This series is part of the content migration programme from earlier versions of UKGospel.com, ensuring the history and evolution of the UK Gospel music scene is recorded and publicly accessible
- Original publication date: 26 June 2005
- Written and edited by: Yinka Awojobi
I realised recently that UKGospel.com hadn’t done a decent piece on any UK choir in an age. It wasn’t a deliberate thing, but we were leaning quite heavily towards the ‘Urban’ side of things.
Nothing wrong with that, but there’s more to the United Kingdom than Hip-hop, RnB, Soul and such.
Our legacy has been built on the arrangements, focus and discipline of the corporate vocal genre, and Kingdom Choir is one of those groups that best illustrates the fact that while the Urban genre continues to grow solidly, the choir tradition is still pretty much a thriving format.
I fired off a few questions at founder Karen Gibson (centre in photo) to talk packaging, the choral genre and BMC (Black Majority Churches) involvement in the Christian and wider mainstream…
KINGDOM CHOIR HAS BEEN AROUND FOR QUITE A BIT, EVEN THOUGH THE NAME MIGHT BE UNFAMILIAR TO MANY. WHAT’S THE BACKGROUND…?
We first started singing as a group on a radio programme called ‘The Gospel Train‘ (most of us had sung together before this in the London-wide COGOP (Church Of God Of Prophesy) choir called The District Choir).
- We would either sing with the programme’s host choir of the week, or we would be the sole host choir.
- One day we were asked to sing for the BBC’s Songs of Praise‘s 35th Birthday programme. The producer, Diane Reid, asked me for the name of the choir, but we didn’t have one!
- She tactfully suggested that we get one in time for the programme – so we did! Our mission is to worship and honour God through our singing, and to see lives and hearts turned towards Him.
AND HOW ABOUT YOU? WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND…?
My musical training is classical, having been started on the piano, then the oboe. My sister (who played piano, clarinet and saxophone) and I started a gospel wind quintet called Windsong
- That group went on to form the basis of what would become my first gospel singing experience – New Dawn, an acapella group of 6 young ladies singing in 4 and 5 part harmony.
- From there, I got involved with the District Choir through Noel Robinson who was the director at that time.
YOU RELEASED YOUR DEBUT ALBUM, ‘SMILE’ LAST YEAR. WHAT WAS THE STORY THERE…?
Many have asked why it has taken us so long after being together for 10 years – I was regularly confronted with the obligatory “…so, when’s the album coming out, then…?”.
I was usually stuck for an answer because really, I was waiting for the right time – God’s time. I really believe that nothing happens before it should.
IT’S VERY WELL PACKAGED. I REALISE THIS IS A RATHER OBVIOUS QUESTION, BUT AS MORE ARTISTS COME INTO THE MARKETPLACE IT BECOMES IMPORTANT TO SIGNPOST THE ESSENTIALS.
WHY WOULD YOU SAY THE PACKAGING ASPECT IMPORTANT…?
Packaging is important when marketing to a generation of aesthetically moved individuals.
If something doesn’t look good, people won’t purchase it. Good packaging gives the impression that the item you are purchasing is one of quality – it’s a halo effect – people make up their mind about a product within 10 seconds and with a CD, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to listen to it – its about what they see first!
Plus, KC is a choir, which is pursuing excellence – and that is not just about singing!
AND THE PROCEEDS OF THE ALBUM ARE GOING TO A CHARITY? WHAT ARE THE DETAILS ON THAT…?
Christian Aid, via Ken Fuller, their BMCs Liaison Co-ordinator, approached us. He had heard the choir before and liked our sound.
- I liked the idea of contributing to something that I thought would be worthwhile. Christian Aid are doing great things in the developing world that more of us should be aware of – taking part in their staff conference last year was a revelation.
- The choir has a heart of worship so it was something new to write about issues of social injustice, but I think it is reflected well in songs like ‘Guardian Angel‘ and ‘Infinitely Perfect‘.
