Don’t Be An Upcoming Gospel Artiste

It happens all the time. You hear a given phrase over and over and you get used to it and you never notice anything odd or weird about it. And then one day it hits you. You may have even used the phrase in conversation, until this day when someone says it and you were a bit absent minded and then it really hits you. Suddenly it sounds so different. That’s what happened to me last evening.

I was attending SPA FEST, an annual dancing competition, to cheer a team called DICE. It is the team my friend Winnie (she has written a guest post here before) dances in. In one of the interludes, a guy came onto the stage to perform a rap song. I didn’t catch his name, and it was obvious not many people knew who he was. You could tell from the murmurs in the crowd as he climbed up onto the platform.

“I am an upcoming artiste,” he added after the name I didn’t catch.

That’s when it hit me. I have heard that phrase used hundreds of times and I bet I have even used it a couple of times when referring to people. But what does that phrase, “upcoming artiste” really mean?

L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)
L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)

The surface meaning seems obvious. An upcoming artiste is someone who has recently started singing or performing in public. An upcoming artiste often doesn’t have an album – yet – and he has recently started recording some songs – or not yet. An upcoming artiste is not famous. His name has not caught on and people still struggle to remember him whenever he comes onto the stage.

An upcoming artiste is not an established artiste. In other words, he is not that popular – yet. Most of them can barely move the crowd (although the guy I saw yesterday really worked us up). All that sounds obvious, until it hits you afresh like it did me last evening. Why the “up” in upcoming? In fact, why the “coming”? Does the phrase reveal a worldview that we often overlook, as Christians, but should actually be wary of?

I believe it does, in a way.

An “up-coming” artiste implies that the artiste is “rising” to a certain level and that he or she will one day “arrive”. This bothers me. Because whenever we say an artiste is “rising” whose ranking are we using? The truth is that we have bought into the vocabulary and therefore the worldview of the world. We are categorizing and ranking Christian artistes using worldly standards and we don’t even realize it.

In the world, it is the numbers that speak. In the world, we know an artiste has “arrived” by counting the number of songs and albums and sales he has made. In the world, we know an artiste has arrived by looking at how many followers he has on Twitter and the place he holds in the TV music show charts. In other words, in the world, the stats are counted, not weighed. 

Which leads to the inevitable question, whose standards are we living and “performing” by? The irony is that most of the “upcoming” artistes often begin with a message that is faithful and biblical in the early years of their musical “career”. But as they rise up the ranks and arrive, the message gets more shallow and their gospel becomes watered down and less explicit. By the time they are topping the charts, many are great performers with messages that can barely be distinguished from the other chart-topping “secular” artistes.

Just track the musical journey of many current “arrived” artistes. Check their stats and you will see the consistent rise. Now go back and check the content of their songs and you will see the consistent decline. It will make you wonder if what we need is up-coming artistes or “down-going” artistes.

I am not saying that this is the case with all artistes who gain popularity in their musical careers. There will always be the remnants and the faithful such as Eunice Njeri. The fine wines that only get better with age like Christina Shusho are worth their place in the charts. But these are exceptional because they are the exceptions. The rule is more worrying.

“[Christ] must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

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Lyrical Review: Kanjii Mbugua’s Rauka [Album]

Does God have a favorite type of music? many people, especially older people, are convinced God is into hymns. Others argue that God loves rock music, but leans more towards soft rock, you know, the Casting Crowns type of music. God is definitely into Hillsong. Surely, He must love the Gospel RnBs. We know He can’t love Hip Hop because, you know, (whispering) the demonic roots and all. Or maybe He is into reggae music…But seriously, though, does God have a favorite type of music?

rauka
Photo courtesy: spinlet.com

I think He does, and I know which album would be on top favorites if I sneaked a peek into His iTunes: Kanjii Mbugua’s Rauka album. Why do I say this? Because Kanjii’s album was good enough to make it into the Bible. Don’t believe me? Just open the Psalms, chapter 151 to be exact. Although all the 14 songs are written in Swahili with a few English lines sprinkled in one or two songs, Rauka is a masterful work of lyricism. But then again, Kanjii is gifted that way.

