For Black History Month, we wanted to highlight one of the most inspiring black musical tradition genres: Gospel Music. I had the opportunity to interview a local Gospel singers group: the Imani Gospel Singers who performed at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-De-Bon-Secours on February 26.
Lily Huynh (LH): You chose “Imani”, which means faith in Swahili, as the band name. How does it represent to you?
Imani Gospel Singers (IGS): We wanted to convey inspiration, hope and faith. When you can’t see the light or you need help, you need faith to go through all this. Everyone in the band has faith, faith in their family, faith in themselves, faith in God and this is really important as you need faith in life.
LH: How did you create the group/come together or recruit people?
IGS: It started from a larger choir, the Union United Church Gospel based in Montreal. From that large group, a small group was sent to a radio interview and to do promotion. When the festival was over, that small group wanted to carry on the adventure, and this is how the Imani Gospel Singers was born.
LH: How do you compose your repertory? Where does the inspiration come from?
IGS: Every year, I would travel to the USA to the Gospel Workshop of America to gather interesting resources and inspiration. I would usually bring back a lot of CDs and materials to work with. I also from time to time create arrangements for the band. Also, our group is composed of very talented singers and musicians. Some of them are professional artists and they come up with really good compositions that we use for our shows. One of our pianists even played for Tina Turner in her UK tour. The only major requirement of the songs to be chosen for our repertory is that they must convey positive and inspiring messages. Gospel means “good news”, about what God has to offer. The songs usually relate experiences which everyone can relate to, how it can help with all the pressure we have in life and work. It encourages people to have faith.
LH: Do you have any major inspirations?
IGS: Kirk Franklin. He is a prodigy. He is a good song writer, and his lyrics are funky and full of emotions. John P. Kee is amazing as well. Richard Smallwood. He is inspiring, fires the audience and knows how to cross boundaries. There are so many inspiring Gospel musicians; it’s hard to name them all!
LH: I noticed on your website that you wrote a musical documentary to promote black history. The fact that your band played for Black History month must be important for you as well. How do you feel about this?
IGS: For this Black History month, we presented a show about the evolution of the gospel history at the Atwater Library. The music developed from both African roots and 300 years of slavery. Gospel music was a way for black people to practice their own beliefs. In that period, black people weren’t allowed to learn to read nor write, so music was their form of communication. Songs have multiple meanings, duplicate messages. People met secretly to practice those songs, and it was a way of passing along their histories as well. It was their source of inspiration, community, and their way of supporting each other through hardship.
LH: I noticed that your group has been created in 1993, and has been up and running since. Any particular challenges so far? Did you expect being where you are now when you created the group?
IGS: Right now, the biggest challenge is time. I already have another full time job. In addition to my schedule, we also have professional musicians who are also on tour. From this, we have to find a time that suits everybody so we can gather everyone and practice, which sometimes seems really hard to achieve.
LH: Any last words?
IGS: I would like people to know that Gospel means good news, and the main purpose of the Gospel music is to convey positive messages about hope and faith. God will always listen to our prayers. Because of this, Gospel music is pretty universal, and can take all kind of genres like R&B or jazz and can be very funky. Again, the main purpose is to convey a good and positive message. I have seen people becoming emotional after listening to this type of music. Historically, many powerful black people had strong achievements but we never hear about them, and we need to be aware that they existed and must be remembered.
For more information or to support Imani Gospel Singers follow them on Facebook HERE.