Six years ago, I published an article which asked the question; IS THERE A FUTURE FOR THE GHANAIAN GOSPEL MUSIC? I recounted the challenges the industry was facing then and how it can position itself to take on the world stage if its actors took the scientific management approach a bit more serious. Four years after that, I published an article that narrated the genealogy of the Ghanaian gospel music and the journey it took to arrive at what we describe today as contemporary Gospel music. In the article titled “The journey to contemporary gospel music in Ghana”, I further discussed the influencing factors that have shaped what we hear today as Ghanaian Gospel music. I concluded that piece with a promise to address in my next article, the structural weakness, and how we can position ourselves for a more sustainable, scalable, and profitable industry. This article will focus on a brief development of Gospel music in Ghana from a socio-spiritual perspective, talk about where we are presently, highlight the recurrent weaknesses, and propose a more robust development approach to growing the Ghana Gospel music industry.
In the 1980s, the fastest growing musical expression in Ghana was the religious music that has come to be described as gospel music. Especially since the late 1980s gospel music has assumed an increasingly prominent position in Ghanaian religious and social life. According to a research done by Abamfo Atiemoin his study of world Christianity, Gospel music constituted about 75% of recorded musical works in Ghana in 1993; and in 2001 it was believed that about 90% of musicians were plying their trade in churches. This boom in gospel music coincided with the phenomenal spread of the charismatic movement. The charismatic movement affected most branches of Ghanaian Christianity and also produced a distinct group of churches that eventually came to be known as Charismatic Churches. Gospel music has become one of the most important expressions of popular Christianity. Perhaps no other aspect of popular Christianity embodies the aspirations, fears, the self-understanding, and the faith and hope of the ordinary Ghanaian Christian as the various strands of popular religious music, which have together been referred to as gospel music. In the late 90s to the early 2000s, lots of interdenominational choir groups were formed with the sole aim of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ through contemporary gospel music, drama, and counselling. This was in furtherance of the charismatic movement that was taking roots in our socio-spiritual culture. Some of these groups were deeply involved in mission work, carrying the gospel into remote communities and hosting big crusades in small towns across the country. However, their activity rate has significantly reduced to almost nothing. To mention a few are The Commissioned Family, Harbor City Mass Choir, Impact Project Ministry, and E’mpraise Incorporated.
WHERE WE ARE – EVENTS
We have come a long way in the journey of establishing a fine contemporary gospel music industry. However, mainstream activity rate in terms of events seems to be diminishing compared to the level of enthusiasm and investment that existed about eight years ago. On the Christian event calendar, events like Harvest Praise, Celebrations, Adom Praise, Explosion of Joy, Absolute Worship, and SING OUT were not to be missed. The euphoria surrounding these events was magical! Amongst the many artists that trouped to Ghana were Kirk Franklin, Tye Tribett, Donnie McClurkin, Deitrick Haddon, Vashawn Mitchell, William McDowell, Cece Winans, Don Moen, and Israel Houghton. These foreign gospel artists were those who mattered on the world Gospel music scene! They were the crème de la crème, toping charts around the world, both in mainstream media and digital media. They all stormed Ghana for these recurring events. With the exception of Explosion of Joy, where did the rest go? Today, we have pockets of events all around with very few landmark ones like Praiz Reloaded, Explosion of Joy, August Worship, Tehillah and Thanksgiving.
Events are a strategic way to growing every creative industry, especially, music events. During large events, the economic benefits are widened. For example, the wedding industry today is thriving also because of the equitable distribution of specialty work like planning, coordination, styling, costuming, photography, etc. In the last decade, people have found a gap in the wedding industry and have created all sorts of solutions for the market, even bride dressing room décor vendors.
A few years ago, large Christian gospel music events birthed lots of service providers and the vendor competition induced high quality of service which translated into a mutually beneficial industry. Today, we see a recycle of vendors in the gospel industry. There isstagnation! The same sound engineer, lighting company, stage designers, floor managers, etc. This is where we are! In the early days of landmark events, corporate sponsorship was very promising. Even skills development events like Bass Clinic could get corporate sponsorship because the industry looked attractive. Today, even top gospel artists struggle to secure sponsorship that can cover half of their event cost. Why is this so? In the early days we had people like Andrew Lartey who was dedicated to fundraising activities for gospel events. He was known by almost every marketing department in every company. Unfortunately today, the zeal to pursue such activity is no more.
