The seemingly indelible perception about the country’s gospel music scene in the minds of majority has been that of mediocrity and hypocrisy. Rightly so, the above holds when current developments are critically observed.
However, just as we have the other side to every situation, whichever way one analyses the conditions, there exists a fraternity of artistes that upholds high standards in creativity, inspiration, vision, dedication and commitment in the type of gospel music they do. This fraternity is the Ghana Contemporary Gospel Music Circuit.
Contemporary gospel is today the most commercial variation of gospel music worldwide. Rather than rehashing the well known elements of traditional gospel music, contemporary gospel has modernised it with elementary fusions of crossover ‘R&B’, Soul and hip rhythms laced with dynamic vocals.
In Ghana, this brand of gospel is characterised by a blend of foreign gospel rhythms, choral compositions and vocal patterns as well occasional tap into the country’s native rhythms of adowa, kpalogo and traditional hi-life. Aside the messages being well packaged and revered, strictly biblical and inspirational, the quality and creativity of musical compositions, instrumentation and live ministration are of high standards.
Danny Nettey, Pastor Helen Yawson, Nii Okai, Ike Nanor, Joyful Way Incorporated, Commissioned Family, Impact Project, KNUST’S Gospel Explosion, among others who took up the mantle from trail blazers such as Calvary Road Singers, The Rescue Mission, the late Ola Williams, Rev. Tom Bright Davids, Pator Joe Beechem, etcetera, are still keeping this endangered brand of gospel music’s fire burning though the constant neglect by the media. This is partially as a result of the mainstream gospel’s gross appeal to the masses though its (mainstream gospel) occasional fraught with mediocrity.
Nevertheless, a revolution is set to begin within the gospel music scene and a further raise of contemporary gospel’s bar, with the release of the Harbour City Mass Choir’s debut album which is titled, ‘Touching Our Youth’- a live recorded contemporary gospel album.
Acting upon divine direction, two friends, Nii Okai Okai and Kwame Amihere, decided to assemble budding music talents within the Tema Municipality in September, 1999 and little did they envisage that they were setting the grounds for the present 120-man Harbour City Mass Choir (HCMC). Later in October of the same year, Rt. Rev Yedu, one of the pioneering missionaries to Tema, inaugurated the choir.
During its nine years of existence, the choir has fronted the unpopular brand of (live) Contemporary Ghanaian Gospel for years unending with creative compositions, splendid arrangements and anointed ministrations supported by quality and mind-blowing instrumentation.
Having worked with the finest church musicians (instrumentalists) such as Kofi Dua Anto(KODA), Makafui Kwami, Ernest Eshun, David Okai, Henry Datsomor, David Kyei, and the contemporary (singers) likes of Pastor Helen Yawson, Ike Nanor, Grace Obeng (Graciella), etc, whose mentorship and partnership have led to the churning out of the choir’s own instrumentalists and talented lead vocals respectively.
Finally, after nine years of waiting on the Lord to perfect their talents, to produce the best of worship and praise to God; their creativity, hard work and determination has been poured into the 8-track album, ‘Touching Our Youth’, which was released late last year by means of an explosive celebration launch. Judging by their outing at the concert of the celebration launch, one would agree with launch compere, Bernard Avle (host of Citi FM’s Breakfast Show –Africa’s Best Interactive Morning Radio Show), that Harbour City Mass Choir (HCMC) is a clear living example of the anointed gospel music talents that abound in Ghana. Perhaps, Alvin Slaughter’s music director’s comment when Harbour City Mass Choir backed Alvin Slaughter (when the latter was in Ghana) provides some food for thought for the doubting Thomas, “... it’s rare even in the States to have a well-organised and an all-round choir of this calibre.”
Speaking to this writer on why the long wait and the now assuring decision by the release of the album, Nii Okai of Moko Be fame, HCMC’s music director (and now president), reiterated that, “We decided to wait on God for the right time and I guess it has been a blessing waiting because it’s really helped us to sound better for God than two years ago when the songs were ready.”
The album, ‘Touching Our Youth’, is studded with fusions of Soul, Jazz, R&B and its associated rhythms neatly arranged over matured and dynamic vocals in worship and praise, and indeed defines the richness of God’s talents in the Contemporary Ghanaian Gospel fraternity.
Accordingly, the live album opens with a well composed jazzy instrumental interlude introducing the Choir to the listener and relaying a fair idea of the level of creativity to expect next. As such, the title track, Touching Our Youth does so as its hypnotic jazzy grooves and soul blends of chords and horns define the 120-man choir’s origin, purpose and goal.
A soulful rearrangement of the popular Ghanaian chorus, Medo Wo (I’ll love You), led by the choir’s two unmistakable voices, Nana Yaa Yeboah and David Osabutey, confirm the waiting period to be of immense help. Then Nii Okai, showing rather another hidden side of him, leads the choir to pledge perpetual praise to God on Yebe Ntonton (We’ll Praise), a hip-praise song.
Perhaps, the best surprise package on the album is Madeke Me So O (None Compares), the Ewe rendition of Nii Okai’s Moko Be – arguably the best-ever rearrangement of the originally Ga worship song. Eyra Gadzekpo’s dynamism together with the juicy piano and bass notes carry the song high to express the sovereignty of God.
Good old Georgina Nkansah-Asante’s soulful touch to Yehowah Yeyi W’aye (Jehovah We Praise You) portrays yet again HCMC’s unbeatable creative rearrangements. Then the album erupts once again with two hip-praises Nyame W’ayemye (God’s Kindness) and Yesu Sumo Mi (Jesus Loves Me) led by Ben Essel and David Osabutey respectively.
The album ends with Allelujah from the Methodist Hymn Book, however, not without bringing to mind long and deep traditional gospel which arcs into a string of retro styles.
With all songs written or arranged by Nii Okai, and recorded live, mixed and mastered by the anointed Kofi Dua Anto of Koded Studious, Tarkoradi, ‘Touching Our Youth’ is a must-have album for both lovers of gospel and quality music and with the needed attention will announce publicly and officially the ever creative and inspiring contemporary gospel circuit.
The album could be purchased directly through +233 244521853 or email to email@example.com whether in abroad as arrangements would be made.
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