IT has produced hits that rule the airwaves. In secular night clubs, it is common to dance to a gospel hit. Gospel music concerts are some of the most attended events. To cap it, gospel artistes are celebrities that command a huge following. This is the current status of gospel music industry. However, it was not the case back in the day.
So, what is making gospel music more popular today?
While secular music still has a larger following, gospel music is slowly attracting a cult following including those from the secular world.
Why gospel music is becoming popular
“Gospel shows in Rwanda have improved. Ten years ago, no one ever thought that a gospel concert could be held in a hotel or anywhere outside the church,” says Eric Mashukano, the managing director of the Moriah Entertainment.
He recalls the first gospel concert organised in 2007 outside the church.
Mashukano recall that the first gospel concert was organised by Aline Gahongayire at Kigali Serena Hotel. It was then that the industry saw that everything is possible and the shows moved from a standard setup to a creative one and from small halls to big ones, as the artistes gained confidence in their work.
He notes that today, the gospel shows are taken to any available venue and attract more and more people.
Patient Bizimana, a popular gospel artiste, held a successful Easter concert that attracted a mammoth crowd. Despite his career not being a walk in the park, he attributes his success to his passion for gospel music.
“I had the zeal and a target that always pushed me to go higher. I always pray, and even though I am not yet where I want to be, the support that Rwandans have shown is what keeps me going,” he says.
Florent Ndutiye, a journalist at TV 10, says the impact of gospel music is seen in the number of revellers at music concerts and the awards given to gospel music artistes.
However, for Peter Ntigurirwa, the managing director of Isange Cooperation, an online shopping company that also sells gospel music online, today it is easier to market music, which perhaps explains the trend. He says that unlike in the past, the current generation of music artistes are blessed to have many platforms where their music can be heard.
“Many of the artistes are making good use of several platforms from social media to their churches. We have also seen many of these artistes break boundaries and sell their music outside the country because of the many opportunities available to them,” he says.
Clementine Uwitonze, better known by her stage name Tonzi, last year came up with the ‘All In One Gospel Ladies’ which consists of a number of female gospel singers; Pastor Jackie Mugabo, Diana Kamugisha, Pastor Rose Ngabo, Tonzi, Phanny Wibabara, Gaby Kamanzi, Aline Gahongayire, Rachel Rwibasira, Assumpta, Kareen, and Alice Big Tony.
This, she says, was an initiative to unify the artistes and in the long run, promote their music. This has seen the group build up their fan base as well as stage several concerts including those outside Rwanda.
“We have many talented and passionate singers in this country but if we do not support them, their talent is bound to die out. As a group, we compose songs together and do a mixtape of our songs as a way of lifting each other up.
This, she says, also cuts down on the costs involved in recording songs and shooting videos singlehandedly.
Gospel artiste Dieudonne Mugema, popular for his hip hop songs, says the evolution of the gospel music industry is linked to the youth who have massively contributed to its popularity.
“Because the youth want to go with what is trending, one way to keep gospel music relevant is by singing in a genre that they like most, because in the end, it’s the message that matters,” he says.
He, however, says that this kind of music has raised criticism among elder church goers.
“In Rwanda, we don’t find it widely acceptable to sing rap music in church. As a result, even those that would love to venture into this genre would rather they do it the secular way,” he says.
More effort required
Mashukano believes that even though gospel music in the country is improving, more is needed to improve the quality of music shows and event management.
“There are many gospel shows we see being held during church services, but the quality is not good because they are not properly organised. More so, there is no way an artiste will expect to grow his or her audience if the shows are limited to churches only,” he says.
Mashukano adds that the industry has a challenge of getting appropriate venues when it comes to staging mega concerts, which involve more than 5000 people.
“Gospel shows still have a long way to go in terms of raising their standard in a bid to sell the local artistes outside the country. On the side of production and content of the show, they still have a lot to do,” he says.
He argues that Rwandan music is not where it is supposed to be. “I can say it is in a good place right now, compared to a few years back. Rwandan gospel artistes are invited to sing in different countries, so it has grown but it’s still not where it is supposed to be.”
Tonzi, who recently performed at Uganda’s gospel artiste Judith Babirye’s concert, says that her experience at the concert opened her eyes to what the gospel industry in the country is like.
“Judith Babirye’s concert was fully packed as her fans came in to support, despite the hefty amount of money that was asked as an entry fee. It is different from what we see here as most people will not attend your shows if you exceed Rwf15, 000,” she says.
This she attributes to the mindset that people have in this country as they do not think that gospel artistes should make a living from singing.
Aline Gahongayire, another celebrated gospel artiste thinks that gospel music is not as recognised as it should be yet. She says shows that promote and recognise gospel artistes are still few, and sponsorship is still a challenge.
“Gospel artistes just lack the support that is given to other secular artistes. We need Rwandans to support us and understand us. Also, we need to support each other as musicians. I can still have my identity as a gospel artiste and support other artistes,” she says.
Gahongayire appeals to everyone to support Rwandan gospel artistes. “It would be great if churches, pastors, Christian organisations, and even business owners, considered supporting the gospel music industry. We are all bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth and spreading the Good News of the Saviour through music,” Gahongayire says.
Misagaro wonders if there is any Rwandan gospel artist solely surviving on music for a living, adding they still struggle to survive.
Ntigurirwa also reveals that some of the content in the gospel music industry lacks meaning because artistes are after money and producing a variety of songs.
Gospel fans share their views
“Many of us were raised in religious families and were brought up in a manner of fearing God where praise and worship is also mandatory. Even though I am not as religious as I was, I still hold on dearly to the value of praise and worship,” says Irene Kusasira, a businesswoman.
Doreen Mutesi, an online marketer says, “Gospel music takes you into another realm, far from the stress and daily hustle that we go through. Most gospel songs also have messages of hope and therefore play a big part in cheering me up when I am stressed or disappointed by anyone.”
Gospel music’s role in reconciliation
The Gospel itself preaches love, unity, reconciliation, forgiveness, therefore, the music only emphasises what is being taught to us in the churches. Gospel artistes play a big a role in fostering peace in the country,” says Tonzi.
Bizimana says that Rwandans are resilient people in general.
“Christianity being the widest religion in the country means that we as gospel artistes have the biggest platform to preach this message. We play a big role in encouraging reconciliation.”
How can gospel music be promoted further?
Some people support names and not the music itself. New artistes should focus on popularising their names with the use of social media and other various kinds of platforms. That way, they will be able to sell their music even beyond borders and earn from it.
Hezekiel Bizimana, Engineer
Rwandan artistes are focused on just the local audience and sing in the local language only. We need to see more use of international languages in their songs so that they can attract the international market too. Also, humility is key, if they are to succeed in this industry.
Catherine Uwimbabazi, Social worker
Upcoming gospel artistes should look up to the ones that have been in the industry already. The already established ones should also help the upcoming ones because we shouldn’t expect competition in this particular industry. They are all under one cause, spreading the Gospel.
Yvonne Uwamahoro, Teacher
Some of artistes lose the ‘fire’ in their songs because the either sing for money, or for fame. Gospel artistes should not liken themselves to secular artistes by thinking it’s always about money. They should be spirit-led in their songs, be mindful of the message they are putting out there and their actions so many people look up to them.
Steven Nkotanyi, Upcoming gospel singer