Aheated debate has erupted among gospel artists over a performance by Lucius Banda at a gospel show in Lilongwe on Sunday.
Lucius performed at Sheafer Square Garden together with The Marvelous Deeds, Kamuzu Barracks Singers and The Great Angels Choir, among others, to support Soul Savers Praise Team Devil Ukuchepa CD launch.
But gospel musicians, through Gospel Musician Forum on WhatsApp, are debating if it is right and proper for secular artists to be part of a performance in gospel shows.
Some of the artists condemned the line-up, arguing that the organisers compromised their faith by involving a secular musician.
Quoting the Bible, they argued that light and darkness cannot come together, and that the show could have been motivated by love of money to woo more patrons.
In defence, the other artists say such shows are a response to The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 where Christians are told to go into the world to convert non-believers.
They argued that such shows could be used as a bait to bring to Christ secular artists together with their audience.
The debate underscores the adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The argument is as old as the music industry itself. In fact, it is not the first time that gospel and ‘secular’ artists have shared a stage.
Lucius has performed before at a gospel show in Mzuzu together with The Great Angels Choir during the GOtv launch.
And next month, he will be performing at Bernadetta Mlaka Maliro’s gospel album launch.
Several other secular artists have also performed at gospel shows.
The same can be said about gospel artists performing at secular shows. Mlaka Maliro has performed twice at the Likoma Festival.
Thoko Katimba has performed at the launch of Lucius’ Thank You album.
What then has rekindled the debate? For starters, it’s difficult to say there is secular music in Malawi because ‘secular’ means being separate from religion.
Webster dictionary defines secular as “relating to the worldly or temporal; not overtly or relating to religious.”
Going by the thinking of a Christian writer Gerard Bonner, the term secular is subjective and could encompass much of what is considered gospel.
He says this is premised on the fact that not all songs with the name God in it are gospel neither is it the case that any song without the name God is secular or non-gospel.
“The true issue here is not the genre you sing but the message that you live. Singing the gospel without the character of the gospel makes the gospel song just a nice melody with words,” writes Bonner in his entry Gospel vs Secular.
In agreement, Lucius said such criticism is coming from individuals who are not mature spiritually. He said just as Jesus Christ did come for non-believers, gospel artists need to target that particular group of people as well.
“This argument is coming from individuals who are still young in Christ. But for those who are mature do understand that there is nothing wrong with that. How would one preach to non-believers without reaching out to them?” he wondered.
Lucius advised musicians to desist from labelling music in Malawi as gospel or secular, saying that the country has no secular music.
“We don’t have secular music in Malawi. Secular is something that is against the existence of God. But in Malawi I don’t think there is a musician who denounces God.
“As of me, I can’t classify myself as a secular or gospel musician. I encourage people against vices such as theft, immorality, among others, whether in pubs or in gospel shows,” said Lucius, answering the question whether he is a gospel or secular artist.
Lucius, however, said in various interviews after releasing his 18th album, Thank You, that the album has six gospel songs.
In an interview, Kelvin Sato, one of the gospel artists against involvement of secular artists in gospel shows, said such shows are not conducted in truth.
Sato, disputing music promoter Peter Mlangeni’s stand that such shows are a bait to reach out to non-believers, claimed that organisers want to make more money from Lucius due to his big fan base.
“The aim of conducting gospel shows is to reach out to non-believers. But the truth about the shows in question is that they are motivated by the love of money. It is not necessarily that they want to preach to that audience.
“Organisers have observed that patrons are fed up with gospel shows which are always the same. What changes are organisers and venues,” said Sato.
He observed that such shows will have negative impact on some believers, especially the immature, who may end up compromising their faith.
“It’s a 50-50 affair where gospel artists may reach out to the non-believers, but it’s also possible that the secular artist will reach out to believers who may be motivated to start patronising secular shows in pubs,” he said.