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African Pentecostals at top of gospel music

12 July 2019


Roy Francis

Roy Francis

THE praise and worship music found in the African Pentecostal Church is in the ascendant over traditional Caribbean gospel music, the author of a new book on the history of gospel music has said.

Roy Francis, who has written How to Make Gospel Music Work for You, said last month: “All the energy and vibrancy is in the African churches, and so all churches are now adopting the praise and worship music, which is more of a multicultural and fusion sound.”

The book charts the history of gospel music in the UK, from its arrival with the Windrush generation in the 1950s to contemporary differences. It also gives tips to someone wanting to make a success of using gospel music.

One golden rule, Mr Francis said, was to get the churches on board. He explained: “Within the black Pentecostal churches, pastors are the de facto promoters and A and R people — you can be a resident musician at a church, some places even have a music minister now. . .

“The key is understanding how to get into Pentecostal churches with your music, build relationships there, and then branch out. . . Like everything else, if you have a great song, everything will happen.”

Mr Francis joined his parents in migrating to London from the Caribbean in the 1950s, and saw how gospel music developed in the UK in the decades since then.

“Gospel music in this country was actually West Indian church music, which came out of a fusion between indigenous Caribbean religious music and South American music, combined with Anglican hymns.

“Most West Indians coming to the UK were Anglicans or Pentecostals. In the early days, most Caribbean churches sang hymns, which they don’t really do now.

“Caribbean churches used to use Anglican liturgy, which influenced the music, and then, in the ’60s, it was influenced by Billy Graham’s crusades, starting at Earl’s Court — and I was there.

“Lots of West Indians went there, it was the first expression of evangelism in public that they’d seen. They took away the songbooks from Billy Graham back to their churches, and this became part of West Indian church music.”

Today, there is a split between churches that have more of an African history, and those that trace their roots back to the first Caribbean immigrants.

“The music in black Pentecostal churches today is divided into two groups: Caribbean, where the music is more gospel and R & B; and African, where it is very much ‘praise and worship’ gospel music,” Mr Francis said.

“It’s survival of the fittest, and African churches are currently in the ascendancy.”

Asked why he wrote the book, he said: “I have a publisher friend who has been telling me for ages that we live in a world that runs on knowledge.

“Anyone can make a CD quite easily, and it is a reasonable amount of money, but people were struggling with how to make it a success.”

How to Make Gospel Music Work For You.

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