When the late Evison Matafale released Chauta ndi Wamphamvu in the Kuyimba 2 album in 2001, everyone recognised the song as secular because the artist behind it was secular.
Fifteen years down the line, secular-cum-gospel musician San B has reproduced the song featuring Nepman and Young Kay.
Considering that San B is a gospel artist, people now treat this reproduced version as a gospel number.
The song is enjoying airplay on most gospel music shows on different radio stations.
This drives one to wonder as to what defines a gospel song?
This brings into debate several songs that were done by famous secular musicians in the country.
For example, the songs Samuel, Yesu Adzabwera and Muyimbire by secular musician Lucius Banda carry gospel messages.
But are these secular songs because they were recorded by secular musicians?
Definitely, if the same songs were done by gospel musicians such as Ethel Kamwendo-Banda, Grace Chinga or Thoko Katimba, people could have labelled them as gospel songs.
This confusion is also seen with songs of some international musicians.
For instance, secular musician R Kelly released U Saved Me in 2006.
The song carries a spiritual message.
However, for many people this is not a gospel song because it was composed and sung by a secular musician who is already famous with secular songs.
Secular-cum-gospel musician McDonald Mlaka Maliro’s defence on his shift to gospel music has added confusion on the debate.
Mlaka says he has always been a gospel musician even when he was doing secular music.
“Listen to my previous albums. All of them carried biblical messages. Therefore, I don’t agree when people say I was composing and singing secular music. The fact is that I was doing gospel music in a secular world,” he said.
Indeed, listening to Mlaka’s Dzanja Lalemba and Maloto albums, which brought him into the limelight, one sees that Mlaka’s composition has always been about gospel. Most of his lyrics slanted towards biblical stories and spiritual teachings.
Duncan Nyirongo, a music fanatic from Mzuzu, says any song that is done by a musician who is not a born again is a secular song.
For him, even if such musician sings the message about God, the song is “unholy” and cannot be treated as a gospel song.
“I mark a song as gospel one when the musician is a born again and has declared that he or she is gospel musician. Therefore, Chauta ndi Wamphamvu by Matafale is a secular song while the remix by San B is a gospel song,” says Nyirongo.
However, renowned music promoter Jai Banda says people should categorise music based on the lyrics not the musician.
For Jai, if Lucius does a song carrying the gospel, people should treat it as a gospel song because what matters are the lyrics not spiritual life of the artist.
“Therefore, don’t be surprised when a radio DJ plays Samuel, Yesu Adzabwera or Muimbireni by Lucius Banda in a gospel music show,” says Jai.
Pastor Francis Kapheni of Assemblies of God in Dedza agrees with Jai, saying the right way to define gospel music is to consider the content of the song not the status of the artist.
“Gospel means good news. Good news is any news which is preached to comfort, encourage and heal broken hearts of the audience regardless of who did the song.
“In this regard, the song Chauta ndi Wamphamvu by Evison Matafale is a gospel song. San B just reproduced it. Since the lyrics have not changed, it remains a gospel song,” says Kapheni.
Head of programmes and presenter of Malawi music at Galaxy FM, Kennedy Nkombezi, says people got it wrong when they defined secular and gospel music.
He said most of the local musicians sing gospel and spiritual music.
“By definition, gospel means good news which Jesus Christ brought. Therefore, if you listen to music by Lucius Banda, and many so called secular musicians, you will realise that they sing gospel.
“To me, secular music is about violence and obscene language. Therefore, I don’t think the likes of Lucius, Skeffa Chimoto and others sing such type of music. We have full musicians such as Joe Gwaladi and some urban musicians who sing real secular music in which they us obscene language,” says Nkombezi.
Kapheni says people should change their mindset of treating gospel song as a secular song just because the musician is not a born again. n