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Church music in Nigeria: The journey so far – Part 4

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Gospel musician, Tope Alabi

English choral anthems, which uplifted the spirits of the people, were commonly sung. Anthem books included Empire Anthem book, Hosanna Anthem book, Choral Anthem book, Church Anthem Book, Creation by Josef Haydn, and the world most renowned oratorio, Messiah by G.F. Handel.

Following the end of the war on January 15, 1970, the music and popular sacred choruses among Christians tilted towards thankfulness to God, and happy survival for those who made it alive.

Youth Fellowship band with indigenous instruments, bongo, conga, pot drum, slit drum, ogene (ogele), ekere, and maracas (usually reserved for offertory) gained more prominence, appreciation and acceptability.

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I mena Chineke mo; I mena Onyeker’uwa mo. I mena Chineke, Onye ker’uwa, Nna I mena O (Thank you my God; thank you my Creator. Thank you my God, the Creator of the world).

Consequently, the choral music that the church was used to, was forced to accommodate the contemporary music with the American gospel music style as the bedrock. The new gospel music of the Voice of the Cross emerged.

The singing band that was a side attraction in the churches became part of the worship music.

This new movement, as much as it had its own advantage and place in Christian worship, also created a window of ‘anything goes.’ Dance styles, music genres, undefined emotional expressions, and all other performance styles from outside the church sneaked into the worship services and programmes.

Thus, this influence aided the process of ‘music in the church’ as against ‘church music.’

The argument here is not to assess the spirituality of this new movement, but of importance is that the skill acquired before this period in Church music started dwindling due to the style of ‘music in the church’ and the crusaders/sponsors who are not trained in the musical art.

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Scripture Union, Deeper Life Ministry, Greater Evangelism World Crusade and other fellowship setups sprang up with their own styles of music for praise and worship.

Highlife style band music crept into the Church under the guise of praise and worship band. There was an upsurge of parody.

New texts were imposed on existing sacred tunes; popular secular tunes were treated with sacred texts and vice versa. In the midst of this development, quality of song texts waned in content, quality and spirituality.

The new Church music lacked in textual relevancy, depth in Scriptural holiness and meaning. Many people were no longer conscious of the difference between ‘Church music’ and the ‘music in the Church.’ To some extent, the Church became a mere social body with little spirituality.

The new comers, the new ‘generation’ churches, more or less engage in what one would call commercialisation in the Church, all competing for converts and the latest musical genre and dance steps.

The volume of sound in the sanctuary during “praise and worship band ministration” is equally competing for the possible deafening decibel.

Prof. Onyee N. Nwankpa, Ph.D. (Calgary, Canada),
Professor of Music Composition and Conducting.
University of Port Harcourt.


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