
- A team of individuals support their administration/management affairs
- They evidently build and sustain strong relationships
In no particular order:
Bazil Meade & LCGC
Karen Gibson & Kingdom Choir
Ken Burton & London Adventist Chorale
John Fisher & IDMC Gospel Soul Choir
Volney Morgan & New Ye
Called Out Music
Joshua Luke Smith
Isaiah Raymond Dyer
It might be considered carnal to strive for what might be deemed as ‘fame’. My guess is that most of those on my list would not have that as a single determined goal, but that it transpired as they pursued their calling in excellence.