South African pop dance musicianaries MIC are passionately committed to uncompromised Gospel communication. . . without the hype. Mike Rimmer reports.
The last 12 months have been a busy time for South African dance team MIC. They've seen their sixth album 'Millennium Gone And Beyond' win a mainstream award as the best contemporary dance album of the year in their home country. The band headlined a gig at the Ajax Football Stadium in Amsterdam which saw 55,000 people leaping up and down to their music. They toured New Zealand, played at the Parachute Festival and performed in Belgium and at the Multipistes Suisse Music festival in Switzerland, as well as headlining at the Flevo Festival in Holland. They spent four months here in the UK touring and working with the World Wide Message Tribe, including playing at the album launch of 'Frantic', before over 3000 people at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester.
On Friday 31 March 2000 the Durban-based band celebrated their 10th birthday in style in their home town before taking three weeks off to write the songs for CD number seven which is due for release in November. Ahead of that, their single "You And I" is due for release in June. Add to that their involvement at Soul Survivor Message 2000 in Manchester, and the Cross Rhythms Festival, and there seems to be no sign of a let up in MIC's schedule.
These days, the band seem to be working at a global level. "A little bit," admits George. "There's still some unchartered territories. We're working on that." So how are the band perceived on their home turf? Steve responds, "I don't think people know very much about what we're doing abroad, and when they do know it tends to be things like the huge Ajax Stadium in Holland which sounds very glamorous." Quinton adds, "They don't really see that we're going into schools. I made a point last time we were home to tell the church just exactly what we were doing. It all goes back to how much feedback we give the people back home. We'll probably be sending out newsletters".
It's 8.30am on a Thursday in the Cross Rhythms studios in Stoke-on-Trent and I am presenting the breakfast show. Enter Steve Rothquel, Quinton Delport, Gunther Schroeder and George Mhondera, a little bleary-eyed. They've travelled from Manchester where they left early in the morning after yet another night with too little sleep. To make matters worse, they got lost! Life as a touring ministry band is certainly not glamorous yet they maintain their good humour. Over the course of conversation it becomes clear that the band are excited by what they see in the UK, and at their involvement in Soul Survivor Message 2000. Steve comments, "We really feel like God has got something for us here. I think you're gonna see a bit more of us in the future."
Having slowly built up a relationship with WWMT over the last few years, it was almost inevitable that they would become involved in the events that are planned in Manchester this summer. Though it's early in the day, the four guys are clearly excited at the prospect. Quinton comments, "It's just a massive event that's gonna lift up the name of Jesus and influence young people. It's a great thing for us to have dropped in our spirits so that we can maybe take something like this home, or we can encourage other people and just support it. I think it's an awesome thing and we want to be part of it." Steve chips in, "It's great to see Christians out there wanting to make a difference in the community. They are expecting 20,000 Christians in one town evangelising and serving people in the community and reaching out to all that need Jesus Christ." George adds, "It's just the whole action of it. Being Christians, bring in one little unsaved friend to church or to youth camp. There is this one unsaved person with 200 Christians, whereas now it's the other way round. It's really exciting to me just to see Christians getting out there. It's a whole city being evangelised. No one that I'm aware of has ever tried to do that. This is really a pioneering move."
As well as performing at events during Soul Survivor Message 2000, the band also hope to be involved on a personal level in other activities. George explains, "I would like to go out and meet people on a street level. I'm not sure what we will be doing as a team yet." Quinton's already been signed up for the sports team. As for Gunther, he shrugs when asked where he'll be. "Wherever they put me." Everyone laughs and Gunther comments, "I prefer to just adapt."
As a build up to Soul Survivor Message 2000, the band were involved in some of the events in the Manchester area. In a hall in Salford University, the Tribe are sound checking ready for the evening event where MIC will be performing a small set. Downstairs in a smaller hall, everyone meets to eat and socialise. A makeshift game of cricket takes place with George and Quinton, Cameron Dante and myself. A tube that contained a poster is our bat, a waste bin is the wicket and a rolled up ball of silver paper is the ball. I manage to bat for a long, long time until desperately and with a broad grin on his face, Cameron, quite frankly, cheats! I could protest but everything stops for a prayer meeting as the organisers brief the team and pray for the "Salford scallies" who'll be coming to the gig.
This one event is typical of the whole regional preparations for the summer. Raising profile, sharing the Gospel and reaching out to kids is the heartbeat of the set-up. MIC hit the stage with a fast-paced set that's over in a flash. The Tribe headline and Cameron closes by preaching the Gospel. Around 30 respond to the message and head off for a quiet chat in the same hall that had earlier been a cricket pitch.
The stunning thing is that Cameron's message is very low key. No hype, no emotionalism, just a testimony, a Gospel message and an invitation. MIC like the approach. Quinton comments, "I think generally young people are tired of Christian hype. They've seen it on TV. In the movies it's always depicted as being very hypocritical. We even see it in the schools." Steve adds, " We say, 'At the end of the day the choice is yours. We're not here to tell you what to believe, we're just here to tell you, this is what we believe and have experienced. At the end of the day we just pray that you guys make the right choices.' That's a good attitude when it comes to reaching out to the lost. The choice is there and you've got to trust that the Holy Spirit will convict them. You don't have to try and convict people because that's actually condemnation and that's not right."
As far as MIC's
involvement in the event, last year's Soul Survivor was a good place
to learn and develop. Running into the band at different times during
the event it was clear that they were happy to serve wherever they
could, not just in performing. Normally, Soul Survivor is simply
worship and teaching but suddenly in 1999 there were loads of kids
getting saved. It's almost like God has been preparing the ground for
going into Manchester and doing this event. Steve responds, "I think
that's just a godly principle. If you're in a place and lifting up the
name of God, you draw people to that place and to God. I think they
have to cater for the fact that there are kids coming to Soul Survivor
who don't have a relationship with God. There is a very evangelistic
thrust and that's a really good thing. I'm happy that this year they
are keeping the worship, because that is something that is going to
draw people in and something to get people's attention.
"I think that's pretty awesome."
Quinton explains how the band fits into the wider picture. "For us we see ourselves as a pop, dance group. We have a message and our faith influences what we do. We're using that as a resource but in order for us to be credible, we obviously need to build the profile of the band. When we go into a school, we go in under that basis. We are a band, here are our albums, we're charting at home and touring all over the world and here is a special message that we've got for you."
In the run up to Soul Survivor Message 2000, the band's schools work has contributed to the wider events that have happened across the city. MIC have worked hard in a similar manner to what The Tribe do in schools. Since the band are from South Africa, I wondered whether people were interested in them because they were from abroad. George answers, "That's got to be an issue. With us having a different accent and the fact that we don't look like the ordinary kind of teacher. Normally young people associate Christians as being boring, so when they see someone kind of young and hip who looks a bit odd or different, they're more prepared to listen to what we have to say. The last school we visited was interesting but the first day was pretty hard. The kids don't know you but as the week went along we were hanging out with them and eating with them. It was amazing just to see the breakthrough. It's been good to see results."
Time is running out in the studio and MIC have to hit the road that will
eventually take them into a different kind of studio, to record their
new album. With all their travels, they are in a unique position to
see God moving in each country they visit. Steve concludes, "It's time
for the Christian community to start to work together, and I think the
churches in the UK are starting to realise that they can't go on
trying to build their own kingdom. Aside from Soul Survivor, Oasis
Trust, The Message and Youth For Christ working together in Manchester
this summer, you've got all these churches with a common goal. I think
that's a lesson to be learnt world wide because it's God's Kingdom
we're building, not our own."