WHAT’S ALL THIS JAZZ ABOUT AWARDS, SEF?
In my first write-up on Nigerian gospel music (in a Sun Newspaper column, October 6, 2013) I cooed excitedly about my surprising encounter with the full blast of Nigerian gospel music…this is how I captured my mood then: “Few days after… my respect, love and admiration for these guys soared…that today, I am not ashamed to say, our people…those who have chosen to be the vocal messengers of God on earth have a unique gift and ministry that far outweigh any other ministry gifts in knitting the hearts of people to the will and love of God. And our musicians, well, a large percentage of the ones I have listened to, are immensely gifted, and are pointing the way to God in a beautiful and melodious style.
“I have since realised that, for the purposes of serving and worshipping God, the musician who truly inspires people to attain the frequency that finds God is greater (in spiritual stature) than the preacher, the evangelist, teacher, prophet and all the spiritual offices available in the Bible. Why? Every other ministry gift is conditioned to be useful only on earth… but the artiste is preparing us all for the greatest musical showcase… in heaven (if we make it) – where we worship God in songs, praise and high worship… FOREVER! (So, while other servants of God end their services on earth, the music goes on hereafter). What an awesome responsibility for the artiste! What a great expectation! May God help all our artistes to get their priorities right – at all times!” Amen. My initial reaction has not changed…
However, in my few years of interactions with the practitioners of this type of music, I have noticed a distinct reluctance to exploit the potential and natural promise of their vocation. In many areas, the well-groomed gospel musician behaves like an inferior passenger in a craft specifically designed for him. He wants to make his voice and music go round the world…but will rather prefer to stay behind in one corner, and not be “too” seen, so he does not share or take the glory away from his maker. The humility of some practitioners borders on arrogance – ironically! And his poverty is often self-inflicted. May God release the grace to free some of His children from self-condemnation.
This is the typical artiste’s anxiety:
“Won’t people wonder why gospel artistes should be rewarded for serving God? Will it not be a source of distraction for them, hoping to be recognized and afraid of being ignored? And subsequently provoking pride, anger, lust or envy, which ultimately can derail them from eternal life?”
Legitimate as these sentiments are; they are altogether misleading and restrictive. My brisk response: People who serve God are designed and programmed for a universal platform with an everlasting mandate and message. You don’t serve a provincial or local deity – you can’t hold on to such retrogressive mentality, and then whine that those for whom you have forsaken all, have turned around to ignore your talented contribution.
Isn’t it obvious? Our Lord Jesus didn’t call the multitude…He carefully selected His disciples (who later became Apostles) …and before He ascended, He specifically recognised Peter (not the entire 11 apostles) as the rock His church would be built up from. Peter didn’t get cocky, and counted the other apostles as minnows… and so on…
So, recognition and celebration in moderation should not lead astray anyone who is scripturally mature…the Bible recognises and celebrates several personages – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Caleb, Joshua… even notorious figures like Samson, Solomon, etc., had their names immortalised and their deeds celebrated…. There is a major special award ceremony…a fantastic Hall of Fame scroll complete with citations and honararia in Hebrews 11….all the patriarchs and matriarchs of faith were carefully selected and immortalised in our belief-system….
So, it is not the act of recognition that makes people slip off the track; it is how their hearts receive it. In all things, we are enjoined to show forth moderation, humility…. you cannot even try to be righteous…it is filthy before God.
Broadly speaking, the sole purpose of music awards is not personal glory. Rather, it is the loud declaration that a music product is an outstanding work of art: and then a reciprocal approval from the consuming public that it is indeed fitting (an acceptable fact). That understated contract stamps the artiste’s name and melody in the hearts of his or her contemporaries. However, the wise artiste continues to polish that image with hard work, industry and inventiveness over many years. Such collaborative inputs from all actors involved in the celebratory process will shoot up the image and essence of that music sector to a level that will command international acclaim. So artistes and organisers must respect and respond positively to the process, and then allow God to be the judge of the situation.
Another gnawing fear:
“How can the artistes walk around the thin line between the glory of their recognition, and understanding that truly the glory belongs to God?”
My answer: Simply by recognising that talents don’t just grow on top of trees…and it’s not bought in the market place… only a foolish person will focus his praise on the vessel of the talent and relegate the creator of both the vessel and the talent. The gift of composition, delivery and ministrations in songs and instruments are special…and it will only remain useful and utterly effective if used in ways and manner that will exalt God and inspire souls to focus on the giver of life….there is no line to dance around… the perspective of the musician should be very clear – in all things, Glory belongs to God!
