Testing Boundaries: Exploring New Frontiers in the Culture of Gospel Music

By Goddard, Dwane | Kola, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Testing Boundaries: Exploring New Frontiers in the Culture of Gospel Music


Goddard, Dwane, Kola


Over the last twenty years gospel music in the Caribbean has taken on a whole new outlook. Some might wonder if gospel artistes are applying simple marketing strategies to bring about this change. One of the key factors which influence the product to be marketed is the main target group. The car dealership Nissan has launched an all-new four-wheel drive Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) called the Xterra and the very name speaks to the target group Nissan had in mind when they created this vehicle. The "X" represents Generation X to which the marketing thrust is directed and the "terra" stands for the earth on which the vehicle will travel. This concept can be seen as an answer to the question of what has brought about this change in the Gospel Music Industry. This essay seeks to define, investigate and to determine the origins of these boundaries.

The literature review explores what has been written on this subject and examines what the critics and the authorities in this area of study are saying. There is a methodological approach used in gathering the data and this will be shared with the reader. In a paper such as this some limitations exist and these will be explored. A critical analysis of the data and concluding thoughts are cogent to this study

This study grew out of a general interest in the area of popular culture and more so in the area of music. It is clear however that not many people have actually written extensively on the subject of contemporary gospel music and this will be dealt with more in-depth in my section on Limitations.

Gospel music still remains 'virgin territory' to some extent as far as critical writing is concerned. However, much of the music continues to be produced and much of it continues to transcend boundaries that were for a long time imposed on the genre. This study will look closely at the music of three artistes and their attempt to revolutionize the gospel music industry. These artistes are Sherwin "The Intellect' Gardner, Steve 'Stichie' Lang and Terel 'Papa San' Thompson. These three men are popular on the gospel music scene and the latter two were well known on the secular stage, having performed as Reggae/Dub artiste in their early days in the music industry. I invite you to go on this journey with me into the world of contemporary gospel music.

University lecturer and authority on Popular Culture Doctor Curwen Best in his book, Roots to Popular Culture, allocates an entire section to issues surrounding gospel music. The section entitled "Routes to gospel and popular culture" is summed up in these words of Best:

"The gospel word, popular performance poetry, and new hardcore stylings all represent central sites for the further development of a Barbadian aesthetic. Outside of the calypso forum it is these three areas which have the most potential for projecting a Barbadian culture into the 21st century. To my mind this is the reason for treating them together as I do." (P 172)

In this section of his book Best makes some very pertinent comments that give support to some of the arguments which will be proposed in this paper. Best begins this chapter by saying that:

"For some time I Have been suggesting that "secular" and "gospel" artists are more closely related than Barbadian society permits one to believe." (P 172)

This observation in itself points toward what can be considered a boundary which gospel music faces. It is necessary that this relationship first be seen as being a reality for the new trends to be more widely accepted in the church.

This quote from Best also suggests another boundary.

"The music of the Anglo-Catholic traditions has had a tremendous influence on the music of other denominations in Barbados ... The church leadership also perpetuated the social orderings and hierarchies which pervaded society within that period ... these established church institutions had worked with the state, and so became symbols and carriers of social status for many individuals. …

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