YOU SAY ‘Many of us are ignorant of issues in the developing world and what various doing to tackle them…’ WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT…?
Well, let’s start off with the album project. Its aim was two-fold – to introduce gospel music to Christian Aid supporters, but also to raise the profile of Christian Aid in the BMC churches. That says something, doesn’t it?
- How many of us can really say that we know about the work that Christian Aid are doing? It is as wide as it is diverse – performing at one of their week-end conferences was a complete revelation.
- And what of other organisations or movements which carry out work for or conduct protests on behalf of developing nations. There are so many – the Trade Justice Movement, the Make Poverty History campaign, Fairtrade, Cafedirect…
- As a choir, we have had opportunities to minister at some of these rallies, and I have to say, that sadly we see very little representation of the BMCs at an individual level. We may see some at an official level, but I think that this is not enough.
- We need to see more of the ordinary folks out there showing concern and support. I suspect that some of us may be a bit more clued up with all the media attention given to the G8 summit that is coming up and all the activity surrounding it, including LIVE 8 but what will happen after? Might it all just subside from the forefront of our minds…?
WHAT DO YOU THINK WE CAN DO TO BE MORE AWARE OR ENGAGE IN THE PROCESS…?
Corporately, I feel that the church definitely needs to get involved and start raising awareness of the issues that are affecting people across the globe – sometimes in the very countries that we come from!
- No doubt there are some who know what’s happening ‘out there’, but I feel that there needs to be engagement between the BMCs and politics in general.
- We need to start talking about issues and engaging peoples’ minds. And it’s got to be more than just sending a barrel of clothes in times of what we think of as ‘need’.
- And what about the kids? I am sure that these things get discussed at schools and colleges, as it was in my day, and then they come to church and there is silence – it’s like we’re in another world.
- But we don’t have to wait for the church, on an individual level we can start getting ourselves clued up – the news on TV and in papers for a start. There’s so many sites on the internet – we don’t really have any excuse to stay ignorant.
I HEAR THAT, AND I’M SOOOOO GLAD YOU MADE THE POINT. HERE’S TO HOPING MORE OF US ENGAGE IN MORE MAINSTREAM CHRISTIAN INITIATIVES…
IT WAS AN INTERESTING MOVE, DECIDING TO TIE YOUR ALBUM RELEASE IN WITH A CHARITY CAMPAIGN. HOW DID IT ALL GO…?
- It was great! The album launch was unique in that Christian Aid gave a presentation in the daytime along with Integrity Music Europe.
- In the evening one of their spokesmen was interviewed by Isaiah-Raymond Dyer (the MC for the evening) to promote Christian Aid’s aims and objectives.
- The recording process itself was exciting, challenging, thrilling, daunting – all at the same time! This really was a growing process for me and the choir, and each stage of that process came with it’s own peculiar ups and downs
- To be honest, I am glad for all of it, because I feel that we have grown by it.
AND WHAT HAVE YOU ALL BEEN UP TO SINCE THEN?
- Well, since the album launch we have become the recipients of the GEM Awards ‘Best Choir of the Year‘
- We’ve also had a busy year ministering – we’ve run workshops, ministered at churches such as Kensington Temple, sung at clubs such as the 606 Club, at famous church venues such as St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, been involved with more charity work such as the Trade Justice Movement
- We’ve had a break and it’s all just about to start up again. We’ll be one of 150 musicians, actors and comics performing in each pod of the London Eye, we’ll be ministering at the Broadway Theatre Catford with Carmen Wiltshire and later on in the year we are due to go to Italy as part of a gospel festival being held there.
OVER THE YEARS WE’VE SEEN POPULAR EMPHASIS SHIFT FROM THE CORPORATE VOCAL SOUND TO A MORE ‘STREET’ STYLE, IF ONLY IN TERMS OF THE NUMBER OF RELEASES HITTING THE STREETS.
