A groundbreaking various artists album 'PHAT N HEAVY' brings the funky sounds of garage into the gospel arena. Mike Rimmer reports.
The Gospel Café is a cool monthly club event that takes place at Bar Med, a club in Star City, the leisure complex a stone's throw away from Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham. Featuring a mix of gospel music and gospel garage and R&B, the dance floor is crammed and the vibe is friendly, upbeat and happy. Tonight it's the turn of a handful of artists featured on the new 'Phat N Heavy' album doing PAs to promote its release. As the evening progresses and some top music pumps out of the speakers I chat to those behind the album's release, the bright new independent company Reyach Records and the artists involved on the label's first album.
The launch of the Reyach label with the Niki Carless single might have been low key but they have certainly made a splash with the release of the garage compilation 'Phat N Heavy' which features a range of underground British Christian music talent. Rather appropriately the label are also about to release an EP of worship, simply called 'Eternal Worship'.
I say appropriately as Elaine and Norman Sealy, the brains behind the label, explain the label's name. Elaine says, "Reyach actually means 'the sweet smelling sacrificial offering, wholly acceptable to God.' We were looking because a lot of our ministry is about worship and Reyach generally is about worship. It was a word I stumbled across in a concordance and I thought, how wonderful! This sums it up.totally!" Elaine's husband continues, "The vision of the record company is to release ministries, that's what it's there for. It's not like the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, secular record label, whereby people are viewed as products. Our mandate is to release ministers of God."
Norman explains how he got his musical name The Phatness. "There's a scripture in Isaiah 10:27 which says, 'The burdens shall be removed and the yoke shall be destroyed, because of s the anointing.' I don't know what version of the Bible I was reading and it said the 'fatness' and basically the 'fatness' translated as the anointing, the power and the abundance of God. It's just a name that the Lord gave me to run with, obviously, pertaining to the ministry."
Elaine explains how they found the artists to appear on 'Phat N Heavy'. She says, "We started out with Niki Carless who was like our forerunner for this project. Now finding artists was actually quite interesting. By word of mouth through DJ El Nino and others, people started to come on board this project. It wasn't a talent scouting thing and we didn't go out looking for people. It was almost as though God had specific people that were just waiting to be called on to it. So that's how it all came together."
Norman shares, "One of the visions of the 'Phat N Heavy' project was to release those artists that are on there, further afield. To really accelerate their ministry and pray to God that they really go beyond the heights we've even imagined. Just so that those ministers may be released because that's what Reyach Records is all about. So it's a great vision, it's a great way that people have come together to come on the project. And we just believe in God that these ministries are going to be released and get out there. Everyone who was on that project are ministers of the Word, they deal with the Word. They don't water down their songs, they hit you with the Word and that's what we need in this end time."
Reyach is much more than an outlet for garage music as Norman explains, "The first thing we did as Reyach Records was a worship event called Eternal Praise. Everything is about worship and we're covering all sorts of genres of music, be it gospel, gospel/garage, R&B, hip hop.whatever it is, whatever the ministers come forth with. But essentially, everything comes out of worship."
The worship EP features Elaine under her musical moniker, Elaina. "I was born again over 10 years ago and I had been writing praise and worship songs. So what I've done is compiled some of the songs onto this EP called 'Eternal Praise'. It's very personal songs, you know the front room ones where you're crying 'Oh daddy God!' and the ones where you're celebrating him. I really want the Church and the body of believers and also unbelievers to be blessed by 'Eternal Praise'."
Raised in a Christian home, Niki and her twin sister sang together as children at home. Niki learnt to play the piano at the age of seven and then went on to play the flute. She started singing professionally when she was 15 years old, travelling around parts of the world and the U.K with a youth choir. Niki lives in the south east of London and she is happily married with two daughters. As for the purpose to her ministry, she shares, "It's to encourage the body of Christ and to uplift people when they are low. I want to strengthen the weak and bring hope when people feel despair through the songs that God has given me." Her debut single "The Lord Is Your Keeper" was the first release on Reyach.
Norman Sealy aka The Phatness is a singer, songwriter, producer and drummer. He studied music and sound engineering at Lewisham College. As a drummer he played a lot of jazz gigs, music sessions with his band JazzMission. They were featured on one track on the 'Jazz In The Sanctuary' compilation. As a producer he runs a production company, Phatness Productions, and through that and the work of Reyach Records he sows into ministries producing various genres of music. As executive producer/producer/artist, he worked on 'Phat N Heavy'. He says, "Like every child of God, I have the ministry of reconciliation which I carry out through my songs. The Word of God is truly alive and active and like a two edged sword it pierces all darkness that the truth of Jesus Christ may shine through and give life to God's creation."
32 year old Londoner Stella started singing in 1991 at the age of 15 at a School of Ministry hosted by evangelist Morris Cerullo in Birmingham, England. At 16, she joined her church choir K.T.G.C (Kensington Temple Gospel Choir) and soon became one of the lead singers. She has sung at the Royal Albert Hall backed by a choir of 200 and toured the UK. In 1993 Stella joined long time friend Cheryl Gibbs to form B.A.S.I.C (Brothers And Sisters In Christ). The group consisted of four male singers and three female singers and a band of musicians. In 1996 Stella was one of the founder members of the Visual Ministries Choir.
