What made things particularly ironic was he was such a nice guy.
Colin was sales manager in a company I worked for in the 90s, and back then (I don’t imagine it’s any different now) sales was hard.
Put it this way: if sales were a girl she’d be the little one from the nursery rhyme: when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.
Which brings me to Black Lives in Music (and, yes, you’d be quite right to ask what any of this has to do with BLiM).
To answer that question, I need to give you a bit of background for context. Here’s a quote from their website’s ‘About’ section:
‘Talent is distributed evenly, opportunities are not!
Black Lives in Music addresses the current inequality of opportunity for black people aspiring to be artists or professionals in the Jazz and Classical music industry…
Representation matters, we need to take action together and create a level playing field for everyone to have an equal chance to succeed…’
While this extract flags people working in Jazz and Classical, make no mistake: this affects every Black person working in music in the UK.
UK Gospel: Sheltered
Where you pitch your tent on this will be directly influenced by your experience and relationships in the UK music space.
I think we’re relatively sheltered in the UK Gospel music scene – because we’ve had to bootstrap our way to any successes we’ve found over the years. (Caveat: I admit this is a broad generalisation and I’m sure it’ll be challenged by many).
As a result we have an hyper-insular and comparatively self-sustaining marketplace (such as it is).
However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t uncomfortable, inconvenient, awkward, monolithic, elephant-in-the-room questions that need asking, like:
How come there aren’t any Black-owned major media organisations in the UK Gospel space?
Why aren’t our biggest radio and TV stations in Black hands..?
Like I said: awkward.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting there’s anything untoward or underhand going on.
The underlying structural and socioeconomic issues that brought us here are complex, and the easy draw of the racism card is the least nuanced, least intelligent answer to the question.
What gets measured…
What it does do is bring us nicely back to Black Lives in Music. And funny enough: Colin.
One of the reasons people didn’t like him was because he had this saying: ‘what gets measured gets done’.
When mid-month numbers started showing our month-end sales target was fast becoming a myth, he began by asking what everyone’s current priorities were.
And that was uncomfortable.
Well, we were all bonafide experts in our relevant spheres and could fully justify whatever projects we were working on. And typically those justifications would be sound.
However, the fact still remained that we were adrift of our team target
And if we didn’t hit it, the company didn’t make money
And if the company didn’t make money, we didn’t get paid, talk less of earning any bonuses
So: nobody liked Colin‘s essentially neutral, spotlight questions:
What are you working on?
Does it directly help us hit our target this month?
They were annoying, self-evident truths that required we temporarily park whatever priorities negatively impacted the bottom line, no matter how much fun or interest we might have had in them.
Allegory and parable
Don’t read too much into this story: I’m not telling it as an allegory for Black music in the UK.
It’s not even a parable with hidden meanings to be deciphered by the favoured few
What I want you to take away is this: what gets measured gets done
You need to *do something*
And that’s what Black Lives in Music is trying to do: start with a qualitative and quantitative baseline – a measurable catalyst for proper and lasting change, if you will.
This is about your story: hard data that reflects the reality of our shared, lived experiences in Black music here in the UK
You can argue with anecdotes, but it’s virtually impossible to ignore evidence that data provides
‘You can argue with anecdotes, but it’s virtually impossible to ignore evidence that data provides..’
To quote Colin:
What gets measured gets done
So if any of this has inspired you in some way to be part of creating a compelling narrative that will genuinely and empirically shape the future of the lived professional music experience in the UK, you need to *do something*.
Tell your story by taking the Black Lives in Music survey (link below)
Do it now
Get your Black life in Music
I’ve done it, and it doesn’t take that long to complete at all
There are only 4 days left (I’ve been meaning to write this for weeks)
I knew I was on to a good thing when I launched the ‘Celebrating UKGospel’ series…
I get excited when I can come up with different and interesting ways to honour the great work so many people continue to put in across the UK Gospel scene.
It’s also especially rewarding when many other people share that same excitement: the ‘Celebrating the Ladies of UKGospel (Part 1)‘ article was by far and away the most shared feature in the history of all versions of UKGospel.com.
Shutting down UKGospel.com
That was particularly encouraging because I’ve seriously considered shutting UKGospel.com down once or twice in recent years, mainly as I feel there are now some great players in this space.
I’ll put a link to a few excellent websites for you to check out (as well as my reasons for wanting to shut down UKGospel.com) at the end of this feature.