It saddens my heart to know that after three successful years of the “Year of Return” and “Beyond the Return”, the entire gospel music industry could not tap into this major landmark marketing opportunity to design events that will harvest the benefits attached to it. Most successful Gospel artists in America are African-Americans who may want to find their roots. They will love to embark on this spiritual journey, intentionally designed, and hosted by our A-list Gospel artists. I am so sure without any atom of doubt that we would have had them trouping in free of charge and host them to a beautiful gospel events. Which corporate entity wouldn’t want to sponsor that every year?
Today, we have mini events with matured skills set and quality production but we are unable to escalate them into landmark events. Are we thinking small? What could the challenges be? I believe there is a deep structural weakness that must be addressed to unleash the scalability of our industry
First, we lack an interface between what we do and the corporate world that has the budget to finance our activities. The gospel music industry is flooded by too many upstream skills with little attention to downstream abilities. Over the years, we have developed quality production skills. Gone are the days when we had a few instrumentalists, engineers, and other relevant labor factors producing what we enjoyed. Today, there are so many matured and quality upstream labor available for the production of whatever event or music that can compare to any other in the world. However, we lack people who will present the quality products and services we produce to corporate Ghana as a valuable venture in exchange for a space in their marketing budgets.
Second, we lack proper administrative structures. Our operations are usually run by one individual who juggles between business development, artist management, bookings, tour management, etc. We don’t operate in isolation of the economic space. Once an artist produces a song, markets it, and sell it for a fee, all business protocols must be observed. In an economic space, certain business roles must be well understood and must be made functional for the growth, sustainability, and profitability of the brand or product. In the absence of quality business functional roles in the Gospel music industry, we have been denied of significant progress.
Third, the inability of seeming successful Gospel artists to chart a clear path for upcoming ones is a major challenge. Recently, we have seen a new generation of Gospel artists that have been busy with lots of gigs. Phillip Adzale, Efe Grace, Kofi Peprah, Luigi Maclean, and a lot of them out there will need a blueprint to follow. Unfortunately, the past seems a bit scattered without any scientific approach to starting your music career and moving it into the mainstream for maximum benefit, both spiritual and physical.
Lastly, the unavailability of record labels is really hindering the growth of the Gospel music industry. For well over two decades, since the recognition and gradual adoption of contemporary Gospel music, we haven’t had any properly organized record labels to fund and promote talents.
THE WAY FORWARD
Starting from now, let us encourage people to take up roles of interfacing between the Gospel industry and the corporate world. Such people can be persons who are or have experienced the industry in a way and also works in the corporate world. There are singers, instrumentalists, and other actors that work in high level positions in the corporate world who understand how to pitch value in a corporate environment. Such people will be able to describe and articulate the value being offered by the Gospel industry and further situate our value proposition into the corporate world’s marketing strategy. These persons will develop fundraising proposals, conduct market research and analysis, lead fundraising efforts, and secure funds for our activities while offering value to the sponsoring firms. There is a language spoken in the corporate world, and we must learn to speak and apply that language to promote the kingdom.
As an industry, we need to promote and formalize the roles of some of the people that work around artists. It is not enough to keep saying we have a team and still do things haphazardly. Moving forward, let us identify talents, give specific roles, and train the people that work around our artists to fit into functional roles that will make up the administrative pool of the artists. A well-organized team makes it attractive and fosters development due to the formality and urge of people to function in designated roles.
Successful artists must start documenting their way to success. Yes, we might not all take the same route but the fundamentals will almost remain the same. Successful artists must open up their network for upcoming ones to tap into while guiding their career through the turbulent industry we have in Ghana.
Lastly, we need to find a way to express to Kingdom financiers that the Gospel music industry is a bankable one and with some good investments, record labels and recording deals can materialize. The ability of the industry to establish record labels will birth and promote quality talents for the deep promotion of the gospel.
In conclusion, I believe with all my heart that the Gospel music industry in Ghana is yet to see its better days. To achieve this, we must intentionally and scientifically establish processes, procedures, tools, and techniques that will support its growth.
By Nicholas Solomon