Nigeria, often referred to as the “Giant of Africa,” is not only known for its vibrant culture and rich history but also for its diverse and soul-stirring gospel music scene. Nigerian gospel music has gained immense popularity within the country and globally, captivating the hearts of millions with its powerful messages and tunes. In this article, we will delve into the essence of Nigerian gospel music, exploring its origins, influences, and unique characteristics.
Historical Origins of Gospel Music in Nigeria
Nigerian gospel music has its roots in the Christian church and the traditional rhythms and Melodies of Nigeria. The introduction of Christianity to Nigeria by European missionaries in the 19th century played a pivotal role in the development of gospel music. As Christianity spread across Nigeria, it brought with it the Western style of religious music, including hymns and choral music. These hymns and sacred songs are often repeated in a call-and-response fashion with churches relying on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythm or with Nigerian traditional instruments such as drums and shekere.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Nigerian musicians began to incorporate Western musical styles into their music creating a fusion of African rhythms and Western instrumentation. This resulted in a refined style of singing by church choirs. The church choirs were fully dedicated to music and gave it their full attention as they saw it as a service to God and not just people. This level of dedication was evident in the exceptional quality of music produced by church choirs at the time.
Rise of Gospel Artists in Nigeria
As church choirs continued to produce quality music as worship to God various talents were discovered from the church. In fact, many secular artists in the Afrobeats and Hip-hop space started from the church.
The Role of Technology and Media
The role of technology and media in the Nigerian Gospel Music industry cannot be overlooked as it is one of the major contributors to the industry’s success. The effects of technology in the industry can be seen in four major technological leaps, namely; The use of tape cassettes, CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs, the advent of smartphones and mp3 players, and finally the introduction of streaming services.
1. Tape Cassettes
The Nigerian gospel industry was first majorly boosted in the 1990s and early 2000s through the widespread use of tape cassettes.
The wide use of tape cassettes meant that people could now listen to their favourite gospel artists at the convenience of their homes or on the go in their vehicles. This helped to build a strong connection between artists and their fans.
2. CD-ROMs and DVDs
From tape cassettes, the technology for distributing music shifted the CD ROMs and DVDs. This allowed for easier distribution of both music audio and music videos. Many became fans of gospel music videos, both old and young. Many children from around Nigeria fell in love with the popular Destiny Kids who released captivating Christian kids’ songs.
3. Smartphones and MP3 players
As many Nigerians began to acquire smartphones embedded with music players, this meant listening to music was much easier. It wasn’t uncommon to have your favourite tracks on your phone to listen to at any time. Songs were shared mainly through Bluetooth from one device to another at the time.
Some dedicated music lovers even took it to a higher level by having a separate device for playing music. Many had MP3 music players like the iPod or the cheaper Chinese devices that were all over the market then. Easier access to music meant more plays from the audience which also meant wider reach for artists, more revenue and improved quality overall.
4. Streaming Services
The latest and the most significant technological effect on the Nigerian gospel music industry is the introduction of streaming services. Streaming services have had a significant impact on Nigerian gospel music, transforming the way artists produce, distribute, and connect with their audiences. Some of these services include YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music. It has brought a lot of benefits to the space, some of which include:
Global Reach and Accessibility:
Streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube have made it possible for Nigerian gospel artists to reach a global audience. International listeners can easily access Nigerian gospel music, leading to increased exposure and recognition for artists.
Streaming platforms use algorithms and personalized playlists to recommend music to users. This has allowed lesser-known Nigerian gospel artists to gain visibility alongside established ones, increasing their chances of discovery by new audiences.
b) Revenue Generation:
Streaming services provide a revenue stream for Nigerian gospel artists through royalty payments. This income can be crucial for independent artists and can support their music production and ministry efforts.
c) Reduced Piracy:
One of the major problems that came with the use of CDs and DVDs was piracy. This meant that many gospel artists did not get their fair share of the earnings from their music. However, streaming services have helped combat music piracy in Nigeria. Artists and record labels can earn money from their music, reducing the financial losses incurred due to piracy.
d) Democratization of Distribution:
Before streaming services became a thing, there were many gospel artists out there with quality music but weren’t heard because of the difficulty and amount of funds needed for music distribution and promotion. But with this new development, artists no longer need to rely solely on traditional record labels to distribute their music. Independent Nigerian gospel artists can upload their songs directly to streaming platforms, democratizing the music distribution process.
e) Live Streaming and Virtual Concerts:
Lastly, one of the positive effects of technology on gospel music is seen in live streaming and virtual concerts. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming services enabled Nigerian gospel artists to reach their fans through live-streaming concerts and virtual worship experiences. This has given birth to more and more online events which have further helped to promote gospel music in Nigeria.
Diverse Styles in Nigerian Gospel Music
One of the remarkable aspects of Nigerian gospel music is its diversity. The genre encompasses various styles otherwise called sub-genres, each with its distinct characteristics, rhythms, and cultural influences. These sub-genres cater to different musical tastes and spiritual expressions within the gospel music tradition. Here are some notable sub-genres of gospel music:
- Traditional Gospel
- Highlife Gospel
- Gospel Reggae
- Praise and Worship
- Contemporary Gospel
- Acappella Gospel
Challenges Faced by Nigerian Gospel Music
Nigerian gospel music, despite its growth and popularity, faces several challenges that impact both artists and the industry as a whole. These challenges include:
Limited Mainstream Recognition
Nigerian gospel music often struggles to gain the same level of mainstream recognition as secular music genres. This is because gospel music is often conservative in nature as it is meant to serve religious purposes other than just entertainment, limiting its visibility on popular music charts and in the media.