But what strikes me most is not the chords but the lyrics. I am not a music expert, and that is why I have always reviewed the lyrics of a song and left the musical production and arrangement to the experts. This is the first album I am reviewing on Alien Citizens. I usually review individual songs. I am reviewing it as an album because I am compelled to do justice to such a great work of worshipful art. Rauka is like a 14-page devotional book. You’ve probably already realised your Bible doesn’t have Psalm 151. Well, not anymore, because here are the 14 verses *:

1. Rauka (Rise up)

Rauka (rise up) speaks to the hopeless among us. The ones who have been branded poor, without cure, the constant failures. The song calls you to remember that Jesus did not forget you when He saved you. You may have recently received a dismissal notice at work and auctioneers are scrambling for your property, But remember Jesus did not forget you. So rise up, forget the past, what you have been through. RIse up, it’s a new day. “We thank you Father, we lift You up, we praise You. We receive You, King of kings.”

2. Ako nami (He is with me)

The second song sets a trend that I found distinctive and commendable in the rest of the album, Kanjii moves from just talking “about” God to talking “to” and “with” God. He moves from mere analysis of God’s nature to the actual worship and adoration of that nature. Ako nami (He is with me) reflects on God’s eternal strength, glory, Lordship and kindness. 

“You’re the rock on which I stand. You’re the one that never changes. In your arms I am secure. You’re protecting me. In your power I am mighty. Against all weapons formed against me, I shall not fear, I shall not fear.”

3. Karibu (Welcome)

Karibu (welcome) speaks of proclaiming the praises and attributes of God throughout the world. “All day long, I will confess You are holy, You name be lifted high, from every corner of this country, may all praise go to you Father.” And then Rigga reinforces the message with his rapping prowess; “Welcome Father, there’s no one like You, We welcome You King, Lion… Your Highness, we will make your praises heard… How will they know the King has arrived?”

4. Mfalme Mkuu

The most popular song in the album mainly because of the video that was released with the album. Mfalme Mkuu speaks of how Jesus saved us in the midst of our despair. “I had lost hope in life, I was to perish, fall, I was to be lost, but Jesus saved me… I was drowning, troubles all around me, I was in captivity, defeated, overwhelmed, but Jesus saved me… I am astounded, amazed, surprised, Your goodness has no measure, Your strength has no measure.”

5. Ebenezer

“He has said He won’t leave me until we reach the shore, He has said He has a good plan, a plan to give me hope. You are Lord of my life, and your promises are true. I will trust You, your promises are eternal… Let them say what they say, you are my Ebenezer, You guide me in life, there is no one else like You.”

6. Wewe Tu (Only You)

This song speaks of whom we should run to in our times of trouble: to God and not man. “In my pain, I cry out to my Lord. He is with me, I will not be afraid. I’d rather run to You than to man, I remember your love. Your Word is my hope. Your mercies never cease.” Kidum’s unmistakable voice spices the second verse and reinforces the same Psalm 22-like message: “Enemies surround me, I have no escape, but in Your name Lord, I am a victor…” But for You Lord, I would have perished in darkness. But for You Lord. Only You.

7. Mwanzo na Mwisho (Beginning and the End)

So far my favorite song in the album, “I thought I would perish, troubles overwhelmed me, in my depression I cried out to the Lord. He is my fortress, my hope, my rock of salvation… I will lift Him up, I will praise Him, He is the Savior, Alpha and Omega… Your name is Jehova, Lord, I ascribe to you all authority forever.”

8. Nitangoja (I Will Wait)

“It wasn’t long ago, I was drowning in issues, I longed for peace. Then I saw Your face, the One I depend on, You are my resting place. Even in my perplexion, when enemies surround me, I remember You will never leave me… I stand before You, surely You’re my shield. You’re teaching me, you’re my refuge, I will stand on Your Word.”

9. Nakuhitaji (I Need You)

“I don’t need to look for someone to care for me, love me. I don’t need to look for someone to make me happy, to satisfy me. There are no others, my soul thirsts for You. You are mine and I long for You… You’re the true vine. You provide everything I need. You are mine, I long for You.”

