Author Steve Alexandra Smith's ten-year labour of love has given the world an insight into an arena that has never been documented on this scale before. There are descriptions of how in the early years, the church did not like or want gospel music to leave the sanctuary door, as they felt it would be commercialised and exploited. There are also eye-opening explanations of how British gospel was formed in part due to a number of economical, political and social factors that existed outside of the church.
The book also examines how the emergence and growth of gospel music in Britain affected many industries. In the world of television, for example, Christian artists competed on talent shows such as "Opportunity Knocks". Similarly, British black newspapers were also influenced by British gospel with the start of the popular inspirational column, "Soul Stirrings in The Voice".
The chapters are diverse; they include a history of legendary key figures such as former slave and member of The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Thomas Rutling. Another chapter, titled "Jamaican Influence", documents how Britain's Gospel music was further enhanced by the visit to England from The Native Choir of Jamaica. Smith examines individual artists who were viewed by some traditional churches as going against the grain. This section is highlighted by interviews with Victor Brown of the Gospel group The Overcomers: "One of the church elders was unhappy with our style of music and the venues that we were playing. An urgent members meeting was called and the place was packed out. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife."
One chapter is dedicated to a handful of individuals who contributed to the success of Gospel music in the UK, with one prominent pioneer being Bazil Meade, who Smith presents as responsible for the leadership of one of the longest running choirs in the country, The London Community Gospel Choir.
Another trailblazer within British gospel is Jamaican-born Tyndale Thomas; Smith explains how the singer/songwriter eventually received the first MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) ever awarded to a gospel artist for his contributions to the music industry.
Even more exciting is the chapter detailing current emerging artists like MOBO winner and rapper Jahaziel and popular artists from Britain's African churches like Four Kornerz and popular radio DJ and worship leader Muyiwa and his choir Riversongz.
The book includes a CD that features a selection of contemporary cuts from a variety of artists. "Love Is", performed by the R&B gospel trio Siani, is upbeat and quickly attracts your attention. "Mummy's Prayer" is a beautiful reggae track written and sung by Barry Panton that uplifts in its theme of thankfulness for a praying mother. Considering the negative light that Reggae/Dancehall is often put in, this track is a special gem.
Noel Robinson, who also wrote the book's foreword, also has a track included. "Garment of Praise", taken from Robinson's 2006 album of the same name has a uniquely British sound from the popular and talented worship leader and his band Nu Image.
There are three African inspired tracks on the project, one being "No Limit Praise 1" that has an obvious Nigerian influence (sung by Precious Babatunde).
British soul star Ruby Turner has released fifteen R&B albums since 1986. "Jesus on The Mainline (Atomic Telephone)" is from her sixteenth release and is her first gospel album, I'm Travelling On. This accapella track is reminiscent of the traditional gospel which started in the first half of the 1900's in the southern states of the USA.
The 13-track inclusion is a great collection of British Gospel music which will introduce you to a small selection of the UK's talented artist. The book mentions a wealth of artists and songs that have contributed or were the catalyst to the current British gospel stars of today. Unfortunately none of these are included on the CD, which is a shame as they are so well detailed in the book that you yearn to hear the music mentioned.
In summary, British Black Gospel is brilliant, written in an easy to understand style that captures the imagination and encourages you to read on. Here's hoping that the work gains great exposure, because the artists within its pages (and heard on the accompanying CD) have a very important story to tell.
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— reviewed by Donna Marshall —
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