Stories you didn’t know you wanted
Anyway, on to the matter at hand: the intention of this series is to make it ‘part showcase, all celebration’, while ‘making it atypical’
In other words: how can I bring you stories you want – but you didn’t even know you did…?
Over the moon
I’m over the moon about this instalment: the story of amazing people who – even when they moved abroad – continued their craft. In fact, they now ply their trade professionally
If you’ve new to the series: welcome – I hope you enjoy it
If you’re already familiar with the way this goes: have fun – it’s another good one
As with the Ladies edition, this is also part 1 of what will probably be a 2-part run, not least because there are so many other Brits across the globe also worth celebrating
I’m truly grateful to every one of the people that’s given their time to contribute to this instalment – you guys are amazing!
Before I start: huge shout out to my girl Angel Sonshine (UKGospel.com day 1 family) for the Harmony Samuels hook-up.
It wouldn’t have happened without you… ❤️
Yinka Awojobi Content Development UKGospel.com
Celebrating Brits Abroad (Part 1)
Hello, my name is: Ruth Waldron
I am a: vocal tutor, choir director, singer songwriter, event organiser
You’ll be my new best friend if: you’re an open, genuine person who likes to eat food and talk honestly about life and recipes… We could be besties
Everyone thinks I’m a:confident person who likes the spotlight
But in actual fact I’m a:person who shies away from the spotlight
The one thing I like about where I am now is: the beautiful scenery and open natural space
The one thing I miss about the UK is:there are a few things, but if I can only give one answer, it has to be my family
The one thing I never get asked, but I want the world to know about me is: I’d love to open an eatery, with live music and displaying art. Yeah, ok…let’s talk about my art!
You can publish a story on any ONE topic that’s close to your heart on UKGospel.com. What would it be about? Performers/artists who are Christians who are or have been involved in the secular music world in some form.
The book would give them the opportunity to share their experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Discussing the positives, the negatives, their wins and temptations whilst being involved in the industry and how it impacted their relationship with God.
Hello, my name is: Dami Adeoye
I am a: record producer, audio engineer & studio owner
I’m a Brit in: Dallas, Texas
You might know me from: being a drummer or producing songs for Faith Child, Triple O, Rachel Kerr, Christina Matovu or Guvna B
I started doing this because: initially my love for production stemmed from curiosity as young as 11 years old. I would record sounds on a tape machine because I was always intrigued with the different elements it took to make a song
2008 (when I was 18) would be my first time getting my hands on software and equipment. It was a time when pro-audio consumer products were increasingly being released at an affordable cost. I indulged. With my student loan. This marked the start of my producer/audio engineer journey
So in hindsight I started doing this because of my love for music and the various stages it take to make a song
Here’s a random fact about me: in school you would have found me both in musical theatre clubs but also the various sports teams like the football/basketball teams. I was pretty good
You’ll be my new best friend if: you buy me a new studio furniture or gear
Everyone thinks I’m an: extrovert
But in actual fact I’m an: ambivert
The one thing I like about where I am now is:the weather 😍
The one thing I miss about the UK is:friends and family
The one thing I never get asked, but I want the world to know about me is: my idea of success is a happy and healthy home for my wife and children. They are my motivation for everything I do.
Hello, My Name is: Harmony ‘H-Money’ Samuels
I am a: British Nigerian in Los Angeles
You might know me as: the producer that produced ‘Champion’ for Chipmunk ft Chris Brown. I started producing at the age of 14. my love for music and playing instruments at 4 years old is the reason I pursued music in the first place
BUT being able to create my own ideas in my head and write my own songs that would affect the world is why I fell in love with producing
Favourite thing I did: I’m not so hot with these kind of questions but maybe taking the step to move to Jamaica in 2014
Favourite thing I wish I did:again that is a weird one for me. Invent sliced bread
You’ll be my new best friend: if I can’t find the old one! JOKING… Well, I don’t know about best friends but if you introduce me to a bunch of music that I DIDN’T already know that I really love… that’s a good move.
Everyone thinks I’m a: very silly man
But in actual fact I’m an: outstandingly silly man. But I am actually very keen on serious conversations… which might not be the impression you get if you see me working, but it is true
The one thing I like about where I am now is: Jamaica is beautiful. As a photographer this makes a HUGE difference to the creative mind… mine at least
The one thing I miss about the UK is: the weather. JOKE
The one thing I never get asked, but I want the world to know about me is: ‘do you think you will be ok?’ answer to the world… ‘It may get better but it may not, so when I pray God, I pray that I’ll trust you whether or not the rain stops’ to quote Trip Lee
You can publish a story on any ONE topic that’s close to your heart on UKGospel.com. What would it be about..? Intrusive thoughts, the church and our attempts to save ourselves from something only Jesus can save us from.
