As the momentum continues to increase and the doors continue to open, Tony Cummings talks to Manchester's pioneers of sanctified dance, the WORLD WIDE MESSAGE TRIBE.
All systems are firing for the World Wide Message Tribe. They've just returned from a triumphant gig in Holland at the world's first sanctified dance festival; rapper Cameron Dante (ex-of chart makers Bizarre Inc) is about to become an official member; there is a growing buzz about them in the US (where recently the mainstream dance pages of Billboard magazine carried an enthusiastic Tribe article); they've been granted a weekly THREE HOUR sanctified dance programme on Kiss FM, Manchester's most popular radio station; and at Spring Harvest in Skegness this April the Manchester musicianaries will be demonstrating to the Big Top congregation that, for a new youth generation, worship and proclamation has moved a quantum leap from the guitar strums of Graham Kendrick.
Also with the release of 'Jumping In The House Of God 2', the World Wide Message Tribe have a new album out...sort of. Ever since the rise of dance music, 'artist' credits have often been nebulous, sleeves of dance releases sometimes crediting lead singers, sometimes producers and sometimes moniker phantasms dreamed up after slaving over computer and sampler. 'Jumping In The House Of God 1', released in 1994 to great acclaim on the World Wide Message Tribe's Movation label was a various artists album...kind of. The tracks, most of them dance modifications of popular worship choruses, gave track-by-track artist credits to the singers and rappers doing the stuff in front of the vocal mike. But as most of those people were in the World Wide Message Tribe, the public understandably looked upon Volume 1 as a World Wide Message Tribe album. With Volume 2 a 'featuring the World Wide Message Tribe' credit has been added to the front sleeve while the back sleeve lists the Tribe as artists, as well as other participants - HOG (the Leeds-based rap duo whose EP by ICC is released this month); Shine (the girl trio who in months past have been sharing the Manchester schools work with the World Wide Message Tribe); Sani (the ex-lead singer of the Tribe who had momentarily left for pastures new with mainstream group Extatic, though has now subsequently returned to her homeland of Swaziland); Jim Overton (who also is one third of acid jazz team Bliss) and Lynsey Berry (who sings with Breakspear).
I asked Zarc Porter, the engineer, producer and non-playing member of the World Wide Message Tribe, about the 'Jumping In The House Of God' albums. "Well, we just did them to confuse everyone." Zarc laughed then continued, "No, what happened was that the original 'Jumping In The House Of God 1' wasn't even intended for release. Mission To Schools -the ministry base out of which the World Wide Message Tribe operate - felt there was a desperate need to give the kids we were seeing saved a regular worship and teaching event which wasn't so removed from what they'd experienced at the World Wide Message Tribe concerts. What goes on in the average church was like something from another planet, culturally, to what these kids were used to. So we started the Planet Life events. Backing tracks were needed for the worship at Planet Life and I put some together. When Alliance Music heard them they went crazy and said they wanted to release the stuff. So that's how 'Jumping In The House Of God 1' came out."
Zarc was never entirely happy with the first volume. "Looking back I think there's some fantastic stuff on there. But really it was a bit of a tacky idea - choruses with a groove. Here we were going to absurd lengths to try and make choruses, some of which were inherently staid and un-danceable, into something that the kids would want to leap around like nutters to. I felt that revitalising choruses could have validity, Shine does 'Jesus Name Above All Names', Lynsey Berry sings 'Hear My Prayer' (the Taize song) and Jim Overton does 'I Believe In Jesus' on Volume 2. But also I felt we needed to radically reappraise where Planet Life, and 'Jumping In The House Of God', were taking worship."
The key in finding this new and radical direction came in the person of Cameron Dente. The ex-rapper with chartmakers Bizarre Inc and a top Manchester club deejay had a dramatic conversation at Planet Life 10 months ago. Soon afterwards he was asked into Zarc's Perfect Music studio to put a rap on a track, which was to become "Real Thing". "Zarc had asked me to go down with him and do a tune with the World Wide Message Tribe," said Cameron. "He had this tune, he had a chorus and he said would I write the verses. So I sat there and wrote them, probably in about a minute."
If the rapid-tongued rap of Cameron brought a whole new lift to a slamming World Wide Message Tribe tune what was to follow was even more extraordinary. 'Then, about a week later," continued Cameron, "Zarc said, let's do another one. We were really struggling. I said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll just do shouting and worshipping and screaming...' and it got us fired up. 'Cause the first thing I did was shout, 'How y'all feel out there?!!!' and Zarc got really excited! So I was screaming things and Zarc was writing and recording at the same time! Afterwards, Andy Hawthorne put the track, it's called 'Kik-Start', on in his car stereo as he drove home. He said he got shivers up his spine. 'A real worship song this!' he said."
