by James M. Manheim
Tye Tribbett and G.A., an African American gospel choir from Camden, New Jersey, with a young and extremely energetic leader, is coming to Hill Auditorium on Saturday, December 9. Gospel music tends to fly under the media radar, and even a group that can fill a space the size of Hill may not get a lot of advance notice. This one offers plenty of hand-clapping energy, and it's right on gospel's stylistic forward edge.
A twin dynamic is at work in black gospel music. One direction of this dynamic is shared with the white religious tradition and was articulated by an English minister, Rowland Hill (1744-1833). His formulation was so concise and elegant that it was soon misattributed to Martin Luther: "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" he asked. Contemporary Christian music on both sides of the racial divide pursues secular models, often at a distance of mere months.
Tribbett has been listening to music from two secular sources. One is the phenomenally popular hip-hop group Outkast, whose ambitious albums draw on a wide variety of R&B and pop styles, bringing them together into semidramatic presentations. The other is the sexy, full-throated kind of song called neosoul, which is particularly popular in the Philadelphia area, Tribbett's home. There are a lot of James Brown moves in Tribbett's vocals, bulked up in the music with thicker, more electronic modern beats. Tribbett is a follower of gospel megastar Kirk Franklin, a pioneer in incorporating hip-hop and contemporary R&B into gospel, but his range of styles is even wider. "Hallelujah to Your Name" opens with a pennywhistle (or a keyboard's approximation of one), not a common instrument in gospel, and broadens out into a big Riverdance-style chorus.
With gospel, the dynamic goes in the opposite direction as well: gospel not only borrows from secular music but also shapes it. Religious music in the African American community has always been a wellspring of new musical devices, which
| Ladies, say it: you hit me hard (You hit |
me hard) Ow! (I should be knocked out.)
Unh! (Things I've been through) Don't
even want to talk about. (Don't even want to talk about.)
You crossed the line
(You crossed the
line) this time (you violated me).
(I want revenge.) And I want everything
back from A to Z!
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