Gospel artists face financial challenges as gospel music sales may not be as lucrative as other genres. Many did not see the need for gospel singers and instrumentalists to be paid in the name that the art of singing was a service to God and not a business.
Like other music genres in Nigeria, gospel music is susceptible to piracy. This illegal distribution of music results in revenue loss for artists and the Nigerian gospel industry.
Lack of Quality Production
Some gospel songs may suffer from inadequate production quality due to budget constraints or lack of access to professional recording studios and equipment.
Theological and Cultural Criticisms
Nigerian gospel music often faces criticism from both religious and cultural circles. Common criticisms include concerns that the original style of gospel music is beginning to fade away and gospel artists are becoming “worldly” by adopting the hip-hop and Afrobeats music style. Another is the “Commercialization of Gospel Music” where just recently Rev. Fr. Oluoma, a catholic priest, slammed Mercy Chinwo for charging 10 million naira to perform in churches.
Of a truth, many of these criticisms are genuine ones that must be looked into for the further growth of gospel music in Nigeria.
Notable Nigerian Gospel Artists
Nigerian gospel music boasts a wealth of talented artists who have made significant contributions to the genre both within Nigeria and on the international stage. Their talent, devotion, and musical prowess have inspired countless listeners and have helped shape the direction of gospel music. Here are a few notable Nigerian gospel artists:
- Nathaniel Bassey
- Mercy Chinwo
- Moses Bliss
- Solomon Lange
- Chioma Jesus
- Ada Ehi
- Tim Godfrey
- Prinx Emmanuel
- Theophilus Sunday
- Dunsin Oyekan
- Prospa Ochimana
- Minister GUC
The list is endless, but we have restricted it to these few ones. Each of these artists has made contributions to the growth of gospel music in Nigeria and are still very much in the business of promoting gospel music in Nigeria and all over the world.
Upcoming Nigerian Gospel Artists
The subject of upcoming gospel artists in Nigeria is one that excites me because there are a lot of them. They are not just exceptional in quality but also anointed as well. Here are some of the few upcoming Nigerian gospel artists you should watch out for in the next few years:
Alli-Hakeem Ayobami popularly known as Anendlessocean or AEO for short has been mesmerizing the hearts of many Nigerian gospel music fans. Some of his first releases have already become nationwide anthems and are loved by many. Some of his popular songs include Nazarene, Ji, Cest la Vie, Alone and many more. His latest album, Decagon has already gained nationwide popularity, gaining over 1 Million streams in its first month of release.
Neeja (real name Fafowora Oluwagbeminija Joshua) recently became popular for his gospel music covers on Tiktok and was signed to the Spotlite Nation record label, the record label home to Moses Bliss, Ebuka Songs, and some other wonderful artists. A lot still awaits Neeja in the near future. Some of his recent singles have already become song anthems on the lips of many.
Esther Ola-bisi better known as ‘Labisi’ has emerged winner of the maiden edition of the EeZee Concept’s Gospel Groove Talent Quest (GGTQ). Her debut single Olodumare has already become very popular. It is expected that she will keep rising as a gospel music star.
Limoblaze (born Samuel Onwubiko) has recently been in the news as his gospel Afrobeats songs have been on the lips of many. In just a short span, the Nigerian-born, UK-based award-winning musician, singer and songwriter, has received much industry acclaim. Some of his popular hit songs are Jireh (My Provider), Desire ft. Emandiong, Put it On God. In October last year, he was signed into the Reach Records record label which has the likes of Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee, 1K Phew, WHATUPRG and many others. He has continued to soar and will only continue to advance from here.
5. CalledOut Music
Born in Kaduna, Nigeria, now based in England, CalledOutMusic (real name: Samuel Nwachukwu) is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He started his career In 2016, and between then and now, he has released two successful albums, won a Best Gospel Act at UK Entertainment Award (2020), MOBO awards (2020), and toured internationally. CalledOutMusic is famously known for his deep lyricism.
The Future of Nigerian Gospel Music
It’s hard to predict the future of Nigerian gospel music, but one thing is certain: it will continue to rise. The industry has continued to evolve with the times. One of the recent trends in the genre is the birth of the Afro-gospel sub-genre which has received massive acceptance from fans, though some criticisms are still there.
Despite the international growth of the industry, it still has more potential to be globally recognised. Considering the number of talented artists, the strong diaspora connection and the wonderful Nigerian culture, Nigerian gospel music has the potential to spread far and wide.
Today Nigerian gospel music remains a vibrant and important part of the
country’s music scene the genre has continued to evolve, improving in quality and incorporating elements of Afrobeats, hip-hop and other popular genres while still retaining its roots in traditional Nigerian rhythms and melodies Nigerian gospel music has also become an important cultural export with artists like sinach and Nathaniel Bassey gaining International Acclaim and helping to spread the gospel message around the world.
From its humble beginnings to its diverse styles and talented artists, Nigerian gospel music is a testament to the power of faith, music, and culture. Whether you’re seeking spiritual solace or simply enjoy uplifting music, Nigerian gospel music offers a rich and fulfilling experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
I hope this article was an insightful one about The Rise of Nigerian Gospel Music. Do well to share your thoughts in the comments section and share this post with others if you found it enlightening.