Hello, my name is: Naomi Parchment
I am a: singer-songwriter/producer/vocal producer/ arranger/ vocal pedagogue
I’m a Brit in: Huntsville, Alabama
You might know me from: can’t say anyone knows me from anything in England, lol or anywhere. Maybe social media?
I started doing this because: music is something that is in my DNA. Music is my innate release and freedom. Music is my way of communication with the divine
You’ll be my new best friend if: you make me home cooked meal. Food is the way to my heart for sure
Everyone thinks I’m an: extreme extrovert because that’s who I have to be for work. I love people, I love to meet new people and connect with them
But I’m:most comfortable when I’m mellow and with small groups of friends
The one thing I like about where I am now is: beautiful weather, beautiful sunsets, very quiet and calm living
The one thing I miss about the UK is:THE FOOD! My family, catching public transport, city centres, baked beans, scrambled egg, toast… Yes most definitely THE FOOD!!
The one thing I never get asked, but I want the world to know about me is: I am definitely very empathetic. I enjoy everything art. Recently picked up painting which has become a great release for me during the pandemic times
You can publish a story on any ONE topic that’s close to your heart on UKGospel.com. What would it be about..? The process behind the art and the artist.
A lot of people only see/hear the final products, but not many people consider the very delicate and intricate lives a lot of people who have the courage to be an artist have to deal with
Hello, my name is: Jalil Saheeb aka Jay Ess
I am an: artist, teacher and film director
I’m a Brit in: North Carolina
You might know me from: Intoxicated, Questions & Answers and Live It Up
I started doing this because: I wanted to make a long lasting impression on my generation. I also wanted to have a direct impact on young people so I started working in schools to do a lot more ground work
Favourite thing I did: writing and directing my Live It Up movie (here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2). It has always been a dream of mine to produce and star in a film so I’m glad I was able to accomplish that
Favourite thing I wish I did: Well, I’ve still got time to do it God willing
You’ll be my new best friend if: you’re a Michael Jackson fan
Everyone thinks I’m: a serious and no nonsense person
But in actual fact I’m: really easy going
The one thing I like about where I am now is:happiness
The one thing I miss about the UK is:my family
Hello, my name is: Lain Gray
I am a: Singer/songwriter, producer, label owner, real estate investor and online entrepreneur
I’m a Brit in: Houston, Texas, USA
You might know me from: the Wookie UK Garage hit song Battle or if you’re not into that kind of thing, UK premier gospel/RnB vocal group Nu Colours
I started doing this because: it seemed like the natural order of things, from my home made shoe box and rubber band guitar as a 4 year old, to writing my first song aged 11 or 12.
If God gives a talent and if we recognize it and nurture it, it will blossom at some point
Favourite thing I wish I did: Songwriter envy is a real thing, but meant as a compliment really
There are so many songs I wish I’d written. Anything from early Fred Hammond or early Coldplay to name but two
You’ll be my new best friend if: You get me tickets to a Liverpool game. Ha!
Everyone thinks I’m a:Comedian (which really doesn’t speak much volumes for my music, but hey, what can you do)
But in actual fact I’m a: bit of a grump until my first tea (or coffee since moving out here) “Dem cyaa mek tea”, so I gave up ordering it. WHO BRINGS [WARM] WATER IN A CUP WITH A TEABAG NEXT TO IT IN THE SAUCER??
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT??
The one thing I like about where I am now is:It’s nearly always sunny with blue skies, even when it’s a bit chilly
The one thing I miss about the UK is:Well, tea obviously for starters, ha! Might sound strange but, the people.
We Brits are special and I’m not sure I realized it until I left
You can publish a story on any ONE topic that’s close to your heart on UKGospel.com. What would it be about..? As a black brit who was raised in the UK countryside, racism was actually very low in the pecking order of my life.
It was there and I had to deal with it when it came up, but since moving to the states, it’s SO glaringly out there, that I have to speak on it at every opportunity.
There’s the blatant side everyone sees: [police related] shot while: sleeping, jogging, playing with a TOY gun, running AWAY from police, oh and kneeling, in plain sight, on a man’s neck for the whole world to see.
