For many years, the art and practice of transmuting a well-known secular song into a religious/gospel song and vice-versa has become one of the definitive factors that underscore the dynamic nature of music. Appropriations of musical works by artists have played an enormous role in underpinning this phenomenon. Consequently, it is not new to hear performances of pop-songs by recording artistes played in religious settings. Save for the lyrics which, sometimes, are changed to religious texts to suit the occasion; the instrumentation, rhythm, harmony, and overall vibes are the same. As regards its development, I would argue that one of its medium stems from the rise of Pentecostalism and radical religious movements who accept, and are still promoting this practice as opposed to orthodox settings where solemnity is emphasized and entrenched through congregational hymn-singing, psalms, and other sober music in some cases.
Regarding the alteration of song lyrics for distinct purposes, it is however pertinent to note that certain genres which developed from earlier popular music genres are composed and performed almost exactly the same way, but have entirely different texts. A typical example here is the Gospel Rock genre. While the genre possesses heavy guitar and rhythmic instrumentations of the rock genre, the lyrics are religious. In this case, it is not an alteration or appropriation. It is a genre of its own: Gospel Rock. While it could take a non-enthusiast or an average listener some time to decipher the true identity of the genre because of its exact instrumentation and performance techniques with the Rock genre, discovering the lyrics makes the difference. Considering this phenomenon, too many songs come to mind. One of the recent appropriations could be Duncan Mighty’s “Obianuju” which has been dubbed “Baba Na You”. While the song retains its melody, the lyrics and instrumentations are drastically altered, reducing the tempo to a very slow flowing movement that now serves as a worship song in some religious settings. On the other side of the coin, there are also several gospel songs which pop recording artistes have dragged from the church to clubs and lounge bars. One apt example here is Timaya’s “Ogologo Mma”. In this case, the question of whether a secular artist should record Gospel songs arises. Should an artiste be labeled and limited? If a recording afro-pop artist decides to sing Gospel, should it be limited to a distinct performance space? How do these practices affect an artiste? Are there implications with regards to the recorded song? For instance, Korede Bello’s “Godwin” is played in clubs and is also performed in some religious settings till date. What is the place of afro-pop songs whose lyrics mention God and acknowledge God’s blessings and supremacy in all these? Does singing about God qualify a song to be categorized as a Gospel Song? These and many more questions continue to beg for illumination.
In Adonai, Ghana’s rap, hiplife and afrobeat sensation, Sarkodie, features Castro. Together, they deliver a pop hit song that acknowledges and celebrates many attributes of God while incorporating the Alkayida dance in the performance. Alkayida, being a dance, a song, and popular hiplife beat popularized by Ghana’s hiplife artist Guru and an increasing number of acts on the continent, is given a definitive place in the song whose video is partly shot in a church to buttress its thematic denotation. In this instance, Alkayida is gospelized as the music scores a point by taking the dance choreography from its secular space into a religious space, using the performance of a hiplife beat with a religious theme as an effective instrument.
Chidinma’s “If E No Be God”
Capital Hills recording artiste, Chidinma, whose rise to stardom precedes her win at the third season of the MTN Project Fame West Africa, makes a revolutionary statement in one of her recent offerings: “If E No Be God”. Here, Chidinma takes shoki to church. Shoki, being a dance and pop-song which shares similarities with the aforementioned Alkayida in terms of performance space and use in Afrobeats, is performed in a church which serves as the main location/setting for the music video. In addition, the act’s fusion of shoki in the lyrics as she sings “Oh Daddy, you dey see my shoki? Oh Daddy, you dey feel my shoki?” underscores the aforementioned dynamic nature of music where there is room for transcendence. In this context, shoki becomes a gift of gratitude to God – a symbol of appreciation as suggested by the song’s discourse schema. In the music video, two pastors join in the shoki dance and the dance itself becomes a unifying factor for all the worshippers. The case would have been different had the pastors exempted themselves from the dance, or rebuked the dancers. Considering their leadership role, the pastors’ participation here connotes endorsement, compromise and change. From another perspective, I would argue that the song takes its cue from the Igbo praise song “Asi na Obughi Jehovah” (If not for God). The response to the Igbo version is the same with Chidinma’s appropriation in Pidgin. In this case, her practice goes beyond gospelizing the secular, but also secularizing the gospel as afrobeats and shoki dance are introduced herein. This, in a sense, builds on the evolving trend where the existing distinction between what is secular and what is gospel absolutely lies on the lyrics of a song. Not the beats. Not the genre. Not the performance style. Not the performance location. Not the artiste.