Gospel and secular music: where do you draw the line?

Sunday March 25 2012

Julius Owino, better known as Juliani. Photo/BUZZ

Julius Owino, better known as Juliani. Photo/BUZZ 


It was very easy to distinguish between a gospel song from a secular one a few years back.

Songs like ‘Kuna Dawa’ by Esther Wahome, ‘Akisema Atakubariki’ by Jemimah Thiong’o, ‘Tsinyanga Tsiwere’ by Rufftone, ‘Sifu Bwana’ by Henry Mutuku, ‘Milele’ by Mercy Masika, just to mention but a few, were all songs that drew people to the spiritual with their deep messages. But it’s all different now.

If you ask many, a gospel song is one where the artiste utters the name God or Jesus and that’s it. It is no longer about the message.

Many gospel artistes will tell you they have to make their music in such a way that it appeals to the youth “sinners” and that is why they have to give it some “swag”.

This attempt at appealing to such people has seen gospel artistes cross over to the other side instead of getting others to do that.

Their music is just secular music peppered with Christ’s name here and there. The message is lost, the line is blurred.

Ringtone is no longer singing about ‘Yesu ni Mwamba’ but has switched to ‘Kazi ni Kazi’, his latest song, and ‘Talanta’, which features a secular artiste Majimaji.

Speaking of secular artistes, Juliani, who has been largely categorised as a gospel artiste, is finding it cool to do collabos with secular artistes like Abbas Kubaff and recently Jua Cali.

New sensation in the gospel circles, HopeKid, has gone ahead to lift a Jamaican secular song, ‘Dream’ by Popcaan, and made his gospel version ‘Like A Dream’.

Another gospel musician, Kevo Yout, in his song ‘Number One’, in one of the verses he says ‘Leo kutawaka moto, fire’, in the same style as Size 8, a secular musician, sings it in her song ‘Fire’.

That’s not all.

They have now moved into clubs and bars. Besides many gospel artistes seeing it okay to perform at restaurants like Carnivore, which sell alcohol among other beverages, DJ Mo and his System Unit crew are having Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Nairobi’s Tymer’s Bar and Restaurant located on Kenyatta Avenue.

That is the same time when Florida 2000 Club has its Jam session, playing secular music. Is it perhaps they want to make fans shift from Florida, a bar, to Tymers, another bar?

When it comes to music videos, Ringtone might have done his ‘Kazi ni Kazi’ video at Tribe Hotel, and might argue out his case. But anyone who has ever been to Club Galileo in Westlands will not miss to notice that Alemba and Exodus’ video ‘I am Walking’, has parts that have been shot there.

So where do you draw the line between gospel and secular music and lifestyle?

It is in the Bible

Ringtone, to defend his songs, quotes the Bible where it says that anybody who does not work should not eat.

“In this song, I am motivating people to work, just like the Bible says. There are so many university graduates who are jobless, just because they are choosing jobs. God says, praying alone will not make you get a job, He will help you more if you make an effort,” he explains.

Juliani defends his move of doing music with secular artistes too. “I do music with secular artistes because first they are talented, and we are sharing a positive message to our fans,” he says.

Kevo Yout sees no problem imitating Size 8’s voice and words in his song. “It’s creativity. Listen to the whole song and you will get the message. If people look at it as if I’m glorifying secular music, I’m available to explain why I used that style,” he says.

However, new kid on the block HopeKid, realises that he made a mistake by creating a gospel version of Popcaan’s song.

“I have always been a fan of Jamaica’s Popcaan. I grew up knowing that one day I will sing like him. When I got the opportunity, I enjoyed doing ‘Like a Dream’ in the studio,” he says. But now he knows that he should do more original work, he says.

Pastor Peter Mulei, a preacher and music leader at City of Refuge Church in Nairobi, says that the current crop of musicians need serious mentorship.

“There is no way you are going to use a secular song and claim that you are praising God. As a musician, you need to make that difference,” he says. Gospel musicians should not go to the bar to preach, but they can do so outside the bar on a level ground, and attract the drunkards, Pastor Mulei insists.

“The moment I enter the bar to preach, the drunkards will not look at me differently,” he says.

Charles Kairu, a staunch Christian and the producer of NTV’s gospel shows ‘One Voice’ and ‘Cross Over 101’, echoes Pastor Mulei’s sentiments.

“We are having a very hard time trying to choose which videos to play or not to. Gospel artistes are no longer preaching the way they used to, but instead looking for controversial aspects in their music. As a Christian, I think it’s terribly wrong to use ways of the world while pretending that you are preaching. A secular song should remain that, and a gospel song the same,” he says.