And then…. there’s the church racism that is so deeply ingrained in the fibre of society at large, it seamlessly flows into church hierarchy without missing a beat.
I saw an artist (Lurine Cato’s entry in Celebrating the Ladies of UKGospel – link below) mention “why the divide of christian and gospel music?”, well it goes deep into the racism issues and not all are ready (or willing) to start that discussion.
Some may ask for specifics, so for me, seeing a new church grow its multi-racial congregation to need 4 services and then 4 additional locations is phenomenal, but if the congregation is mixed across the locations with no diversity in leadership, that’s a problem.
The thought process that black pastors are not good enough to lead white or mixed congregations is where that comes from.
Let’s start more of these hard conversations please!!!
Hello, my name is: George Mhondera/Jorge Mhondera
My nickname is: Jorgyjacket
You probably know me from: singing and writing with Matt Redman /Chris Tomlin / Passion / LZ7 /The Tribe & M.I.C / WHISTLEJACKET back in the day and maybe some of you from working in Mainstream Music Industry writing and placing songs in the (U.K /U.S /EUROPE / KPOP /JPOP / music scene).
I’m a Brit in: Nashville, Tennessee
I started doing this because: I felt I had a calling to do Music and just had a passion for Music from a very young age. Also had a desire to see the world and get to experience and engage different cultures.
I knew Jesus was calling me to serve him through Music. (Serve him within the Church as well as beyond the walls of the Church in the Mainstream). Love getting to do both.
Here’s a random fact about me: if I hadn’t done music, I wanted to be a Professional Rugby Player. I love Rugby especially the ALL BLACKS!!!!!
Everyone thinks I’m: An extreme extrovert
But in many ways I’m: Also an Introvert ……I do love large gatherings, but I also love being by myself 🙂 or with family.
The one thing I never get asked, but I want the world to know about me is: Well 2 things: I never get asked about is my heritage and where i’m originally from; Yes I have lived on 3 continents, but I was born in Zimbabwe and so I am Zimbabwean and African to the Core.
The other thing: yes, I love getting to perform and sing on stage, but my heart is into pouring into others behind the scenes and see them grow in their calling, musical giftings and see them hopefully achieve their dreams.
You can publish a story on any ONE topic that’s close to your heart on UKGospel.com. What is it? One story I would have to post is on Racial Injustice & Reconciliation.
The greatest Commanded is to Love your God with all your heart and with your soul and with all your mind.
The second is love your neighbour as you love yourself… If we as people did truly did this we would never have racism for this kind of love doesn’t allow prejudice to grow and where there has been injustice this love fights fearlessly for equality and for all despite our difference.
A lot has happened in the past historically and there is a lot to heal, there is a lot to learn, there is a lot to forgive, there is a lot undo and make right and this Love, Jesus, is the answer
If WE TRULY KNOW HIM, TURN TO HIM things will change!
Hello, my name is: David Oluwaferanmi Balogun popularly known as DavidB
I am a: singer, Songwriter, Vocal Producer and Coach, Content Creator
I wrote this back in April 2016, with the original intention to have it coincide with the release of Michelle John’s EP, Paper Doll.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Paper Doll, the answer is simple: it was never released.
I asked her a few years later why she didn’t go through with it and she cited two reasons, which – on giving it a bit of thought – I concluded were different sides of the same coin.
The first: shortly after recording was completed (but before the scheduled release), Michelle appeared in series 6 of The Voice UK (she eventually gave in after years of repeatedly being invited to appear on the show).
The second was because she was struck by that thing that plagues many creatives, akin to buyer’s remorse: she simply felt it wasn’t up to the standard she had set for herself.
That meant I had this great story about one of the women I’ve come to admire the most in the UK Gospel scene, not just for her vocal ability, but also for her positive outlook on life, vulnerability, disarming openness and bags of personable charm.
Michelle has since gone on to do some amazing things, but unfortunately it seems the world will probably never get to hear Paper Doll.
I had the opportunity to listen to some of the songs being recorded live in the studio, and this is the story of that evening.
Yinka Awojobi Content Development UKGospel.com
‘I know who he means…’
The Premises Studios, Hackney, East London. It’s about 7:45 pm.
I step indoors, out of the chilly spring night.
‘I’m here to see Michelle’.
The guy behind the reception counter stares back at me, blankly.