I WAS WONDERING IF YOU THINK WE’LL SEE AN ACCELERATED AMOUNT CHOIR MATERIAL COMING OUT OF THE UNDOUBTEDLY VIBRANT ‘CHOIR SCENE’…
- We have always had artistes with a contemporary sound recording and releasing more than those with a choir sound. This may be because there has been a perception that the strength of choirs is in the live experience. It’s participatory. It’s large. It’s an ‘All together now…’ feeling.
- It may also be that the logistics of having to organise and administer larger groups of people have simply been more difficult than those of the often-smaller contemporary groups. Having said that, the combination of a vibrant and growing choir scene and easier access to recording technology makes the possibility of increased choir recordings very feasible…
- I guess you mean that the ‘choir sound’ is not as popular as the ‘RnB sound’. I am not sure that the two are mutually exclusive, I have to say. I listen to various records and I can hear that they have used a choir for their backing vocals.
- I watch music videos and what do I see? I see a choir singing and swaying in the background (Kanye West and John Legend are prime examples).
- On the flip side, there have been many gospel choirs that have incorporated the ‘street style’ into their music – Natalie Wilson and the S.O.P Chorale are a case in point.
THERE AREN’T AS MANY NEW CHOIRS COMING THROUGH THE RANKS THESE DAYS. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS…?
- I don’t think I agree. It depends on what you mean by ‘through the ranks’. You know, culture is not static and any cultural phenomenon will change and develop according to the times and the movements of any particular place.
- Personally speaking, a lot of the work that I do involves choirs all over the place – the local church choir is alive and strong.
- There are quite a few youth choirs that have sprung up – there’s Young Bloods, the I Can Choir, UPC – which tells me that young people still want to sing and that it’s not all about the street sound.
- There are also workshop choirs all over the place, some run by gospel ‘professionals’ and others that have been started as a result as one or more people having been to a gospel workshop.
- This is a development that I find quite amazing – that people who are not from the gospel tradition will start up a choir on their own, and some in the most remotest of places, from Southampton to Hull to Scotland!
- There are also so many schools that have gospel choirs now, and the kids are loving it. There is also a very vibrant choir scene in Europe in places such as Poland, Denmark and Germany where they are hungry for the gospel in both senses of the word. People just love to sing corporately!
‘HOW DO YOU SEE THE CHORAL FORMAT EVOLVING…?
- Well first it started off with the church choir, didn’t it? Now we have so many other types of choir. The local church choir is still alive and strong.
- There are quite a few lively and committed youth choirs that have sprung up that don’t just perform in their church, but at some high profile events. UPC, (a youth choir that I direct with other members of the Kingdom Choir) is a case in point – they will be supporting The Harlem Gospel Singers soon.
- There are also so many schools, colleges and universities that have gospel choirs now. An interesting example is the Revelation Choirs of which there are many in various universities around the country.
- I am told in Germany that they have what are known as ‘White Gospel’ choirs where all the members are white.
- I think that as the Word of God and the sound of gospel spreads, we will see more choirs that may have all Chinese or all Indian members.
- Just as any cultural phenomenon changes and mutates with the movements of society, gospel too has changed and developed, rather than staying static.
- It’s a fantastic thought that whilst it has developed to suit its surroundings, culture, and people, the message remains the same.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN OVER THE NEXT DECADE OR SO?
I really don’t think that choirs are going to go away. There is something that is so inclusive and so liberating about them – I see this all the time – choirs and singing in a unit really does something for people.
AND IN THE MEANTIME, WHAT’S NEXT FOR KINGDOM CHOIR?
At the minute, we are planning a mini-tour and also will begin writing for our next album shortly. Apart from this, we have a number of dates coming up that people can check on our website…
- Kingdom Choir website: https://kingdomchoir.com
- Cafe Direct: https://www.cafedirect.co.uk
- Revelation Rock Gospel Choirs: http://www.rev.org.uk
- Fair Trade: https://www.fairtrade.org.uk
- Christian Aid: https://www.christianaid.org.uk
- Trade Justice Movement: https://www.tjm.org.uk
- Noel Robinson: NoelRobinson.com