All these reflections are necessary as we move into the full essence and dysfunctions I have encountered in the few years of my close interaction with Nigerian Gospel music as an award organiser.
How should the artistes perceive authentic music awards?
Whether worldly or spiritual, the nature of any serious-minded award system is pretty similar: integrity – thoroughness – fair-mindedness in its processes and procedures…. At the end of it all, some will like it, some will not. Some will disparage it; in fact some may hate it. Yet, some will adore it. Because it’s about selections, however objective you are, some element of subjectivity will play a part, because we are humans. The trick is to get people who cannot be easily bamboozled around you.
Using MEGAwards as point of analysis; much as we say it should not be seen as a competition, it is in the human nature for some people to be competitive. But we do try to encourage people to understand that it is not a “judgment” thing: it is more a “celebratory” thing, such that people who occupy their time organising awards do so believing there is a firmament of grace over them… that this is done in truth and in deed, and are speaking as the “oracles” of God (in that area of human endeavour); therefore they would be impartial and be fair in their selections. And surely the Almighty will not be mocked!
This is the philosophy that motivates us at MEGA. So among the artistes, I suspect that there will be an understanding that these MEGA people have tried to be fair, because however much you complain about who should get this or who should not have got that, a couple of awards ceremonies after the last MEGA have also nominated same group of people that MEGA threw up… some of the people that won MEGA have also won or been nominated in other awards. In terms of fairness, it will be very difficult to fault MEGA; because we also have friends among those artistes who probably did not feel happy with what they got; but that is just to show you that you cannot fiddle with the process to satisfy your friends.
That has always been my principle from the genesis of organising awards in this country. I made up my mind, several years ago, that if you are doing this thing; you’ve got to be fair, irrespective of who is involved. Personally, the closer you are, the harder I work to be more fair; to be unmoved by relationships.
So, one hopes that the perception among Nigerian artistes will be that MEGA (or any other serious-minded platform) is a veritable barometer to gauge their movements within the industry; and for them to grow out of the self-limiting enclosure that because you minister the Word, you answer only to God.
Correct thinking, but wrong application!
Oh yes, God is your source. God is your ultimate focus. But you are ministering to people. God is using you as an outward expression of His grace to humanity. So, you need to touch people in a way that will make the people come nearer to God. Not further away from God.
We all can’t be pastors; just as we all can’t be evangelists, preachers, teachers… So, in gospel music, the different ministries and offices must also be reflected. They all can’t be praise and worship maestros; there must be evangelists amongst them – those who deal with “the scum of the earth”. There must be prophets amongst them; those who give prophetic ministrations, and such other offices must flow together.
So, check this wrong-headed perception of: “Oh, I sing for God, I’m not part of this world or that…” Why don’t you go the whole hog then? Stay in your enclave, and don’t release your music into the world. There is no point bringing your music out for people to listen or buy and still say it’s only for God. People who don’t know God, have to know Him through you. You can’t come to the “world” with that kind of righteous indignation and expect to win them for Christ. They will run away from you. And of course, run from God. Surely, their blood will be required from you!
Promotion comes from….
Promotion, on different levels, is critical in the mobilisation of interest and passion in the works and words of any artistes. It is even more critical in the case of the gospel artiste – because he or she has a divine mandate to be “a fisher of men”. He is commanded to make His ways and grace available in diverse formats to the thirsting world.
But you cannot promote a man who is unwilling to be promoted. It’s important that this aspect of any “celebratory platforms” like MEGA has to be seen as a collaborative effort. The essence of award is if you win or are nominated for an award, you begin to project the quality of that outstanding work to the world – in such a way that the avenue that is provided for you can be used as an opportunity to talk about your art and vision, based on that pedestal. But many musicians are reticent – that is not meekness….it is injurious silence.
Many of our artistes, even those nominated, don’t have structures to project themselves from that platform. We called for a workshop for instance, twice in the last two years, to discuss how to promote the artistes; how to procure a star-quality; how to sustain a status that will help them professionally and spiritually. I saw less than 10 fairly known gospel artistes at the workshop. Majority of them did not show up.
