With the same kind of industry buzz last experienced with Kirk Franklin, truly huge things are expected with new R&B gospel sensation TONÉX. He had a long heart-to-heart with Mike Rimmer.
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Tonéx is the hottest new artist on the gospel scene but he has his eyes on the mainstream, not in terms of having hit songs and becoming famous. Like the Jesus Revolution that happened in the late '60s, he explains, "For the first time in about 30 years we're gonna see Jesus Christ hit mainstream culture in a way that we've never seen before. This generation of Christians that are birthed into it are gonna be so much more radical than some people who have been saved for years, that have been sitting around. We're just gonna get out there and actually perform the greater works that Jesus Christ spoke and prophesied in the New Testament. He said, 'Greater work shall we do,' and this movement is going to be the breeding ground for a whole new breed of powerful, anointed young people who go out and take God's word literally and cast out demons: heal the sick and raise the dead. To literally do that, I'm talking about actually seeing these things take physical manifestation in our lifetime before Jesus Christ returns. I'm really excited because we know we don't have that much longer to be here but it's exciting to see that we are the ones who are gonna be performing these things because Christ said so. We're gonna believe God because his word says so. I'm excited that I'm a part of it right now. I'm glad that I was born when I was so that I could see this take place."
The challenge is how to tie up this ministry with the fact that he is basically working in the music business, an entertainment format. Isn't there a difficulty? "It has a lot to do with entertainment but a lot of the visuals that I use are just to attract. Once I get the fish's attention with a certain kind of bait, the word is what hooks them in. The anointing is what destroys the yoke. The method may be a little radical or eccentric but I'm able to convey the ultimate message. You have to use different bait to catch different kinds of fish. The kind of fish that I'm after are the ones that may not necessarily be accepted in the Christian fundamentalist's eyesight.
"But I believe those candidates ally gonna be the more radical because they're not tainted by a lot of our rhetoric and a lot of our idiosyncrasies and rules and regulations that are not biblical. They're not gonna be exposed to a lot of the ritualism and religiosity that's been presented for so many years. They're gonna be saying, 'I just want Jesus. I don't know about all this church stuff. All I know is that something happened in my heart and I know that I want more of God.' They're gonna be so hungry for it that they're not gonna be caught up in what people are wearing. What they're gonna want is more Holy Ghost. All they're gonna want is more power of God."
As we talk Tonéx is clearly on a roll as he chats about gospel music influencing the mainstream. He continues, "The thing that you're seeing with gospel music shouldn't be a surprise. It should be taking over the airwaves. It should be taking over the airwaves. It should be on MTV. It should be on regular mainstream stations because now is the time for the Gospel to go forth. People are ready for morality. They are ready for the truth now. They've already done the drinking, had the promiscuous sex and dealt with the drugs; but it leads them nowhere. Now they're ready for the truth and the truth is Jesus."
It is true that gospel music, particularly R&B flavoured gospel, has been having more of an impact on mainstream culture. But there's a difference between slick marketing campaigns that can raise the profile of R&B or gospel artists so they cross over and get on MTV, and being able to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and see people raised from the dead and healed. I suggest to Tonex that it's one thing doing a concert and telling kids they need to go out and do the works of Christ but does Tonex have that kind of ministry personally? He responds, "Satan uses billions of dollars to market all kinds of things that are ungodly. That much more do we Christians have to market to counteract what he's already advertising. The marketing aspect may seem a little contrived after a while because some people are gonna do it because it's trendy. Everyone's not gonna be called to do it authentically. The only thing that's gonna differentiate the two is the anointing. In my case people can assume all they want to but once they finally come in contact, they may have come expecting one thing and they may not get a concert. They may just get the word. Some of the marketing things that the record companies do, we realise that this is a big business. There is money involved so when the companies do put money into you, they're expecting to sell a certain amount of records but when that becomes the only motivation for why you get out in front of the kids, that's the wrong motive. If you're not in it because you love music and you love the Lord then you might as well get out of the business altogether. If we don't market it with the same kind of power and money that Satan's using for other things then we'll never be able to captivate the audience and the consumer that we want to impact outside of our four church walls."
For Tonéx, this isn't simply theory but something that he seeks to put into place in his own ministry. Listening to the album, it's incredible music drawing on influences as wide as jazz, gospel, R&B and hip hop as well as creating his own unique style of futuristic gospel but there's so much more, especially in a live setting. Tonéx explains, "There have been certain concerts that we've done where I know I had six or seven songs that I was supposed to do and maybe I got through one or two and that's it. The Spirit of God comes in and I actually come off the stage and lay hands on the young people. The power of the Holy Ghost falls and people are slain in the Spirit, people give their lives to the Lord, and healings take place.
"As a matter of fact I'm a preacher first and an artist second. Music
is my side order. I'm actually assistant pastor at my father's church.
A lot of people just expect because they hear the album or see the
video that they're gonna get a show. Well! You are gonna get
entertained to a certain extent because that's part of the ministry
that I do but it doesn't just stop there. I'm completely open to how
God works and that's how the ministry actually takes place. I know it
sounds crazy because you don't see it too often. Normally you see the
artist just get up there and perform and sit down but in my case it's
not what happens. It never happens that way. It's kind of a mixture of
Michael Jackson meets Benny Hinn."
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