The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 25, 2003
Lead Article

‘Gospel pop’ finds few takers
Ratan Patel

Fusion music and dance has not found much favour at Christians’ religious congregations
Fusion music and dance has not found much favour at Christians’ religious congregations

WE have heard of Indo-western fusion music, fusion wear, fusion food...even fusion architecture and interiors. But when it comes to fusing religion and more particularly, drawing together elements from diverse faiths and rituals, eyebrows are bound to be raised.

Several Christians in India are not just raising their eyebrows, but also their hackles, following the advent of what is described as ‘gospel pop’ — church services set to the tune of a heady mix of bhangra, disco dandiya,Rajasthani folk and patriotic anthems.

At the recent Graham Staines Award ceremony in Mumbai, many elderly women walked out of the congregation in horror when organisers unleashed these ‘new sounds of Indian Christianity’. Since last month, the protests became all the more vocal when some parishes held dandiya sessions for Yesu as part of the Easter celebrations.

"You cannot play around with our religious sentiments like this," complained James Cardozo, a devout Roman Catholic from Goa. "When Christians celebrate Divali or Hindus join us for Christmas, nobody minds. Such joint celebrations are part of our secular tradition. But when you dilute one religion to play up to the gallery, you commit blasphemy!"


The counter-argument to this is that ‘gospel pop’ helps to dispel stereotypes about Christians being overtly westernised and ‘different’ from their Indian brethren. "We cannot afford to alienate ourselves," argues James’s younger brother, Joe, who heads a rock band. "Moreover, we need to take the message of Jesus Christ to a wider audience."

Joining Joe in this endeavour are a number of well-known stage performers like Thomas Puthhor, Selvin Nadar, Bijay Benedict and Flossy Fernandes. Their recordings are not available in music stores, but are hawked through a network of Christian bookshops, at religious services, Bible readings and other events run by various charities.

Significantly, most of the gospel pop albums are not in English, but Hindi. "This is because Hindi is our national language and 70 per cent of the Indians understand it," explains Thomas, a Malayalee stage singer, who runs a garments export unit in Mumbai and releases the Pukar series of gospel albums under his name.

"I personally like soft, melodious numbers, but no crowd will listen to such slow songs for two hours," he points out. "You’ve got to charge them up once in a while. For instance, when I sing Anand hi Anand, which is about Jesus’ second coming, I quicken the beats. It becomes a fast number, but when I sing on the crucifixion, I revert to a slow pace, more appropriate with the lyrics."

Agrees Flossy, a former radio artiste: "In prayer meetings, everyone says, ‘Jesus loves you’, but it hardly has any effect. But when we dance to the gospel, it not only entertains, but also sends the message of Christ more effectively to the people at large."

Flossy usually dresses in ghagra-cholis while performing Rajasthani folk numbers for the Lord, along with her seven-year-old daughter, Deborah. The duo has become so popular in Mumbai that Hindus and Sikhs outnumber Christians at these dance sessions. Flossy is now planning a qawwali number for a still wider audience.

Call it market savvy or rank opportunism, these efforts are bound to be seen as a premeditated ploy to counter the Hindutva wave by the political establishment. "I won’t be surprised if there is a political backlash and we Christians find ourselves all the more alienated from the mainstream," says James.

Antoniette D’Souza, a senior private nurse however, feels that there is no need to over-react: "All we are saying is that Christianity is not a western import. We are as much Indian as anybody else. For that matter, Jesus is as much Indian as he is a Middle-Eastern."

To drive in these nationalist sentiments, Nadir recently composed a sizzling gospel number, titled Vande Mataram. "The words Vande Mataram arouse a feeling of patriotism," he explains. "People may say I am baiting people to Christianity, but they don’t realise that when you keep the nation in your mind when you sing about Jesus, the effect is something else."

But then, there are already instances of converts like Paramjit Singh, a Sikh who calls himself Pastor Baboo after Jesus turned him around five years ago. "When a person is touched by Jesus, he establishes a relationship with God," Paramjit proclaims. doesn’t change his name or language or food or walk. I was born a Sardar and will always be one." MF