In my head I start to work out how best to describe Michelle John: songwriter. Artist. Arranger. Activist. Accomplished vocalist…
It’s unlikely any of those will help Reception Man, even though they’re an accurate selection of the many hats she wears. And she wears them extremely well.
Another guy I hadn’t noticed pipes up from behind the counter: ‘I know who he means. Come on, I’ll take you. It’s right at the top – bit odd to get to. You might get lost, mate..’.
While it doesn’t have the profile of Abbey Road Studios on the other side of town, The Premises is incredibly significant to those in the know, and sadly becoming one of the few key, heritage music studio spaces left in London.
Last time I was here I witnessed the making of something truly groundbreaking, the end product going down in UK Gospel music history as a true international milestone.
Back then Nicky Brown was on production duties with Janine, Chris, Gillian and Lisa, led by the indomitable Isaiah-RaymondDyer working out of one of The Premises’ smaller rooms.
What came out at the other end of that process were tracks that included a reworked version of Song in the Midnight (that’s what was being recorded the day I was in), making up Raymond & Co‘s seminal Playing Games album.
Professional Background Person
Unless you’ve been around the UK Gospel scene a fair while, chances are that – at best – you’re only vaguely aware of who Michelle John is.
There’s good reason for that: she’s a professional background person, featuring both as lead and backing vocalist, as well as an arranger for some of the best Gospel talent the UK has had to offer over the years, including London Community Gospel Choir and Noel Robinson‘s Nu Image.
Michelle now occupies that rare space dreamed of by many but actually lived out by few – she’s one of the UK mainstream music industry’s go-to support vocalists for many international names you’ll recognise including Will Young, Annie Lennox, Eric Clapton and Joss Stone.
She’s in London for less than a week, having just returned from South East Asia a few days ago.
After this recording session she’s off to New York in 3 days’ time as part of Joss Stone‘s current international tour. As usual, her schedule is jam-packed.
Hang in the Studio
Michelle and I have been meaning to do the ‘come hang with me in the studio’ thing quite literally for years, but we could never make our diaries work.
Sometime later in the evening when our conversation gets round to that fact, she says, in a quite matter-of-fact, yet philosophical way: ‘nothing before its time’.
It’s a reflection of how zen she’s become in recent months, wearing years of life’s pain on her sleeve, but somehow mostly transcending it.
Like the rest of us, Michelle has her down days, but in the main she’s on the up and up.
Paper Doll – Highs and Lows
Anyone following her on social media will be familiar with her life’s highs and lows: from growing up in Peckham, South East London to the struggles of single parenthood, to personal fears and insecurities, to insight into the hard work, and – it has to be said – glamour of working across the globe.
A lot of that informs the life stories going into her second solo recording, Paper Doll, scheduled for an August 2016 release.
The studio she booked out is on the topmost floor, and Second Reception Man was right: I’d have got hopelessly lost if I’d attempted to come up on my own.
The room has a cosy, warm glow. Most of the illumination comes from a couple of spotlights embedded in the ceiling, with backlit buttons, switches and faders on the mixing desk adding to what already feels like the laid-back ambience of a Jazz club.
Michelle is standing over the desk, in deep conversation with the mixing engineer. She catches me out of the corner of her eye, comes over, gives me an exceedingly warm, familiar hug before heading back to the desk.
It’s quite obvious from watching her work that she’s one of those creative types who is absolutely clear on how she wants her narrative conveyed through her craft.
She’s also completely unfazed by the sheer physical dominance of a studio setup, with the myriad options that high-end studio equipment, people and possibilities present.
The telling of her story is paramount, and absolutely everything in the room is nothing more than a tool for her to tell it the way she needs it told.
She’s in complete control. As in: in control of everything – a solid steel fist under a sweet-looking velvet glove…
The sound engineer may know about the technical stuff: the faders and buttons, and the musicians their instruments, but there’s no doubt who’s in charge around here.
Michelle puts her hat on. It’s some kind of trendy, mini bowler thing.
Someone says it’s her ‘studio hat’ and she laughs in response, but a couple of seconds later I completely get what they mean – donning the hat seems to make her already businesslike focus dial up a few more notches, as the music playback begins.
She turns round, looks at me and does that apologetic thing many creatives do when they’re about to share a work in progress: ‘these are just guide vocals, Yinka..’