Paladino has always loved singing and entertaining. He became a Christian in July 1999 at Christian Life Fellowship in Greenwich where he met a lot of gifted musicians who inspired him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. In September 1999 he made his first demo. His first solo appearance was in 2000 at Christ Church Forum in Greenwich, where his church was celebrating its sixth anniversary.
OPEN GATE CREW
Open Gate Crew is a group of teenagers with a clear mission: to reach out to their generation through the medium of music, specifically, garage music. The members are between 14 - 19 years old and all come from the Open Gate church from which they take their name. The group has been together for two years, although the members have known each for much longer, having all grown up together. Conscious of the modern day challenges their generation regularly faces in the form of crime, gang violence and drugs, their aim is to spread the Word to their peers in a way that is relevant, showing them that there is a better way of life. To this end they write their own material and set it to a background of thumping basslines and harmonious melodies. Natasha, aka Sparkles, says about the track "Peer Pressure", "It is basically talking about all the things that we've gone through in our lives and the things that we are going through now. It's about things that we s went through in the past when we weren't Christians and how it affected us then. And that now that we have got Christ in our lives, how we aim to deal with it. It's not as hard as it used to be because we know that Jesus is with us. So it's basically showing others that you can overcome this particular kind of peer pressure in different areas, different aspects. Whether it's sex, alcohol or smoking. People think they're the only ones that are going through these situations thinking 'how do I deal with it?' and so it's good to hear people that have actually gone through it and do go through it. There is a way out!"
Livin' Proof are a trio featuring two rappers and one singer. The group was formed in 1997 and initially it was to fill a niche in their church's evangelistic concerts, providing music that was a mixture of hip hop and R&B. At the heart of their ministry is a desire to minister the truth of the Gospel message with a "no holds barred" lyrical approach over music that is cutting edge. The aim is that through this ministry they not only challenge, but dispel any incorrect ideas or misconceptions about Christianity and through this draw others to the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ.
20 year old Byron Barrett grew up in the New Testament Church of God. He first sang in church at the age of nine and since then his love for gospel music has grown beyond all other interests. From the age of 16, Byron attended the Brit School in Croydon, where he studied performing arts and music. He currently teaches music to primary school children as well as A Level music technology. During his spare time he continues to compose and produce gospel music. He has been featured on the 'This Is Gospel' compilation album and has recently released a debut single "Lift Him Up"/"Li'l More Time" with Reyach Records. About the track "Lift Him Up", he says, "The song is just praise. It's all about how we need to be praising God more! It's a good one to perform because you can always have the crowd involved. It's one that people always enjoy. They always remember it - I've gone back to venues and they've said "Oh yeah.'Lift Him Up"!!' So, that's been really good."
The Witness, aka Adrian Burke, is a talented veteran of the Midlands gospel scene. Best known as a dancehall MC, he incorporates other styles into his music and on 'Phat N Heavy' presents a garage remix of "No Matter". Based in Birmingham, he has opened for the likes of Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin. His debut CD 'It's Your Move' is imminent. He describes the song "No Matter" by saying, "The song says it doesn't matter who we are, what we are, no matter what you see, or what you hear, just know that your faith will carry you. It's an anthem for Christians to stand up and go forward in the name of the Lord. Go forward! And no matter what I see, or what I hear, I'm going to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season."
Brought up in church, Beverley's vocal expertise came from working for years with a choir and singing solo in church. In the '90s she worked with the record label Public Demand where she added her vocals to a number of drum'n'bass hits elsewhere in the world. The company also brought out 'Rewind' by Craig David and Ms Dynamite's album 'Boo'. Meanwhile Beverley was literally "big in Japan" where her diva vocals hit the charts with DJ Nookie's album 'Distant Affairs'. The album was never released here in the UK. She says of the song "Identify", "It's basically about women saying to men, 'If you want to get to know me, you must know Jesus first. Because I am with the Lord and you need to identify that I have something inside of me that is very powerful and is very strong. So before I give you myself, you need to know the Lord as well!' There's a lot of one night stands going on, a lot of unwanted pregnancies, a lot of broken hearts going on so it's a good message."
DJ EL NINO
A club DJ, El Nino was originally a salsa DJ working in mainstream clubs. People used to call him a hurricane because he tore up the dance floor. El Nino is a weather front that causes a lot of destruction and people started calling him that. The name also has a biblical significance, where 'El' in the Hebrew means 'God' and 'Nino' means 'child' so it translates as 'God's child'. So he kept the same name when he moved into gospel work. Raised in a Catholic home, he went through a rebellious phase as a teenager and it was only after a serious illness that he took time out to put his life in order. At the beginning of 2001, he did his first gospel gig and things have just taken off from there. Aside from the deejaying, El Nino also runs a dance team and teaches salsa. He says, "I try to bring the live, dance element into it when I'm doing my sets. So, the whole thing about DJs not being able to dance.that's not me! I actually just want to get on the dance floor and be down there with the rest of them!" Talking about "Latin Flava" he says, "When I did the track, I obviously had to keep it within the garage genre but I wanted to stamp my individuality on it, the whole Latino thing. I suppose that reflects me anyway, I see myself as Anglo-Latino, so, it's sort of a mixture of the two cultures that influence me."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.