Ministering Beyond Boundaries
For giving me once more chance
To raise my voice, I sing it out loud
I sing it all day, This song is my prayer
I give to only you, It canít compare
To the gift from you, See He gave us His love
He gave us His Son
from ĎSay Amení
The words are familiar enough, but when you hear the unmistakeable tenor voice that brings this praise melody alive, you instantly know youíre hearing 'Say Amen'.
It may seem unusual that this Gospel song is the most requested number of one of R&Bís steadiest forces over the past decades. But Howard Hewett claims it up front, and certainly make no excuses.
"I would get run out of town if I didnít sing that song in my set. Whether itís in an arena, a theater or in a club, people want to hear 'Say Amen'. Itís always good to hear how the music touches people, because thatís what itís all about. The song was recorded around 1986, almost 15 years ago. Itís a blessing, itís even more popular now than it was back then."
As a former member of the hit group Shalamar, with an established solo career, and as a strongly professing Christian, Howard Hewett made the obvious choice of including a remake of the song on his first exclusively Gospel project The Journey, just released on Harmony/Epic.
"That song has ministered to me through the years, man. People come to me throughout the whole history of the song, saying how 'Say Amen' saved their life, or their marriage. Even for me through the years, thereís been some times when Iíve had some trials and tribulations, and the lyrics to 'Say Amen' have ministered to me also.'
"The tedious thing, for lack of a better word, is to redo a song like 'Say Amen',because so many people love the original. Whenever I do a set, I always end with 'Say Amen', whether itís live or to DAT, so weíre talking literally doing the song thousands and thousands and thousands of times through the years. We didnít want to change it per se, but after doing the song live for the past 14 years, Monty [Seward] and I we originally wrote the song together we just redid it the way that we do it live. And after years of doing it, thereís natural changes that take place anyway, but theyíre not really drastic changes."
The remake is the only one of the several Gospel gems that the Akron, Ohio native has featured on his R&B albums over the years, that re-surfaces on his Gospel album. It serves as a direct link to his mainstream material, which while not exclusively Gospel, has always lyrically emphasized relationship fidelity, honoring of each other and clean love balladry.
"This project is something Iíve wanted to do ever since I recorded 'Say Amen'. The song was the result of a promise I made to the Lord. Even years before I left the group Shalamar, I prayed and I said, ĎLord when Iím by myself, when I leave the group, when Iím the one whoís responsible for what I sing, I promise I will always have at least one song on each album honoring your name.í So then, ĎSay Amení came about as far as the first solo album."
"Ever since then I wanted to do a complete project honoring God, honoring the Lord. This project, the thing about it was to find the right company to do it with. It says in Psalms 1:1, ĎDo not sit in the counsel of the wicked.í I take that literally, as far as a project that completely honors the Lord. I wanted it to be with someone who understands that whole thing. Someone who understands the importance of the little mom and pop store down in the bible belt, and in the churches. I donít just want this project to just end up on the Christian bookstore shelves. But I donít want that market to be ignored either."
Hewett speaks of The Journey with a quietness and a peace that conveys the fact that it is a labor of love. But thatís not to say that it didnít have its challenges.
"Consciously and methodically I had to always make sure we were being biblically correct. The single that we shipped initially to Gospel radio was ĎAngelí This was one of those songs where I went through three or four different sets of lyrics. Because thereís a dangerous area you can get into, the topic of angels, particularly where youíve got this new age thing. Monty and I wrote the song, and we went through a lot of different lyrics, because I didnít want to mislead anyone as far as the situation of worshipping angels. We donít worship angels. Angels are messengers and they are to do His bidding on our behalf. We pray to God to guide his angels to help us. You have to be really clear about that."
"What it ended up as was like a personal experience. I believe to this day that I had an encounter with one of Godís angels that intervened in my life when a bunch of crazy stuff was going down. There was a time in my life unlike any other time when shadows were falling over me. One day I found myself so helpless and locked in a place of fear. But then I heard a voice... There was this cat that I met at the time, and he just said, you know, 'In God lies your faith, not in man nor this place. So donít let this fear destroy you.'"
"So you know, we sometimes let circumstances destroy us rather than having faith in Godís mercy and grace, and in the fact that heís going to protect us at all times. We can fall into real crazy areas in our lives if we donít live by faith."
Collaborating with Hewett on the project are not only long time colleagues such as Monty Seward, but also some veterans in Gospel such as Michael Powell and Kevin Bond.
"Yeah, the connect with Kevin came from Raina Bundy. Raina and Kevin have this musical history together. She sent me some of the stuff that he had previously written and produced, and I really dug it.
I already had the idea for the title track, so Kevin sent me about four or five tracks that he had that were great, and were just really interesting to me. And we went from there. The last couple of years I knew I wanted to call the album 'The Journey' because thatís what itís all about, each of us has our own journey.
The way I write, my basic things are lyrics and melodies. So once I heard [this particular] track, of the four or five that Kevin sent me, it just jumped out. It has that mystical type of feel, or mood. Something thatís going on and on, with that piano line, an on-going thing. Our journey is an ongoing thing. Weíre all chasing rainbowís at times, Just when you think you have it, you turn around and itís gone. Itís all a journey."
