Remember the good old days when gospel music would drive you to the altar to confess your sins and plead for forgiveness from your maker? The songs were inspiring, refreshing and uplifting.
The gospel industry was instrumental in spreading the Word of God in a distinct and clear way.
It was a revolution of sorts. One that was led by a new crop of artistes who were singing a new kind of contemporary Kenyan gospel music.
The faces behind the music were Peter Odera, Big Kev, Esther Wahome and Rufftone. That was in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Fast forward to today and the seriousness in the gospel industry has faded, at least as far as the online bashing some of the new crop of artistes have received.
A good example is when Size 8 and Willy Paul released the song, Tiga Wana.
While some fans claimed it was catchy and danceable, others felt the song wasn’t portraying any Christian values or glorifying God.
Before the dust could settle, musician SBJ released the song, Nyonyo, which received a lot of backlash on social media.
In the song, SBJ talks about God’s nyonyos and how he wants to milk and fondle them (sic).
Clearly, gospel music today is all about catchy dance beats, which are repetitive and the message in the songs is just whack!
Pastor Pete Odera who is often referred to as ‘the godfather of contemporary gospel music’ and who has been making music since the early 90s, is of the opinion that gospel should not be sacrificed for popularism.
“I have not heard any of the songs that people have been complaining about. I do not know Willy Paul at a personal level. I have never met him or witnessed to him.
I also do not know the young man who sang Nyonyo, but I have certainly seen the fallout on social media.
I do not want to judge, but what I know is that music is constantly evolving according to culture, and young artistes easily get caught up in the vibe. That said, it does not give us licence to throw away our values and depth in order to fit in with culture,” says Pastor Odera.
He believes that the uproar and backlash from the public is an indication that they lack trust in these artistes.
“What the public is asking is, ‘Can we trust this generation of artistes?’ Well, that is what I can read. People expect direction and a sense of order from gospel artistes. I do not want to judge or be misquoted.
I approve every effort by these musicians. As a young man, I also did silly things when I was starting out because I was naive. Luckily, there was no social media.
I will thus stand with what Christina Shusho once said, ‘Lazima tuweke injili pahali pana heshima.’ Can the people we serve when we take God’s cross to spread the gospel respect us? We cannot sacrifice content and depth for popularism.
Finally, I think the older generation must provide discipleship for the younger ones. Musicians are a reflection of our society.
If we see them behaving like this, they are telling us who we are. I feel responsible being one of the pioneers and I hope I have given some direction,” continues Pastor Odera.
Esther Wahome, another pioneer in the industry, advises that we should not paint all gospel artistes with the same brush, and that there are artistes who are still doing good gospel music.
“I believe that there is good music out there, but the media and the society chooses to focus on specific artistes.
For example, there is no single year when Jemimah Thingo, Rufftone, Mercy Masika or myself didn’t release a song. But we rarely get airplay. Our music is different and probably that works against us.
During our era, music had content and depth. However, I cannot criticise the artistes. I know my calling and that is to make music that boldly proclaims the gospel, that is rooted in the Bible and leads people to the cross,” she explains.
Wahome, famous for songs like Kuna Dawa, admits that the gospel industry has changed.
“During our era, the gospel industry was bigger than the secular one, but that is no longer the case.
I am hurt because people have suffered and sacrificed to put the industry where it is. We worked hard, prayed and fasted.
We even mentored artistes like Emily Kosgei and Daddy Owen, that was when things were done in the right way, but everything changed with this generation. T
hey have been glorified with awards, and been told they are ‘best.’ It is really sad that the gospel industry is now being mocked,” she says.
Rufftone believes that the whole industry needs self-evaluation.
“I think we have become too familiar with God. We no longer have the ‘Fear of the Lord’ and we have take His grace for granted.
I believe it is not too late to revive the industry. During this Christmas period, gospel artistes need to go back to the cross and reflect.
Admitting a mistake makes you stronger. If you go with food to feed orphans and they throw stones at you because the food is contaminated, and claim they would rather die hungry than eat your food, then you know you have a problem.
We must return to the cross,” he advises.