I sink into a deep leather sofa and take in my surroundings: on backing vocals in the recording room on the other side of the glass are a few faces I recognise…
Wayne Ellington (great vocalist in his own right and Michelle‘s former colleague from their Noel Robinson & Nu Image days), Faye Simpson (from another seminal 90s group, Nu Colours), Samantha Smith (whom I don’t know) and – from the new generation of vocally fantastic artists – Christina Matovu.
Pain in the Project
I take in the songs on playback and it doesn’t take long to spot a running theme here: there’s a lot of pain in this project.
But there’s also strength and several shades of hope: from tangible reassuring hope, to hope borne of a longed-for resolution and freedom from current situations.
And there’s hope that springs from the intangible optimism powered by the decision of personal determination: the choice to make a better life.
Michelle John’s Life
Paper Doll is the true story of Michelle John‘s life in song, an unflinching narrative of relationship reality and the challenges it can sometimes bring.
From the struggles, joys and aspirations of single motherhood on ‘To Raise A Man‘ to the feeling of helplessness and being trapped on ‘I’m Alone‘, to the despair of the aftermath of a strained relationship on ‘How Can I Trust You Again‘, and the beginnings of renewed hope on ‘I Found Me‘
And while these song titles broadly suggest powerlessness, the opposite actually holds true: sometimes you can only move on in life when you truly acknowledge the scars of hurt life has dealt you, and become completely comfortable talking about what you’ve learned, as opposed to the damange they’ve inflicted – there’s a freedom that comes with that level of openness…
SuggestingPaper Doll is some kind of self-pity project is to miss the point entirely: this is Michelle John in her own words: honest and deep, painfully vulnerable, her life writ large from her personal perspective, and – most importantly – she’s finding the power in her pain.
Tell Your Story Yourself
The session still has a while to go, but there’s a break and we resume our conversation – I share my thoughts on how personal the songs are, and wonder about her thoughts around making so much of this public.
Her reply is telling: ‘when so many people have told a version of what your story is, you might as well tell it yourself’.
She says this without suggestion of much bitterness. However there’s a quiet determination that suggests there are a few records that need setting straight.
I decide not to push for more details on Paper Doll‘s narrative, even though I’m curious to find out more about the cast of characters in these true-life stories.
But: the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t really serve much purpose beyond satisfying a crude tabloid need… Besides, the title says it all: the protagonist in this story is the doll, not the other characters in her life.
I have a feeling that – as personal as some of the incidents being recounted are – they are all too familiar for all too many people, both within and outside the church.
And even if it’s for that reason alone, Michelle John‘s Paper Doll is one to look forward to...
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…
In 2010 Steve Jobs wrote his infamous Thoughts on Flash open letter, spelling the beginning of end for the technology that had allowed people like me with no HTML programming knowledge to design websites.
The two early versions of UKGospel.com, version 1 and 1.5 (don’t ask) had been designed in Moonfruit – it’s drag and drop interface was perfect for visual designers like me
While it’s taken the better part of 10 years for Flash to fully die (Adobe announced in 2017 that it will stop supporting Flash by 2020, and Google’s Chrome browser officially stopped supporting it on January 2021), I still have so many great stories in Moonfruit that I’ll be transferring over here.
UKGospel Legacy project
These stories will be imported here under a series I started a few months back over on the UKGospel social feeds on Twitter and Instagram, called #UKGospelLegacy (links: Twitter and Instagram UKGospel legacy feeds)
I have no idea how many of these stories, features and interviews there are in the earlier UKGospel.com versions, but there are a LOT.
A New Dawn
The scene has had an incredible run over the last 5-6 years: recording technology has never been cheaper, release cycles have never been more frequent, the diversity has never been this varied or vibrant.
There’s still so much to say, but this was supposed to be a very short post on the UKGospel Instagram feed that’s somehow ended up being a stream of consciousness piece
I’ll end by saying this: it’s a sparkling new dawn for UKGospel.com, but there’s even more good news: there are more platforms than ever before supporting this incredible, diverse, pulsating, creative and passionate scene. I list some of them in another post (see below)
I’ll be using this series to share the journey: everything from transferring some of those classic stories from the scene to the evolution of the UKGospel.com visual identity (I suppose you can call it a rebrand)
We’re living in the age of video so keep an eye out for the occasional behind-the-scenes video update (like this one)
So much more to say, but I’d better stop now. I still have to write this ‘Ladies of UKGospel’ post and I have less than 6 hours to do it – and I haven’t even started it yet!
