28 May 2006

Uganda: How Church Music is Getting Jiggy


The first time I stepped in a church for born-again Christians, I thought I would get a headache before the service even begun. There was a lot of noise and when the pastor came, I assumed he would get the congregation to keep quiet. Instead, he shouted. And lo! The worshipping brethren replied with a thunderous Amen!

It was then time to pray. The person leading the prayer session urged the brethren to pray in tongues. It was an emotional scene, to say the least. There was a combination of different languages, but none that I had ever heard of.

Others cried out, "Jesus, Jesus, my God my God aaahhhh"! For a moment, I wondered to whom God was going to listen; may be the folks who shouted loudest. I tried praying, but I couldn't concentrate. I instead stared at the spectacle that was unfolding before me. People were falling on the ground, squirming and screaming! My neighbour exclaimed, 'this is church!'

Origin of Balokole worship

The born-again Christian churches are under the Pentecostal movement. The Pentecostal movement, which is believed to have started in the United States of America early in 1901, is still in rapid growth. According to http://www. religous movements.com, it is the largest and fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world today. What distinguishes born-again folks from other Christian denominations is the way they worship, and their beliefs in spirit baptism - "being slain in the spirit," and the practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The latter comprise: healing, signs and wonders, which are observed with a lot of zeal and fanaticism. The Pentecostal movement is believed to have began in Topeka, Kansas (USA) in a Bible school, conducted by Charles Fox Parham. Other scholars, however, emphasise that the Acts (of the Apostles) are the origin of this movement.

To the majority of people that Sunday life talked to, church is supposed to be a solemn affair; bowed heads, and clapping only when one is told to do so! However, others do not think so. One interviewee, Ms Sarah Namatovu says: "Contemporary music brings life into the church, and it is very captivating."

Fast forward

In the past, the only musical instrument that was common in the church was the organ. But today, thanks to technological advancement and attitudinal change to worship, keyboards and electric drums are the in-thing.

Consequently, church music, unlike before, is now a crowd puller. In most churches, there exists more than one choir. Gone are days when slow hymns dominated worship and praise to the Almighty. It is now not strange to hear rap, pop, ragga, reggae, RnB and all the other contemporary music styles. There is Christian rock too!

In 1997 renowned Gospel artist Kirk Franklin and his God's Property introduced gospel to pop radio, and music television with their hit single Stomp. It spread like a wild fire among the youth. As a result, they no longer have to be forced to go to church. The vigour in them is well utilised in church choirs.

You may have seen them on television, spotting very smart uniforms. The days of the long oversized gowns for uniforms are also long gone. Any attire, whether casual or executive, passes.

In similar vein, hairstyles spotted by many a female born-again Christian, headed for church, are similar to those atop the heads of revellers headed for weddings or on religious fetes. The boys, in some choirs, have earrings and long hair; some even spot cornrows. That is the modern day church for you.

At the Miracle Centre Cathedral, in Kampala, anybody is eligible to join the choir as long as they have the talent to sing. There are no age limits, like it used to be; you just have to be interested, and be able to sing.

According to Pastor Brian Damba of Destiny International Church, "This is the 21st century, and the style of praise and worship is contemporary to meet the needs of the time."

He explains thus: "[The] Church should be relevant to the generation of the time. If young people can dance and sing, then let them do so in church."

The flip side

He, however, observes that there is a tendency of going over-board. "There is a thin line between what is acceptable and what is not."

Damba says this calls for strict discipline among the concerned pastors, or else the church will end up as a place for mere entertainment instead of genuine worship and praise to God.

Ms Irene Danze a member of the worship team in the Miracle Centre Cathedral, Rubaga, also notes that worship has come a long way. She says: "It is good because young people can now express themselves in church instead of looking for other avenues like disco halls."

The music and miracles draw crowds, and increase church attendance. That is why many churches are mushrooming. There have, however, been accusations that many people who are not true pastors are taking advantage of this trend and are setting up churches, replete with attractive choirs, so as to make money.

"Miracles also attract people to churches," says Pastor Patrick Makumbi of Gospel Healing Centre, Lweza. He notes that people do not believe in miracles, and that most of them think it stopped in during the Bible (writing) era. So, whoever performs miracles is quickly branded a witchdoctor. Speaking in tongues is a major component of worship among Pentecostal movement members. And as a result, some pastors have been labelled Satan's agents.

Makumbi concurs that the style of preaching is at times abused. He says: "People who imitate other preachers display a lack of maturity because God does not have duplicate preachers."

The preaching style and language of many a pastor has changed from normal English grammar to fake American accents - all in the name of sophistication and attraction of more people into church, attendant tithe, and daily or weekly church [cash] collections!

Some of the preachers are 'worse' than many disco jockeys on various radio stations and dance halls. The catchword is scream.

One has to scream so as to excite the crowd! And besides screaming, many antics are used by pastors to attract a television audience! These antics; screaming, American accents, stylish attires, hairstyles, etc, all must be in tandem.

The trick here is that people believe that they have heard from God! He has reportedly told them to start a church of their own! It does not matter whether they have to break away from another church so as to set up their own - even if it is just next to another church building, or in a wetland!

Because of this growing trend, the national Fellowship of Born-again Churches now requires that these churches be registered. Is it possible to put God in a doctrinal box?

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