Cameron's attitude to worship is very much built on what he sees nightly in his deejaying work in secular nightclubs. "If I put on something like 'Sing Hallelujah' by Mozaic the whole nightclub goes crazy and lifts their hands in the air. To me, that's a form of worshipping. But they don't know what they're worshipping! All those hands in the air - I think it's a bit frightening, what ARE these people worshipping? I really feel like shouting into the microphone, 'Do you know who you're worshipping? Worship God!' I think taking that essence of the nightclubs and putting it in to worship is what we're trying to do."
Zarc Porter is convinced that a model of a worship leader, not as a rather staid guitar-strummer but as a shouting and exhorting DJ is a more relevant one for today's youth culture. "I really got the vision for this when I saw Lee Jackson of HOG leading worship at Soul Survivor" said Zarc. "It dawned on me that this is what we need to stop worship from seeming boring to a whole new generation." One of HOG's two contributions to 'Jumping In The House Of God 2' was just as spontaneous as Cameron's. Remembered Zarc, "I asked HOG up for a day. I had this track 'Holy' which Doug Walker (lead singer of TVB) and Shine were singing on and we had a space on it. We wrote the track with Justin in mind and his rap worked out fine. We had some time left so we just pushed it a bit. We had Justin and Lee doing loads of ad libs, just praising God. After they'd gone we edited up bits of the ad libs and that grew into the track 'Jumping In The House Of God'!"
Another of the guests on 'Jumping In The House Of God 2' is Jim Overton. Jim is an old friend of the World Wide Message Tribe. Back in the mid '80s genesis of the Tribe, Jim fronted a band The Dive, which used to do support for Except For Access, the pop team which first brought Mark Pennells and Zarc Porter together. He even admits to singing backups on "One Of These Days", a Mark Pennells privately produced solo tape circa 1991! Jim works as a full time youth worker at Cheadie (eight miles south of Manchester) at an Anglican church where many of the Planet Life services have been held. It was Jim who led the worship at Planet Life on the Channel 4 TV special 'God In The House' at Christmas. He is also a member of Christian acid jazz team Bliss, who are in a state of suspended animation at the moment as their keyboard player and programmer Grant Ainsworth pursues a big secular music deal. The other member of Bliss is Max, the superbly talented pop gospeller who's sung BVs and played guitar on many a World Wide Message Tribe track.
Jim Overton's contribution on 'Jumping In The House Of God 2' is a gently grooving version of the worship standard "I Believe In Jesus". With consummate irony Zarc and cohorts have dubbed this rendition the "Cheese Monster Mix".
Jim has a huge admiration for what the Tribe are pioneering. "It is having a huge impact, creating ripples right across Christian youth work and beyond. To those in leadership it may seem radical to have lighting rigs and bass bins in the church. But it's something we have to do today if following Christ and worshipping God isn't to appear to be some dusty anachronism."
Cameron Dante is about to join the World Wide Message Tribe. "I'm really excited about going into schools and telling kids about Jesus. The Lord got such a hold on my life - I can't stop talking about him!" Dante will continue deejaying in at least one secular club "so I can keep a feel for what is going on" but is, like Zarc Porter and Andy Hawthorne, stunned at the door the Lord has now flung open on radio. For Kiss 102, the most widely listened to radio station in greater Manchester with a listenership of 250,000 young people have asked Cameron Dante to host a three-hour radio show every Thursday. The Sanctified Dance Show will play the best in Christian dance music, interview Christian dance artists, include features on Christian events in Manchester and broadcast dedications to the legions of young people who are being reached in schools through the work of Message To Schools.
Said Zarc Porter, who will produce the show, "The show will give credibility and respect to the church in Manchester amongst the very group of people who, at the moment, often feel most alienated from it." The Tribe's Andy Hawthorne will oversee the programme, making sure it is both Christian in content yet communicates in a language Manchester youth can understand.
So, the World Wide Message Tribe's influence and ministry continues to expand. The final work on the band's ministry goes to their newest recruit, Cameron Dante. "In the past when I did gigs with Bizarre Inc or whoever it was a job. But when I was in Holland last week and we were playing in front of 10,000 people I could really feel God's presence there. The whole show had a meaning, every song had a meaning. And to see these people's faces lighting up was fantastic. It really inspired 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.