Popularity of local gospel music on the rise thanks to the likes of Dr Tumi

27 December 2017 - 15:45 By Khanyi Ndabeni
Gospel artist Dr Tumi
Gospel artist Dr Tumi
Image: Via Twitter

South African urban contemporary gospel music is on the rise‚ thanks to among others‚ the new kid on the block‚ professional doctor turned musician Tumisang Makweya‚ also known as Dr Tumi.

According to gospel music talent scout Tshepo Nzimande and Joyous Celebration founder Lindelani Mkhize‚ having been in the industry less than three years‚ Dr Tumi has managed to influence the growth of the genre.

“He made the contemporary gospel genre better. He introduced fresh new sound and now we are seeing more artists following in his footsteps and becoming more innovative‚” said Mkhize.

While the genre is not necessary new‚ it started in the United States of America (USA) in the 70s and derived from traditional black gospel music‚ with strong influence from many forms of secular pop music and the fusion of traditional gospel music.

According to the South African Gospel Music Association‚ in South Africa it has been more of the underground movement‚ driven mostly by the charismatic movement churches and the prophetic movement‚ that has broken away from the traditional gospel music.

In this country it can be traced back to the 1980s with the likes of Family Factory‚ Joyous Celebration and Benjamin Dube counted as among the few artists who were able to record professionally while the less known would often sell their music in their churches.

“Currently the sound is not bigger than your traditional gospel music. The other factor influencing the growth is the lifestyle change of black people moving from your rural areas‚ townships to more urban spaces. With that shift they want gospel sound that will relate to them and the current situation‚” said Nzimande.

Dr Tumi recently managed to fill up the 20‚000-seater Tickepro Dome‚ following in the footsteps of the hip hop star‚ Cassper Nyovest. Nzimande says in the past none of the three big contemporary gospel groups would have managed to pull such a crowd without the help of traditional gospel artists of the likes of the late Sfiso Ncwane‚ Hlengiwe‚ Sipho Makhabane and Rebecca Malope.

In an interview with the Sunday Times recently‚ Dr Tumi‚ who also recorded his third album‚ Gathering of Worshippers‚ and gained the nod of Grammy award gospel singer Donald Lawrence‚ whom he is set to collaborate with early next year‚ revealed that he recorded most of the songs on his first album Love and Grace soon after suffering from severe depression during his third year while studying medicine when he had contemplated suicide.

Although he grew up in a Christian environment‚ with his father a priest at Assemblies of God‚ he was not a Christian convert back then and all the songs he penned were all original songs.

“But it was hard to get any record deal or distributor for my music. I sold copies from the boot of my car to friends and people who knew me‚ through Christian conferences that I attended with either my father or a gospel group‚” said Dr Tumi‚ who had been very vocal in the past about gospel musicians recycling old choruses and hymns and the lack of creativity in the industry.

But according to Mkhize these songs are much loved by members of the old traditional churches who like their songs performed in the same old way and artists can only tweak them a bit to give it a fresh sound.

“Take Lion of Judah by Lebo Sekgobela that is an old hymn sung by our grandmothers many generations ago. But she gave it a new feel and it blew the market.

“Also gospel music is more popular than any other music genre in the country. With the artist understanding the dynamics of the industry‚ they can become businessmen without being signed to any of the record labels - only if they understand their market and sell directly to the churches that prefer that kind of music.

“As much as we need a lot of Dr Tumis out there‚ I would also love to see some of the old traditional gospel songs loved by our grandparents rearranged and sung in a way that it would appeal to everyone today. I think there is a gap there and it needs to be exploited‚” said Mkhize.

According to Sethathu the urban gospel music genre comes from the hunger of those who love God but were not raised in Church.

“Traditionally there was this belief that rock music was satanic and contemporary gospel music stepped in to oppose this gospel of Jesus. As long as there’s Jesus‚ whether you sing jazz‚ rock or pop‚ it is gospel. It is just that most artists were confined to the church market and it was difficult to get recognition.”

With a total of 13 gospel awards - including a Metro FM‚ SAMA and gospel crown music awards - Dr Tumi had to close two of his medical practices in order to cope with the demands of the music industry. He is fully booked throughout the festive season‚ performing throughout the country as well as in other countries‚ including Ghana‚ the UK‚ Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

“I’m planning on a country tour too next year‚ where I will perform in nine different stadiums of nine cities. I’m also looking forward to performing at the Experience which is the biggest gathering of Christians in Lagos‚ Nigeria‚ and pulls in over a million people from all over the world‚” said Dr Tumi.