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: 28 January 2009
Written and edited by: Yinka Awojobi
‘…THERE WERE NO AGENTS, RECORD COMPANIES OR MANAGERS THAT MADE IT HAPPEN…’
Why Muyiwa Olarewaju’s appearance on BET’s flagship gospel show is hugely significant for UK Gospel.
Muyiwa & Riversongz are the first international act to feature on BET’s influential Gospel music TV showcase. It was time to find out how that all came to pass…
You probably know the bible states that God exalts the humble. Muyiwa Olarewaju is the archetypal humble guy, in the most sincere sense of the word.
In my view genuine humility is hard to pull off. When any talent presents obvious evidence of itself, the talented individual in question can almost come across as the very thing they are trying to avoid: at best unable to accept a simple compliment and worst, ever-so-subtly arrogant.
Or maybe I’m just projecting my own frustrations here… 🙂
When Muyiwa says he’s just as caught out by his astounding rise as everyone else, I believe him. Even the cliche, ‘it’s all God’ stock response we all revert to doesn’t sound so corny coming from him…
Anyway, the annual BET ‘Celebration Of Gospel’ 2009 is aired in the UK on the 8th Feb 2009. Muyiwa and Riversongz are the first international act (not just a UK one) to feature on this massive show.
When I heard about it, I knew it deserved more than just an entry in the News section.
So I fired off a few quick questions to the man. I’m sure I’m going to do more with him (there’s also a rather decent ‘Behind The Beat’ feature he did a while back on UKGospel.com Version 1 which I need to transfer here), but for now: have a read of this and be inspired.
I certainly was….
How did you get the gig?
Good question! Interesting, it was something that some of the artists on the bill at the event asked us and all we could say was: God… It truly was!
There were no agents, record companies, managers that made it happen. It was just God. Of course once the inquiry was out by BET, then booking agents, etc, got involved. It should be an encouragement to the guys here in the UK who are quietly beavering away…
The bible puts it this way: ‘…Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding…’
What was the experience like?
Where do I start!? I could talk all night about it! We have all been talking about it since 8th December 2008! What was happening really didn’t register before we got there.
When we landed in Los Angeles’ LAX Airport there was a limo that was bigger than anything I have ever seen or been in before. Driven by an ex Navy Seal… We felt safe!
Then we get to the hotel and I had a meeting with the Head of International programming who told us that apart from our performance, they will be making a 30-minute documentary on us! This was great.
Then we get to the rehearsals, and you see all these artists where the only reason I had seen or been near them before would have been my radio show… Then finding out that we were the first ever ‘International act ‘ on the show, as they put it…
There is so much to tell but BET certainly treated us like – to answer your question in one word after my long story – Amazing!!!!!
How much do you think the UK sound is appreciated over there?
I really can’t speak for other times but from this one experience at the Orpheum Theatre, it would appear America has been waiting for the ‘UK sound!’
Every time we rehearsed the place came to a standstill, it was like: ‘who are these guys???’
Then it’s followed by rapturous applause. UK def gained a few fans!!! LOL!
What would your advice be to other artists looking to achieve (and even exceed) this kind of level?
So much to say to them:
This level can be easily exceeded if you hold on!
Apart from ‘Jesus is Lord’, the other mantra that Muyiwa & Riversongz have is ‘RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS! RELATIONSHIPS! RELATIONSHIPS and RELATIONSHIPS!!!!!’ It’s not money you need, it’s RELATIONSHIPS!!!!!
Like Russell Simmons said in his book: just ‘DO YOU’.
America and the rest of the world is not waiting for a copy of what they do, we didn’t get onto the show because we were trying to do the American thang.
We were doing the Jesus UK thing… Innit, though!
Having been selected for BET’s Celebration Of Gospel, what do you think is the challenge for the UK in sustaining a presence at that level?
I think there are many obstacles.
For many in the UK it’s a struggle to get a record done. Then when you scrape and fast and pray and do everything to get it done, you have no resources to promote.
Artists don’t attain the COG level only because they worked hard, but the distribution of the albums is wide reaching, the promotion (TV, radio, online, etc) is very strong… The list goes on…
All these things require resources. For us the challenge now is tying up the right relationships to make the necessary thing work, but we are looking to God to open doors…
We already have more invites to USA in the month of January than we did all 2008.
What’s next for Muyiwa?
I definitely need to keep the radio show and in-flight entertainment shows going [Muyiwa presents an In-flight show called ‘Sounds Of Africa’ for Lufthansa Airlines, produced by UKGospel.com’s George Luke].
