The gospel truth

It may not have the mass appeal it enjoys in the US just yet, but gospel is a broad church says YolanDa Brown

When most people think of gospel music, they think choirs or the Sister Act movie franchise, but the gospel music scene is in truth a lot more vibrant than the general audience realises.

Like jazz it is a genre with many genres within it, from the contemporary sounds of traditional gospel to pop, country and even rap sitting side by side in today’s catalogue. OK, yes there are choirs too, loads of them – and all with their individual signatures and charm.

Gospel is in! Ask artists such as Stormzy, with his now legendary Glastonbury Pyramid Stage-performance of Blinded By His Grace and Kanye West’s recent pop-up LA ‘Sunday Service’ brand which he then performed at Coachella to rave reviews.

America is the birthplace and flag-bearer of gospel music. There is a massive industry and it’s contemporary and cool. There are radio stations, TV networks, festivals, even an X Factor-style show called Sunday Best. The artists are signed to major record labels, they live in the most beautiful houses, sell out arenas on tour, have their own reality TV shows and radio show syndications and collaborate with mainstream artists like Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj and Tori Kelly.

You cannot speak about gospel music without mentioning a roll-call of names that helped magnify the genre such as songwriting genius AndraéCrouch, the Winans family, Kirk Franklin – who played in key role in taking gospel to mainstream audiences – and Mary Mary, the duo whose crossover single Shackles is played as much in the nightclub as it is on the gospel platforms.

There is a new generation of US gospel artists, who are pushing the envelope with their sound too: Tye Tribbett, Jonathan McReynolds, Lecrae, Travis Greene and Tasha Cobbs. In America in 2014, more gospel albums were sold than Latin, classical and jazz combined, with the genre accounting for 6.6 per cent of all music sales in 2015.

Here in the UK there is also a gospel scene, but the story is different.

In the Seventies and Eighties it was buzzing, with concerts in mainstream venues, gospel- oriented programming on mainstream television (The Eighties ITV gospel series People Get Ready has to be the ultimate representation of the talent which existed at that time on British screens) and radio (The Gospel Train on BBC Radio 2 was the first nationally broadcast gospel radio show). In the 1970s groups like The Harmonizers, Persuaders, Soul Seekers and Kainos were signed to major record labels.

By contrast, the only gospel artist signed to a UK major label are The Kingdom Choir (pictured above), who sang at the recent Royal wedding of Harry and Megan. They are currently signed to Sony and touring the world.

The UK gospel artists are the definition of independent and they have embraced new technologies and distribution to grow their careers. They make the most beautiful, moving music.

Here are some of my top recommendations:

Guvna B – Gospel Grime artist meets entrepreneur. His streaming numbers are amazing, he has won many awards, written a best-selling book, runs his own clothing line and festival and very outspoken against gun and knife crime.

CalledOut Music – A recent entry on the scene and much needed breath of fresh air. His sound is infectious, his lyrics touching and he is definitely here to stay.

Philippa Hanna – Equally embraced in the worlds of singer-songwriter and country music as she is in gospel. Hanna has been on the gospel scene for the past 10 years and brings her own unique inflections to the sound.

Lurine Cato – Her vocals have become a staple of the UK gospel scene. A Mobo Award Winner, she is currently touring with the NHS B Positive choir.

Annastasia Baker – Former X Factor contestant Baker experienced a career spike in the States following her 2015 debut album You Turn and a spate of touring. She is currently recording her sophomore album.

Faith Child – His sound is dance music fused with gospel rap and the audiences are loving it. He’s the best-dressed artist in gospel and his stage presence is off the charts.

Sarah Téibo – The most beautiful voice and phrasing, her music videos are on repeat. She currently has a single out (a remix of Like A Child) with gospel legend Fred Hammond.

The UK gospel scene has its own voice and unique nuances. I predict another wave of chart hits and record label signings as the sound continues to spread rapidly with the new generation.

On my playlist

GUVNA B – HANDS ARE MADE FOR WORKING (Guvna Music)

 Guvna B recently lost his father and this release is a tribute to him. The song Cast Your Cares is a tear-jerker and Everyday will make you jump up and down with no inhibitions. A well-crafted and sincere album from an amazing artist whose music matures and grows with him.