Tony Cummings put a batch of questions before the Riversongz frontman and Premier Radio broadcaster MUYIWA
Over the last few years Muyiwa has continued his rise in influence and popularity. His regular broadcasts on Premier Radio are enjoyed by a large audience and his live appearances with his aggregation Riversongz have been vital in helping break down some of the divisions between the gospel (Afro Caribbean) and praise and worship (white) factions in the Church. The album 'Declaring His Name All Around The World' is Muyiwa Olarewaju's latest declaration, he and Riversongz have previously released 'Declaring His Power' (2005) and 'Declaring His Love' (2008). This multi-talented communicator took time out of his busy schedule to respond to a batch of my questions.
Tony: How would you say stylistically and in terms of vision 'Declaring His Name All Around The World' differs from your previous albums?
Muyiwa: It differs massively as it's the first time that we've had guests from so many different parts of the world. We have a singer from India and another from China, we actually ended up singing in Mandarin which was a treat! We then explored French speaking Africa. Considering that all we had done to date was English speaking West Africa, it was great to be in Central Africa! Then of course there was the incomparable Darwin Hobbs and Mary Alessi (Martha Munizzi's twin sister). And if that wasn't enough we had Kevin Bond producing.
Tony: In previous interviews you have stated that your desire is to bridge the cultural and spiritual divide which still exists between the white church and the Afro Caribbean church. Do you think progress is being made in this area?
Muyiwa: Well, yes and no. One of the great things about Muyiwa & Riversongz is that we travel a great deal and it's always fascinating to see how the songs, etc are received outside the UK and outside our "normal" circle. I say yes because over the year we have seen some great collaborations and coming together, and no because the same divisions that have always been there are still there and glaringly obvious. Working at Premier Radio also allows you to see both sides as you are constantly meeting new people and you can hear what both sides are saying one about the other.
Tony: What are your favourite three tracks on 'Declaring His
Name All Around The World' and what were the circumstances of the
writing of the songs?
Muyiwa: One of my favourites is "My Heritage (Apata)". I remember when I decided to add the song thinking, no one is going to understand this song. . . It's dedicated to my late dad and mum and is a very emotional one for me. Then there's "I Will Call" which features Mary Alessi. The records on my iphone and Mac show I've played that song easily 100 times more than I have the rest of the album. The song was written in Studio 2 at Premier Radio - if you've ever been to Premier you'll understand. The third and final one is "The Name Of The Lord", the lead single. I love it because it brings together different cultures as we have Pandit doing some Canartic singing and there I am doing the English praise and worship/gospel thing!
Tony: There seems to be a cult of worship leader in some
parts of the Church. Shouldn't worship leaders be deflecting attention
away from themselves and towards God?
Muyiwa: I'm not sure that I know any worship leader that set out to have a cult following. . . However you can't dictate how people react to you. I know people who appreciate what God is doing through a worship leader and the way they feel they can express their appreciation may be considered totally inappropriate. It's interesting to note that it's not uncommon in history to find people "idolising" the people that God uses. On the other hand I'm sure there are those who really want to be pop stars but don't have the nerve to embrace the challenge so they stick with the church thinking it's an "easier" option.
Tony: With so much time taken up with your work at Premier
Radio how are you able to continue the worship ministry?
Muyiwa: You know Premier is a big part of my life and it's taking up a lot more time as I am now the station director for Premier Gospel. I also became the presenter of a long running TV show recorded in America that's broadcast around the world, Turning Point. I've never seen the broadcasting I do on radio, TV, airlines and the worship ministry separately. I see them as different rooms in the same house. Whilst it does get very busy I feel like fish in water really and they are not things that I try and do. . . I just be!
Tony: Are Riversongz a fixed musical unit or has it become a
flag of convenience for whatever bunch of musicians are currently
Muyiwa: Clearly you haven't followed the journey of Riversongz. The reality is every group has changes from time to time, people grow and move on, some have responsibilities that disallow them being able to do other things, but in the main the same people who were there at the beginning are still around. I think if they heard you asking this question of "flag of convenience" they'll probably take over your office and play music really loudly for hours to test the spirit of patience in you, LOL!
Tony: Africa is a vast continent with dozens of disparate
musical strains, most of which are unknown to us in the West save for
a small clique of "world music" followers. Can you see a time when
worship music takes in far more musical influences from Africa, Asia,
Muyiwa: You're right, there is so much more in the world than we realise in the West. This is one of the reasons we recorded this album. The unfortunate thing is most of us only know and reckon with what is closest to us and for many in the West that's the stuff we are fed by the labels, many of which view things from a narrow vista. It's not terribly different from the secular market. I find it quite easy to deal with as my years working at Sony helped me understand how things are.
Tony: How much catching up do you think the evangelical
Church still has to do to develop a fully orbed social justice agenda
and what part do you think worship has to play in this
Muyiwa: You know, sometimes it's a little inept to attempt to answer a question like this in a few lines, also to try and say what "churches" should or should not be doing. For us the Gospel of peace that we share in song is a wholistic Gospel. The reality is once you are saying something that's relevant to society and they find out HOW MUCH YOU CARE, not how much you know, everyone responds -Christian and non-Christian. This we have seen with our journey as a group. Over the last two UK tours we have done we have seen Muslims and non-Christians turn up in their numbers. This current album in its first week went in to Amazon's top 10 world music chart. I wish I could show you some of the responses that non-Christians gave to us after the launch of this album at Royal Festival Hall. Lives are being touched.
Tony: Name me five Christian music tracks (worship or
non-worship) which you are currently enjoying and a couple of
non-Christian pieces of music as well.
Muyiwa: VaShawn Mitchell's "Nobody Greater" is one, then there is a young UK gospel artist called Edwin Fawcett, he is Catholic and his album has had me wrapped up for weeks. His album is called 'Stronghold' and there are two songs - "In God Alone" and "Stronghold". That's three. Then there's "Evermore" from the album 'For All You've Done' from Hillsong. That song became my anthem after I watched Senna, the biopic about one of the greatest F1 racing drivers that ever lived. The story was so moving that I cried and the only song that truly expressed how I felt was "Evermore", the lyrics are so rich: "Lost for words with all to say/Lord you take my breath away/Still my soul, my soul cries out/For you are holy/And as I look upon your name/Circumstances fade away/Now your glory steals my heart/You are holy/You are holy Lord/Evermore my heart, my heart will say/Above all, I live for your glory/Even if my world falls I will say/Above all, I live for your glory/With all my heart I'll say/I'm living for your name/With all to give you praise/We're living for your glory Lord."
I think I'll leave it there. On the non-Christian/gospel front it will have to be the songs from the album 'Orin Meta' by Femi Temowo. It was the Evening Standard's jazz album of the week a few weeks back and it's also the featured album on my Sounds Of Africa Show that I do for the airlines.
Tony: What is the biggest spiritual lesson you have learned in the last year or two?
Muyiwa: It's one that I've been learning for years and still am learning and that is that we might decrease so he, JESUS, will increase. It was clear when we were recording "Holy" with M Cheung and she began to teach us the lyrics "Holy holy holy/The whole earth is full of your glory" in Mandarin. We all realised that this was way bigger than anything we could imagine, not the album but the need to proclaim God's name! The best way I can capture it is in a phrase that I've lived by for almost 20 years, "the reason for my being is greater than I."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.