Gospel choir’s mighty mix of old and new

During the latest rock storm generated by Gorillaz in «Demon Days,» Damon Albarn – also the lead singer of British pop band Blur – uses this choir in a sensational conversation with strings to create a hip-hop, rock and pop mosaic. Gorillaz is just one of many pop, hip-hop, rock and soul groups to collaborate with the London Community Gospel Choir. George Michael, Celine Dion, Chaka Khan, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Sir Elton John, Tina Turner, Mariah Carey, Sir Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, Beyonce, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sarah Brightman and Joe Cocker have all used the ensemble’s powerful sound and beat and rich harmonies. More than a gospel choir, the London Community Gospel Choir is a flexible vocal ensemble, which on the one hand interprets traditional gospel music, while on the other, feels out the contemporary music trends, thus offering a unique combination of gospel, soul, swing and rhythm ‘n’ blues, full of energy and vivacity. This has always been what the Reverend Bazil Meade had in mind when he established the choir in 1982. The first of its kind in Britain, the choir boasts 200 members both in London and on its outskirts. For the first time in Greece, local audiences have the chance to experience the vibrancy of the London Community Gospel Choir at the Patras Ancient Odeon on Tuesday, July 19. The event, part of the city’s 20th International Festival, will feature 15 choir members and three musicians. Kathimerini spoke to Meade before the concert. One would expect to come across the choir in churches, yet you’re in nightclubs, private parties, cabarets, theater and television shows. I never wished for the choir to present «dehydrated» gospel music. All of our collaborations, whether in live performances or recordings, make me very happy because in this way we have broadened our range and our audiences. Does this mean that gospel music has, to a certain degree, drifted away from religion? There is still enormous respect for tradition, and the relationship between religiousness and music is still the same, strong and alive. It’s just that now, musical expression is much stronger. You come from an Carribean island where gospel music has traditionally held a strong presence. Is this still the case? Yes, because the people of the Carribean are deeply religious people and they remain close to their roots. What are the differences between Carribean, US and British gospel music? Very few in comparison to the similarities, since traditional hymns and religious songs are common ground for contemporary gospels, whether stemming from the United States, Britain or elsewhere. The basis of gospel music is always the same: melody, expression and a good beat. How do you feel about the impressive rise of religious music in the United States recently? Is it related to the country’s general increase in conservatism? This is true up to a certain degree. The rise of religious music is not a bad thing – keeping your antennae switched off and being conservative in your views is, however. Music should not be connected to any of this. Especially gospel music, which creates a bridge to a higher and intangible world, a spiritual world full of dreams. How do you pick the choir’s singers? The only criteria is their love for music and their desire to get closer to God’s word. There are no dividing lines based on sex, race or class. What are you presenting in Patras? We are selecting pieces from all of our recordings – so far we have released eight albums, the most recent, «Live at Abbey Road,» was released in 2003, celebrating the choir’s 21 years. We will base the concert mainly on this work, so that the audience can grasp our philosophy and our music. My promise to all those who will attend the Patras concert is that by the end of the evening they will all be physically exhausted. The interview was translated from the original Greek text.

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