Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Race and Christian Music

This article was published at Viklife.com on the 11th of November 2009 and things are no longer the same  and my perspective on things have changed.

The subject of race is very sensitive amongst people but let us be real, it is an issue. We cannot deny the fact that in a place like America race is still very important. I am a Nigerian and I have lived in Nigeria practically all my life and race is not our issue but tribalism; even with that we see a particular tribe favoured more than another or we can see a particular tribe dominating a particular industry whether its music or its movies.

The concept of race was not existent in ancient times. Explorers travelled and met people different from them but they did not make a huge fuss about it. They used race to categorize people due to their physical and cultural differences. It was later that it was used to justify enslavement of “inferior” people and unfair treatment.

In a country like the United States, race becomes an issue in the sense that minority groups (African Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Jews) have challenges in achieving certain things. That is why it was a big deal when Barack Obama became the President of the United States or when Ben Carson separated the Siamese twins or when Aretha won a Grammy.

To be honest, I think it is the same thing with Christian music or gospel music. From what I can see, it has been dominated by white people. Growing up, the gospel artists I knew were all white people; Don Moen, Bob Fitts, DC Talk and the Hillsong Music team. The only black people I knew were Kirk Franklin and Ron Kenoly. Sometimes, when my foreign peers are talking about legends in gospel music and they call Mahalia Jackson or The Clark Sisters, I am usually clueless because I did not grow up hearing them. It was in the late 90s that people like Out of Eden, Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin or Israel Houghton became popular around here.

Looking at Christian music in America, I will say its white dominated. Why? They dominate the media, their videos cross over on a regular, they win all the awards and they tend to top the charts. Is it because of racism? Definitely not. So what is the problem?

I feel it is because it seems like the African Americans Christian artists put themselves in a box. First, most African American artists make music only they will enjoy. It is as if they are signing for the black community alone. If that is the case, they should expect to remain only relevant in the black community and not global. If we look at the few black artists that have succeeded in making a name for themselves (Kirk Franklin, CeCe Winans), we see them experimenting with other things. In his new album, Kirk had a rock song with Tobymac. With that song, he was able to cut through cultural boundaries and he did not go there alone but asked for help from someone skilled in that area.

I am not condemning the efforts of the black artists, as I love most of them. The thing is that from here (Nigeria) all I can see are the white people. They are doing what they do best and are representing Jesus in the process. I feel black people should not be scared to go out of the box that society as created for them. Winning BET or NAACP awards and being on the cover of Ebony or Essence Magazine is not where it should end. We should try our best to break cultural/social barriers and let people love us for what we have to offer.

Race is not the issue but we can say it is the cause. Racial stereotypes and discrimination brought us to the point where there are two worlds; the black world and the white world. Now, all these are very long gone (I think). We can put aside these differences and work together; Black, White, Latino and make universal music that will affect and bless the people who will listen to it.

Remember, Act 13:47 says “For so hath the Lord commanded us, [saying], I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (KJV). Our target is not people in our community but everyone everywhere.

By Harry Itie

Check out this awesome urban culture post on the Blackberry and urban culture in Nigeria here

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