10. Juu Yangu (Upon me)

“I am poor, I have nothing to call my own. Like the birds of the air, you care for me. I am sure You hold my hand. You draw me to Your shadow… I know His hand upon me, I know His hand upon me… The ones I thought were my friends forsook me. But Your presence, Father, was over me. When my body wasted away with disease, You are Jehova Rapha, You healed me.”

And of course, the transposed lines towards the end are nothing short of heavenly: “Ooh, he has risen. No matter what I am going through. He has risen.”

11. Mwamba (Rock)

A mildly reggae tune with the talented Rigga sprinkled all over it: “I have come from far, seen a lot. Who cares for me? (My rock). They betrayed me, they mocked me. Who is my friend? (My rock)… I am not afraid of the floods, the rains or the winds. My foundation is in You, my rock, my rock… I will follow your Word, it is You I will depend You, Hide me.”

12. Wewe unami (You are with me)

More of a refrain than the usual verses and chorus, Wewe Unami (You are with me) is an affirmation of God’s constant and refreshing presence. It speaks of the cross as the bridge to life. “He walks with me, He holds my hand, His shadow surrounds me.” Pure, gospel-centered, worship.

13. Wewe (You

I think this is the song with the most frequent and explicit reference to Wewe (You), a psalmic chorus that addresses God and sounds almost private for its personal references: “You are my pillar, You are my refuge. You, You. You are my strength, You are my hope. You You…. In a dry land where there is no water. You are my Good. I seek. I seek. My soul longs for you. I thirst for you, I wait for you.”

14. Still Moving

The last song of the album is also the only fast-paced, party-feel song. It speaks of moving on and hoping and trusting despite circumstances that say otherwise. It is a song about rejoicing in lack and weakness. A song about praising in apparent hopelessness and despair. 

——

There you have it, a brief (long) overview of the whole album **. When I think about it, I am not so sure why I fell in love with this album. I mean, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the way the album is so explicit about God and His place in our lives. Maybe it’s the way every song stresses the weakness of man and the strength of God. Could it be the way each chord ties together the paradox of being happy in suffering, hopeful in bleakness, joyful in sadness? perhaps I love this album so much because it does not just remind me of my utter wretchedness and weakness, but it supplants this reality with God’s saving mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.

In other words, it is a Gospel album.