"The focus of the project, lyrically, is a conglomeration of my thoughts, philosophies and messages that Iíve gotten through my life that I wanted to convey."
Certainly, one listen to the new album tells you that Hewett hasnít really strayed from his familiar sound. While it's immersed in today's production vibe, itís also right in line with what weíve come to expect from the man. We asked if he distinguished between the musical and the lyrical message.
"Well Iíve always thought that music, melodies and lyrics are one of those things that all go together, they each have something to say. The three are so important. Itís important for the melody to respect the nuances of the music, and itís very important lyrically for it to enhance all three of those."
"My philosophy as far as a tune, or a complete song is concerned, is like this. Itís like a beautiful woman. When you see a beautiful woman, the first thing that attracts you to her is her beauty, whatever that is to you, because everyone has a different eye as to what
"Itís the same thing with a song. The first thing that pulls you in is the music. Even if itís a dance song, with the groove, the beat, the whole thing. With the ballad, the mid-tempo, where it puts you mood-wise, thatís what pulls you in. Then you get into the lyrics of the song."
"The first thing is the music, then second thing is the melody, the last thing is the lyrics. And if the lyrics can stand up to the melody and the music, then youíve got a powerful song."
With the power of song that Hewett is capable of, whether it be in songs such as 'Say Amen', 'To Thee I Pray' or the several that appear on The Journey, there will no doubt be some that express their puzzlement about Hewettís calling in life, seeing that his musical expression moves from the world of R&B to Gospel and back. But let there be no doubt, Hewett is very clear on where he stands:
"Iím not a Gospel artist. And Iím not one of those raunchy R&B artists either. A long time ago I stopped calling my R&B music secular. Because if you really look at the definition of secular, itís deep. The dictionary defines it with words like Ďheathen, ungodly and without God.í And I donít think anything Iíve ever done in my career has been without God. Iím not one of those artists that goes Ďshake your booty downí and that whole thing. I feel a lot more respectful as far as women are concerned, as far as family is concerned. Iíve taken it to be a personal responsibility of mine."
"And Iím not by any means an advocate of censorship. Because I think censorship is a dangerous two-edge sword. If someone speaks up and says that Ďthey canít say this or thatí, then whoís to say that later someone will [build on that] and say that Ďwe donít think that you should be talking about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in your songs.í Censorship is just a real dangerous can of worms to open it up, a Pandoraís box...it would be a real bad thing all the way around."
"[Letís not] limit being able to praise the Lord, to praise God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Letís not limit that only to people who are labeled as ĎGospel artistsí."
"I am a Christian artist. Whenever I do personal appearances, I always sing ĎSay Amení, or else a medley of Gospel tunes that Iíve done over the years. My band and I have put together a real nice medley of stuff, like 'Call His Name', 'To Thee I Pray' and 'Jesus'.
Through the years Iíve had atheists come up to me, Iíve had Jehovahís Witnesses come up to me, Iíve had ĎScience of the Third Mindí or whatever come up to me after shows. I remember a couple of atheists come up to me saying, 'we were having such a great time, and then you started talking about God, what was that all about?'"
And thatís my opportunity to plant a seed. I'm not saying that it would take root right away, but God says that his Word will not return void. If I was a ĎGospel artistí, then those same people may not even have been there.
"It says in the Bible that a physician is not needed among well people. I think that there is a calling for everybody. And hopefully this new wave of Gospel music will be a little bit more open, more so than [we found with] the old school situation. More open to R&B artists confessing and saying without hesitation, ''Hey I love the Lord, and He is where my strength comes from'".
"Now, I do have a problem a lot of the times when on a album someone is talking about women in a derogatory way, and using foul language throughout, and then at the end saying 'I want to thank God for giving me an opportunity for making this happen'. I donít think God had anything to do with it!! I think there has to be more of a responsibility. Because [without it], it lends to leading somebody astray. Like it says in the Word, we are responsible for our brothers, we are responsible for what we say, from fleeing even the appearance of sin."
"And Iím not saying Iím perfect. Nobodyís perfect. Believe me, I fall flat on my face and skid down the sidewalk like everybody else does. But I pick myself up. Thatís one of my favorite heart songs right now, in the last month or so."
"What I would say is that, if you look at the whole ministry of our Lord, thereís just few times in his three and half years of ministry, you see him actually in the church, preaching in the synagogue. Most of the time Heís with the people. Even his first miracle, he was at a three-day party. He was out there with the people. He was just hanging out, he was just there, turning the water into wine. So, letís be more open, letís be more receptive, not so rigid as far as certain things are concerned."
"Thereís a lot of things that we have to be concise with as far as the Bible is concerned, but donít limit the freedom and the expression of some people to praise the Lord. Because you donít know who that person is, and what that person can say!"
"ĎSay Amení has ministered to so many people, and has brought so many to the fold, to the Lord, and these are just the people who have come to me and made me aware of it. I donít know how many more are out there."
Aside from the extensive promotionals that Hewett is immersing himself in to get the word out about The Journey, there is still more on the Gospel horizon for him.
"Iím meeting some people about a Best of CD, so weíre putting that together, and Iíll probably start on the next R&B album in the next couple months. But I also wrote a Gospel play called ďSay AmenĒ. Iím in the process of getting the right finances for that, and thatís a project that Iím really excited about."
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