" Then Sings My Soul": Gospel Music as Popular Culture in the Spiritual Lives of Kenyan Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

" Then Sings My Soul": Gospel Music as Popular Culture in the Spiritual Lives of Kenyan Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians


Damaris Seleina Parsitau

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Egerton University

Njoro, Kenya

Abstract

The paper examines and analyses the significance of gospel music as popular culture in the spiritual lives of Kenyan Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians. It argues that the phenomenal rise of gospel in Kenya was at its climax in the 1990s, a period that also coincidentally took place with the liberalization of airwaves and the immense growth of these churches. The nineties were also a period of difficult social, political and economic hardships in Kenya and the rise of gospel music is related to these happenings. Gospel music as popular culture has become an important segment of youth culture in Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches in urban areas and is also a significant expression of youth identity in twenty-first century Kenya. The paper points out that these churches are the main locus of gospel music and have facilitated the successful emergence of social groups such as women, youth and children into public space as cultural workers who had otherwise been rendered invisible. It maintains that Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity has become a place where such social groups are contesting religious and creative space in Kenya's public culture. The paper further argues that although there are many attractions to this form of African Christianity, its main attraction is cultural. This cultural appeal of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity is found in the appropriation of popular culture, which is expressed in music, dance, films, dress code and language. The paper therefore seeks to understand and link religion with popular culture and examines how new religious movements fit into the context of popular culture in Kenya. It maintains that gospel music in Kenya is a blend of local music with influences from many countries and musical styles from other parts of the world. The paper also observes that gospel music represents a valuable entry point into discourses of contemporary African cultural productions (Chitando 2002). The study hopes to contribute to the discourses on religion and public space and religious constructed identities. It argues that the media has ushered in gospel music and these churches into public space and has led to a kind of Pentecostalite culture that has pervaded public culture in Kenya

Gospel Music in Kenya: An Overview

[1] This study examines the evolution and significance of gospel music in the religious life and spiritual experience of Kenyan Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity and in general public culture. The paper was informed by the need to understand gospel music in Kenya that has witnessed a phenomenal growth since the 1990s to date. Three factors were responsible for this immense growth of gospel music, and these are, a deteriorating socio-political and economic environment, the proliferation of Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches, which witnessed phenomenal growth in the 90s, and the liberalization of airwaves, which equally took place at the same time. These three factors ensured the ascendancy and popularity of gospel music in Kenya that has totally revolutionized the country's gospel music scene. Yet despite the immense growth and significance of gospel music as popular culture, African scholars of religion have not paid attention to this significant development in Kenya.

[2] The paper approaches gospel music with Christian theological ideas and examines religion as an integral part of culture, that is, religion as a cultural phenomenon (Chitando 2002). It focuses on gospel music as an integral part of these churches and maintains that these churches are the main locus of gospel music. It contends that gospel music represents a valuable entry point into discussions of contemporary African cultural production (Chitando 2002). The paper also observes that although there are many attractions to these churches, its main appeal is cultural. …

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