Why? Because they do not understand that they are hurting themselves. They forget that even if you are full, and do not need to learn anymore…you can share some of your knowledge and experience with others willing to learn. The Bible makes us understand that the Prophet is only excused from blame only if he has tried and failed in correcting the people and pointing them towards God’s way…their stiff-necked-ness will bring them into judgement…and the prophet is free from blame. Can the big well-informed Nigerian gospel musician truly say he or she is free of blame…?
The artistes must open up to knowledge and new ideas – and ask for wisdom to make the right choices. You can’t fulfil your cardinal mission as a one-man riot squad, because it’s a collaborative thing. You need a publicist for instance; a financial counsellor, a lawyer with a bias for intellectual property; even as you are creating music based on the Bible, you have your own strong intellectual input that makes it a copyright. You need to know how to be a part of a collecting society; you need education in several areas so that you need not be poor when God gives you a talent and the tools to feed His people.
Structures can be erected that you won’t go hungry begging people for pittance even as you obey God. It is when you come together and exploit the platform you are on that you can access the world, without being contaminated by the world. The Bible tells us that our God can give us the riches of “darkness” – so, you have to be available to be able to access the world’s wealth without forfeiting your pilgrim status. You must come out of yourself and upgrade your knowledge. As a nominee for instance, take advantage of it; speak out deliberately; do fresh photo-shoots; improve your wardrobes; re-train your staff; review strategies with technocrats, and so on and so forth. So that when they mention your name or music, it’s in association with a credible platform.
I don’t know if have successfully answered the question I posed – “What is all this jazz about awards sef?” – but I do have some questions and posers that I want the Nigerian artistes to reflect on, as we conclude…
Why do you create music? What are your recipes for making good music? What actions, lifestyles, mentality and character should be encouraged in the pursuit of ‘creation’? What is really wrong with our gospel music? Why are operators of awards worried about our musical offerings? Why do gospel artistes who need to connect to the people as a matter of urgency and calling have problems touching the populace with their music?
(Don’t tell me it’s because the world loves things of the world! They simply love anything good placed before them – including good gospel music!)
I am always eager to offer my considered observation in such matters. This will be my shortlisted answer:
From the aggregate of opinions during screenings and discussions of enlightened music-makers, ministers and veteran musicians, some of the most perplexing issues are as follows:
a. Choice of songs by younger artistes; and the wisdom to shut up if you don’t have the skill-sets;
b. Depth of lyrical content vis-a-vis what they purport to represent (Gospel);
c. Simplistic aping of popular melodies/beats without any serious attempt to individualize (or customize);
d. Inadequate attention to tonal quality, harmonization and sound mixing;
e. Careless use of misleading symbolisms in video productions;
f. Poor quality in printing and scripting of the physical packaging of the music (CD cover).
The afore-mentioned (among others) are mostly observed in young artistes whose promise is clear, and need only proper counselling to keep them on the right course. Of course, some older ones frolic at these terrains intermittently.
The summary of our worry is this: When we make music, what is the over-riding ‘ambition’? What is our understanding? Do you have a clear understanding of your role as a gospel musician? Do you deliver songs that complement and polish your stated role – as opposed to artistes who are eclectic (slapping all sorts of trendy beats and hooky adlibs) such that all “markets” are touched? Is it the Holy Spirit leading them to cast their nets wide? Or are they influenced by the spirits of ‘circumstances’ and exigencies?
To help answer some of these posers, we have decided to open post-award channels of communication and counselling where artistes who submit their works for MEGA adjudication can find our more salient details about why their works are not nominated or how they fare. They will receive candid and informed explanations of what the award organisers think are lacking or should be improve – if they are ready to lift a finger in helping themselves.
One more point: In any serious award structure, there should be well-grounded criteria focused on identifying observance of the best practices of the craft (not prevailing characteristics and sloppy attitudes). The gospel music is first an art form (music – a professional performance), and by choice, the artistes have elected to inject a peculiarly distinct flavour to its lyrical body (Gospel). These two complementary standards (gospel and music) need to be exposed to robust scrutiny, and those who have sweated to attain their goals and vision using the highest standard of musical artistry should be recognised, celebrated and exposed as quality example for others to see and emulate.
(Writer, Author and Journalist)
(A paper prepared for the 1st All Nigerian Gospel Music Revival Conference (ANGOMREC) holding at ASCON between September 28 – 30, 2015.)