COG inspired all of us a great deal to go back and continue to strive to be the best we can.
Whilst we were at the COG and the 30 minute documentary was being made about us, BET got me to present a few bits, and one thing led to another, so it looks like there may be some TV work coming but don’t tell anyone…lol!!!
What’s next for Muyiwa & Riversongz?
To think when ‘Declaring His Love’ was number 1 on HMV’s charts for 5 months we thought we had arrived – only to be shown another level…. Bring it on!!!!!!
We will be doing a great deal of travelling! USA, Europe and Africa…
We’re also in the middle of writing the next album ‘Declaring His Name’. We are doing some appearances in China, Pakistan, and India with local worship leaders…
We also have a one day event for worship leaders, pastors and all who are interested and involved in music in church: ‘What If…’
We should be launching it soon and the event is later in the year. You can hit us up on riversongz.com and find out more…
A seasoned radio presenter, Muyiwa hosts the the flagship show “Gospel Tonight” and “Worship Tonight” on Premier Radio as well as presenting “Sounds Of Africa” on Lufthansa Airlines.
Since releasing his three albums ‘Restoration’, ‘Declaring His Power’ and ‘Declaring His Love’, Muyiwa’s voice has become instantly recognisable and one that he hopes will unite people of all races, cultures and denominations.
Back in the day (as in: well over a decade ago), when I was publishing new music release information on the UK Gospel music scene, I had this huge dream to have a BIG problem.
I realise that sounds counter-intuitive but stick with me.
I longed for a time when I’d be pushing out updates about consistently high quality releases, so much so that I’d barely have the capacity to cope.
Simple. That’s one of the primary hallmarks of a maturing music industry: solid output across genres, from the incredibly niche (Gospel Drill anyone?) to the less obvious – think Singer/Songwriter and Gospel love songs (not as weird as it first sounds…)
This of course is in addition to the obvious conclusion most of the planet jumps to when they think of what qualifies as ‘Gospel Music’.
I’ve had MAJOR problems keeping up with #NewMusicFriday updates recently because so much is coming out.
Plus: joy of joys – the proportion of well-made songs compared to the (…how do I put this politely..?) entirely unimaginative and incredibly bland fare is higher than it’s been in a while.
That’s a bad problem for me because I can’t keep up. I want UKGospel.com and its corresponding social feeds to be as frequently updated as possible (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at this point in time – who knows what else is round the corner? Clubhouse?)
But it’s a good problem for anyone looking for decent music from the United Kingdom. There’s now a wide range of choice regardless of music taste.
Now, we just need our industry infrastructure to catch up with the music output and we’re set for life. Hopefully that’s where the GMIA comes in, but that’s a story for another day.
Speaking of places to go for more on UK Gospel music: stop by the nice folk via the links below and tell them I sent you.
Meantime I better start on my #NewMusicFriday updates, too. The guys over on those platforms ain’t playing – they’re fast…
As I said: I’m living in the future and I have a content bottleneck problem.
It was 11 years this week that the legendary UK Gospel Hip-Hop group GreenJade unofficially disbanded
It’s almost impossible to overstate their impact on the UK Gospel Street Music scene.
A decade ago Hip-Hop and Gospel music were very strange bedfellows to many Christians.
Some people weren’t merely apathetic to the mixing of scripture and Street Beats – they found it difficult to separate mainstream Hip-Hop’s hedonistic reputation from the Christian passion the artists brought to the art form, many of whom delivered at levels highly comparable to what you found on your radio at the time.
Like many of their contemporaries, GreenJade had to endure a combination of misunderstanding at best, and – when things got extreme (and personal) – accusations of being downright satanic.
And that’s not an exaggeration. Nostalgia often dulls the mind to the tearing sharpness of moments we remember with fondness.
This aspect of our history has always fascinated me, so when I got the call from @Wizdom to do a shoot with the guys I couldn’t resist the chance to record a significant piece that history.
We found ourselves in Central and East London on a summer’s afternoon, and over a few hours, took a few pictures and had a few laughs.
This was one of a few photo shoots I did with the guys (I think we ended up doing two or three over the years).
If you think I’m laying it on a bit thick when I talk about the weird persecution a lot of artists of that era received, watch Wizdom’s video below to hear the stories of their experiences first-hand.
If you’re a UK Gospel Street Music artist of any stripe:
Behold: these are the shoulders of the giants you’re standing on…