Written for the fame of His name.

~~~
Cornell

* The album is in Swahili so I have done my best to translate the lyrics.

** You can buy the album and pay via MPESA (and other online payment alternatives) through this link (just click on this sentence).

Music As Christian Entertainment?

Music, like food, can be enjoyable. But that’s not its primary purpose. The “entertainment” aspect is a secondary and incidental outcome, not to be pursued as an end in itself. This does not mean that the entertaining effect of music is unnecessary, just as the taste of food is not unnecessary. The problem lies in our finite need to understand things in limited and distinct categories.

I don’t think we ought to classify something that happens to be “entertaining” as “Entertainment” because that would be establishing the identity of something by what it does rather than by what it is.

By definition, I am not a writer, I am a human being who writes. I am not a blogger, I am a son of God who blogs. I am not a sinner, I am a saint who sins.

If you don’t see the ridiculousness of classifying music (Christian or otherwise) as entertainment, consider the idea of classifying a theological book that happens to be humorous as “Christian Humor”. The problem is that the moment we define the book as such, we’re bound to have people reading the book solely for the “humor” in it. To define is to confine. We must therefore be careful with our definitions lest we put our borders too restrictively on ideas that are bigger and more complex than our finite minds can comprehend.

FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

There are many things that we can do for the glory of God. I believe that it is in the process of seeking to glorify and delight in God that we find ourselves delighted and entertained. However, the devil wants to replicate the same “felt” outcomes of delighting in God and achieve them through misguided and misplaced purposes. For instance, while sex is enjoyable, that does not mean that enjoyment is the primary purpose of sex.

When we make the enjoyment the end, then any means of attaining that enjoyment becomes acceptable e.g. pornography and masturbation. In the same way, romantic feelings are an incidental part of the whole package of marriage. However, if we make those feelings the sole basis for a marriage, then there’s nothing to stop us from pursuing them in misplaced objects, e.g homosexuality. There will also be nothing to stop us from getting divorced once those feelings fade. Continue reading Music As Christian Entertainment?

A Man After God’s Own Art

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

Ephesians 5:11

Samuel said to the Christian Singer, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you to write and lead songs of worship in His Church; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Blasphemous Singers for what they did to my children when they waylaid them as they came up from that world of sin. Now go, oppose those Blasphemous Singers and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death their lyrics and their lies, their instrumentals and their melodies, their curses and their choruses.’”

So the Christian Singer summoned the worship team and the evangelists. They went to the clubs and radio stations where Blasphemous Singers ruled and reigned and ambushed them with the message of the Gospel. Then he said to the Compromised Christians who were associating with the Blasphemous Singers, “Go away, leave the Blasphemous Singers so that God will not destroy you along with them; for you have shown kindness to all the Christians who have come up out of this world.” So the Compromised Christians moved away from the Blasphemous Singers. Continue reading A Man After God’s Own Art

Blog Break (6 Mar 13)

It’s been awhile since I posted the last Blog Break. I guess the tension after the general elections here in Kenya have re-organized all our schedules as we wait for the final poll results to be announced. Here are four links to articles that I found worth sharing and re-reading:

  1. TEACHABILITY. This post was written for me. It hit the nail right on the head (and into my heart). David Murray; “No matter how much talent and gifting we have, if we are, or become, unteachable, we will never reach anywhere near our full potential in our careers, our callings, or our relationships.”
  2. HOW TO ROCK TWITTER LIKE A PHARISEE, I don’t know about you, but I find myself doing it all the time. Human beings have a natural tendency to draw “envious” attention towards themselves, even under the guise of humility and innocence. Mike Leake hits home with this one. I particularly loved the examples he used in the “SmugPharisee” mock twitter account. Plus I got to learn a new word from the post: Facebragging.
  3. CHURCH SHOULD BE A PLACE OF UNDISTRACTING EXCELLENCE. Stephen Altrogge; “In worship, children’s ministry, preaching, coffee, sanctuary temperature, lobby greeters, and ushers, we are aiming for “undistracting excellence”. If our service to the Lord is sloppy, disorganized, late, and smells bad, it will distract people from communing with God. If the worship team sounds like a walrus seal massacre, people will have trouble focusing their attention on God.”
  4. Finally, in WHY I DON’T LIKE CHRISTIAN MUSIC, Michael Patton takes the question right out of my mouth, “Why is it that when people become Christian in the music business they feel pressured to only sing songs exclusively about Jesus?” The answer could be controversial. read and find out.

Enjoy your reading, friends.

 

Every Church Needs a Choir

imagesI’ll be singing at my church’s Easter Musical next month! For those who know me, that first sentence sounded like hyperbole. But it isn’t. It’s true, guys. I actually just finished practicing my narrative lines (I’ll be singing and narrating) for the day. “Cornell? Singing in a musical? Get out!” I know. It sounds unbelievable. But not as unbelievable as some of the lessons I have been learning in the few days of practice that we’ve had so far. You see, most of the songs that we’ll be singing will contain 3-part harmonies. That’s right, I know about harmonies! (this is exciting). Anyway, this means that we’ll be having three different voices (sopranos, altos and tenors) singing the same lines but in different styles(?). Continue reading Every Church Needs a Choir

Lyrical Review: Appointment by Jimmy Gait ft Cece

I will say it up-front, Jimmy Gait’s new song, “Appointment” is both simple and beautiful, I guess that makes it simply beautiful? As usual, I will go straight to the lyrics, for that’s my niche in these reviews. I have not been able to locate any online links containing the lyrics. But I wrote them down and translated them into English for the sake of this review. The first verse describes how, in our human society, even if you may be close friends with a VIP, you will still need an appointment to see them in your time of need. This is because their office and the system requires it: Continue reading Lyrical Review: Appointment by Jimmy Gait ft Cece