Studies in World Christianity 12.2 (2006) 142-163
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'Singing with Understanding':
the Story of Gospel Music in Ghana
'… I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.'1 The fastest growing musical expression in Ghana is the religious music that has come to be described as 'gospel music'. Especially since the late 1980s gospel music has assumed an increasingly prominent position in Ghanaian religious and social life. Gospel music constituted about 75% of recorded musical works in Ghana in 1993;2 and in 2001 it was believed that about 90% of musicians were plying their trade in churches.3 This boom in gospel music coincided with the phenomenal spread of the charismatic movement.4 The charismatic movement affected most branches of Ghanaian Christianity and also produced a distinct group of churches that eventually came to be known as 'Charismatic Churches'. The movement indelibly left its mark on the Church. In Ghana so much of Christian expression of spirituality at the popular level has been the result of the Charismatic movement. Gospel music has become one ofthe most important expressions of popular Christianity. Perhaps no other aspect of popular Christianity embodies the aspirations, fears, the self-understanding, and the faith and hope of the ordinary Ghanaian Christian as the various strands of popular religious music, which have together been referred to as 'gospel music'. The thesis of this paper is that contemporary Ghanaian gospel music represents a high point in a long processof assimilation of the Christian message by Ghanaians. It is one of themost important and popular expressions of Christianity as understood by Ghanaian Christians.
Gospel music in the Ghanaian context is not defined according to the beat or rhythm. It is the song-text that defines a particular piece of music as 'gospel'. It appears the whole repertoire of musical traditions available in Ghana is enlisted to the service of gospel music. The most popular form [End Page 142] is gospel highlife.5 There are others in the style of traditional music forms such as asafo,6 adzewa,7 agbadza8 and even the traditional recreational jama,9 which has been popularised in recent times by the youth. In the gospel music repertoire one can also find singing that is not accompanied by any instrument, solo and recitatives. This leads to a range of music styles that makes room for the expression of different moods. Some ofthe songs are traditional western Christian hymns that are sung to new rhythm and tempo accompanied by guitar, drums and other instruments. It is, basically, the text that determines whether a particular song is 'gospel'. It is the Christian faith sung in the common style and idiom of the ordinary people; the music of faith set in the commonplace language of the people which does not require any effort to understand. It is Ghanaian Christians singing their faith with understanding. The song-text may be one of encouragement, an admonition to believers to live up to their responsibilities, an affirmation of a doctrinal truth, or even a rebuke of believers who are not being faithful. Gospel songs may also be prayers of petition or songs of praise and thanksgiving or direct evangelistic message appealing to unbelievers to accept the Gospel of Christ.
Classifying Gospel Music
It is not easy to classify gospel music. As it has been mentioned above, in terms of musical types, all the available musical types are represented. Charismatic Christians themselves, especially the youth, divide gospel songs into two: praise songs and worship songs. What differentiates thetwo is the tempo. 'Worship' songs are slow and poignant and are usually accompanied by raising of hands and swaying the whole body forward and backward while 'praise' songs are faster and are usually accompanied by dancing. The same song can be either 'praise' or 'worship', depending on the beat to which it is sung. In most cases, such classifications do not take into consideration whether the text of the song is actually about worship or praise.
A useful classification would...