If you were to tell what started first, between music and religion, would you find problems giving out an outright answer or would it be like figuring out the egg and hen enigma?
Well, I neither have an out-and-out answer as well, nor will I attempt to be knowledgeable but one very clear thing is that music is an integral part of most religions or beliefs.
One thing which every belief or religion will link to, is the powers of the soul or spirit perhaps this is the reason William Shakespeare was prompted to say “If music be the food of soul, then play on” considering that for the sake of human fulfillment at least the soul needs some form of musical appeasement.
In the risk of failing to prove its historicity, it looks like music preceded religion if assertions that music started when men were trying to imitate birds is anything to go by.
This is perhaps the reason the medieval sacred music was esoteric; meaning it was supposed to be intelligible only to those with special knowledge in the belief.
The art of music neither was an ego trip for the performer, nor meant to prop up vanity but to aid in meditation that would consequently help the believer achieve bliss. Don’t you believe that music has a powerful effect on our beliefs and our actions?
Every time you are in your church, synagogue, or attending any religious ceremony in or outside your mosque or where ever, what after effect does the music leave in you or leave you into?
Even without choir music, the Catholic Church will still be involved in antiphons where a priest will provoke the congregation with a versicle, which is each of the priest’s short sentences in a liturgy, and the congregation will respond and usually this is a singsong process. For example, the priest will go; “Ambuye akhale nanu” and the Congregation will respond “Akhalenso ndi inu nomwe”.
Alternatively, have you ever heard of the Gregorian chant ritual music, named after Pope Gregory I.
Christians are the last ones in all religions to disapprove that they showed up late on the scene, when it comes to their involvement with music. Trace of this is in the New Testament on some hymns which are seriously followed now by Orthodox Church, like the baptism theme “Awake, awake O sleeper”. There is also a belief that the Christian leader Jesus being Jewish most likely sung the psalms from memory.
Then there is the Kirtan, which is the Hindu bhakti tradition performed as loving songs sung to God.
While Jewish music is based on the earliest synagogal music which was based on the same system as that in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Rastafarian music, which is known to be reggae, cannot beat the Nyabinghi chants, which is played at worship ceremonies called grounations characterized by drumming, chanting and dancing. There is also Shintō music , which is ceremonial music for the native religion of Japan, the same as Buddhist music used in Buddhist ceremony or meditation, which takes after the form of sutra recitation.
Another emphasis on music and belief that I should dwell on is based on findings by the US Princeton University’s sociologist Robert Wuthnow who established that music has kept the sound of organized religion from fading because from the 1960s to the closing years of the 20th century, various cultural observers predicted that religion would experience an enormous decline in America.
In his book called “All in Sync,” Wuthnow says those who had predicted this decline were surprised by the stability and vitality of American religion in the last three decades of the 20th century because at the opening of a new millennium, American religion appears to be more vital even than in the 1950s cold-war era.
Based on 400 interviews with clergy, church members, and directors of cultural organizations, Wuthnow established that this vitality might in large part be traced to music and the arts, because one of the most important reasons that spirituality seems so pervasive in American culture is the publicity it receives because of its presence in the arts.
He looked at how the search for spirituality in America pervades even popular songs such as Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”.
Well, all I am trying to say here is that you cannot divorce music from religious belief.
Now coming back to Malawi, with all due respect to well established denominations, it is very clear that the emerging of Pentecostalism has brought in a very different appeal to followers, especially with its usage of band music.
The same has propelled most of our artists to stick to gospel music although the reasons that make them stick to gospel music pale into insignificance, if we are to look at what the actual goal for such music is.
Without trying to dodge this goal, one has just to look at how many of our musicians have left the secular stage for a gospel one, not to mention one Geoffrey Zigoma whose movement in zigzag direction beats political movement late Chakufwa Chihana made in his political sojourns.
Check this place next week, as I have just started.