Since the inception of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards eighteen (18) years ago, no Gospel musician has won the ultimate award before; and this has been the bane of Gospel musicians and their fans.

The closest they have ever come to winning the prize, is to get nominated and, as usual, there is one Gospel artiste nominated in this year’s Artiste of the Year category for the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards – Joe Mettle.

This year, I have seen fans and supporters of Joe Mettle do some serious campaigning for him to win the category in which he has been nominated alongside EL, Sarkodie, Medikal, Stonebwoy and MzVee. It appears that the supporters are bent on breaking the jinx this year, but there is a problem; There is much more to winning any award, than ‘last minute’ vote begging.

Before I touch on the crux of this subject, I invite you to read an excerpt of an article which I wrote in 2016, about why Ghanaian Gospel musicians can’t rub shoulders with their secular counterparts. It is titled ‘The Ghanaian Gospel Artiste is Confused.’

“…I was analysing on my entertainment show Arts and People on Vision FM the [apparent] gulf between Gospel musicians and their secular counterparts when it comes to image branding, promotional strategies and ambassadorial deals.

So I called celebrated musician and recording engineer Nacee, the leader of the No Tribe Gospel music group. One thing he told me that still remains fresh in my mind is that Gospel music is a ministry and that Gospel musicians cannot and should not do everything that the secular artistes do. He told me that they were not in competition with the secular artistes. To an extent, he had a point – yes but to what extent is going to be the fulcrum of my subject.

For so many years, the Ghanaian Gospel musician has been compared to the secular musician on various pedestals; from their dressing, to music videos, lyrical content, management efficiency, promotional strategies, among other factors.

Ghanaian Gospel music lovers and their critics have bashed Gospel musicians for always standing by flowers and cars and using prosaic concepts for their music videos. You listen to radio and television entertainment discussion programmes and our Gospel musicians are always being criticised.

Even today, these same Ghanaians mock some of our Gospel musicians for displaying a fashion sense that is below par. They would say they lack swag and do not make Gospel music appealing. Again, the Ghanaian Gospel musician has been lashed for not employing the right people to manage him or her. Most of the time, it is their husbands or wives that have either been their managers and/ or producers. Most of these husbands and wives, however, have little or no knowledge of music and artiste management.

A corollary of this has been weak promotional links. They lack the right avenues to promote their brands. They lack internet, and for that matter, social media presence. They also lack knowledge of how to market their songs and brands online. It is all about recording their songs, releasing few copies of CDs and getting a few ‘God bless you’ gigs to play at some rural Churches; after all they say it is a ministry.

Because of this, the Gospel musicians usually don’t get to enjoy some of the opportunities that the secular people do. There have been times when some Gospel musicians have complained that their secular counterparts had been paid better and had been given better treatment at shows, which they both performed at. A case in point is one that Gifty Osei made during the first Ghana Music Week, where she thought the Gospel acts were not treated fairly.

Corporate institutions sign secular artistes and other celebrities as their brand ambassadors and you hardly see a Gospel act, in this respect. Secular musicians get nominated in international award schemes and you usually see a Gospel act nominated if it is primarily a Gospel awards scheme. This happens because the Ghanaian Gospel musician wants to be seen as a mere evangelist; well at least the people want them to.

Sadly, these same fans of the Gospel musicians who even wish that he or she would play shows for free, because the Bible is free and their music talent was given freely by God, criticise them, saying that they are not making great strides.

In fact, the Ghanaian Gospel music lover, enthusiast, pundit and analyst have confused our Gospel musicians.
Firstly, the new generation of Gospel musicians who have learnt from the criticism against their older folks, have decided to do things differently. Some are waxing very fashionable and again the typical Ghanaian is complaining. So what should they do now? Gifty Osei customised her car and people were insulting her. What kind of behaviour is that? Yet we want them to be at par with their secular colleagues.

Number two – the same people who had said gospel music videos were raw and unattractive are describing the new and improved ones of modern times as worldly. We say they are not visible on social media; so a few of them have started making themselves visible. Some have adopted some strategies used by their secular friends, and again we say “Gospel musicians should not do that.” So what should a Gospel musician do?

I remember some years ago, some people were encouraging Gospel – secular collaborations. A few people like Lady Prempeh and Herty Borngreat started. Even though their songs were accepted, there were people who thought ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ had no relationship. But they were the same people who had suggested that a bit of rap could make Gospel music more appealing to the youth.

I know there are extremities in life and I know such situations when I see them. The Ghanaian Gospel artiste is in a quandary of what to do, lest they are mauled by the general public. In fact, this is killing creativity and the promotion of the Gospel music genre…”

The article above is a reflection of how the average Ghanaian sees the Gospel artiste. Recently, Gospel musician Joe Mettle was quoted to have said that Gospel musicians don’t canvass votes for awards, because they see it as materialistic. Even though this was his opinion, it is a view widely held by the Ghanaian populace.

The notion that Gospel musicians are ‘holy’ and must not worry themselves of certain ‘worldly’ acts is the reason they can never have certain opportunities in the music industry. So you see why Gospel musicians can’t win Artiste of the Year at the VGMAs? You see why Joe Mettle can’t beat Sarkodie, EL, Stonebwoy, Mzvee, Medikal to win the slot?

The category definition of VGMA Artiste of the Year states that: “Artiste of the Year is the Artiste(s) adjudged by the Academy, Board and the General Public as the Artiste(s) with the highest audience appeal and popularity. The Artiste(s) must have released a hit single/album during the year under review.”

This definition has three basic components: audience appeal, popularity and hit single/album. There are a lot of things that secular musicians do to pass these requirements that most Gospel musicians do not do. For example, we have very few Gospel musicians who would organise their own concerts. Most of them are only interested in ‘shabo.’ It is not wrong to perform in Churches because that is what your ministry entails, but you must also be easily identified with something, so why don’t you create a formidable brand and that makes your popularity solid! That is a major platform, upon which to measure your audience appeal.

There are a lot of Gospel musicians who have very low presence and interactivity on social media. Some Gospel musicians have smash hit songs but nobody knows them. Their image visibility ebbs low.

Unlike the secular world where an artiste can create stunts to stay relevant in the system, Gospel music is quite restrictive. Last year, hell nearly broke loose on Brother Sammy when he was alleged to have feigned an accident, for publicity. While secular artistes are ‘dissing’ each other to court attention, the only stunt the Gospel artiste can pull is perhaps to say “Jesus is coming tomorrow.”

Lastly, since the Board has a 30% stake in determining who wins what, we can’t rule them out in the equation. My research has revealed that a majority of the members on the VGMA Board are not Gospel lovers. In fact, most of them are not even fans of Gospel music. There is therefore a justification to their proclivity for rooting for a secular song at the expense of Gospel songs and their artistes (in this wise).

These, among a blizzard of factors have contributed to the imbalance in the brand visibility between Gospel and secular artistes, hence the slimmer chance for a Gospel artiste to win Artiste of the Year at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards.

This, however, does not mean Gospel musicians are not good. It rather means that the Gospel musicians find themselves in a secularised environment where anything done the secular way sells faster. It is either to conform or to play second fiddle to secularism.

By: Kwame Dadzie – [email protected]