Manchester's dance pioneers The WORLDWIDE MESSAGE TRIBE are experiencing ever increasing waves of recognition. Yet their vision and heart for grassroots ministry remains, as Karl Allison found when he went to talk to them.

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I was sufficiently blessed by the Tribesmen to be allowed to hear the new tracks straight off the studio DAT machine and believe me, this album will be a stunning step forward for British dance gospel! Alongside the searing "We Take The Blame" and the groovy "Walking In The Glory (Of The Graceland)" from Part 1, we find the extraordinary, almost jazz/rap backing of "Get God" and the stand out "I'm On My Way (To Zion)", which Andy described as "our attempt to do an American single. It's a bit more poppy than what we usually do. But the lyrics are truly upfront and in your face!"

The first album to receive the Zarc treatment this year was 65dBA's new album, with Zarc acting as co-programmer and co-producer. "I actually went down to Bristol on and off for three months to work with them and it was a really good experience for me. Ray Goudie (NGM director) knows a lot about the ins and outs of being a Christian in the music industry and I learnt a lot from him."

Then there's the Rhythm Saints album, an N-Soul release which Zarc made with Steve Nixon in just nine days. It features the vocals of Sani and a track curiously titled "Scenes From A Tribal Landscape". Zarc:

"There's a story behind that track. The nine days wasn't enough time to complete the whole album so I think we did seven tracks and were left with three tracks which were no more than raw ideas. One of the ideas was 'Scenes', which Steve had. He wanted Andy to guest rap so all we did was stick Andy rapping over a drumbeat and they took that back to the States and built the whole track around Andy."

It's fair to say that it's the N-Soul link up that has significantly propelled Zarc into the forefront of Christian dance production. He also pops up as producer on one of the tracks on the 'Raving Loonatics' album. "I did a track, again with Steve Nixon, about a year and a half ago which was the one with Billy Graham on it called 'Man In The Fifth Dimension'. Steve sent it over to Scott and they then took the idea of using a preacher over a groove and did a whole album of it."

Zarc has also been commissioned to produce a pop album project which will hopefully be released this year. There's also a request from Scott Blackwell for Zarc to make an ambient house album. And then there are plans for a worship album from Perfect Music.

"It will be a radical worship album," explained Andy somewhat needlessly. "One of our visions is to set up monthly worship events so that we can leave behind a happening church in the area of the schools we've just visited. It will need to be really alternative worship, with video, special effects, lights, dancing, preaching and testimony. One of the resources we've wanted for a while for this are the backing tracks for the worship. We want to mega soup-up some of the best worship songs around at the moment, both for us and for other people to use."

"It will be along the 'Nitro Praise' lines, but a lot more British," continued Zarc. "On 'Nitro Praise' the selection is actually very American, so we want to pick things that are really popular in British churches and people can then use it as a resource. We'll write a few tracks ourselves, but mostly it will be well known songs with a thumping groove."

It's this whole area of what follows the schools work that is exercising the Tribesmen's minds right now. "Every week we get letters from kids who've become Christians at our gigs. The reason I've gone full time is to work harder on following up these kids. We're being a lot more successful this year than we were last year, I think. I was at a church recently to talk about setting up one of these radical services and I told them we needed a couple of people in the local area to take this on and the couple he suggested became Christians at one of the first schools we ever did, about two years ago!"

"We want to get the churches really fired up for looking after new Christians," added Mark. "We find, to be honest, that they haven't really got a clue. We would like to see Message To Schools (the Trust that runs the schools work) grow to the extent where we can be involved in training churches to look after these kids. In a sense, we've got an unfair advantage because we use the Tribe as a tool and the show has a certain credibility about it. But then it's about seeing these kids grow as Christians, and we need to work really hard at getting the churches to communicate in the right way. This is why we want to invest more money, time and effort into the follow up."

"The older ones are the ones who ought to be making all the effort," argued Andy. "They can cope with it. They're not gonna backslide because of a few booming bass sounds and flashing lights, whereas kids experience a massive culture shock when they come into churches. We've got stacks of ideas for setting up training for these kids. We have a link with a video trust now and we want to start training with video in a kind of DEF II format. Rather than send them a tract, we send them a video."

One other fascinating and, in the light of recent CCM scandals, highly encouraging aspect of the Tribe's vision is their understanding of the need for accountability. Mark explained: "Originally we needed a little committee to look after us, but now the whole thing has grown. We've applied for charitable status and we've now got five Trustees." Andy continued: "The daft thing about pop music is that any ugly guy can get up onstage and the girls will go crazy over him. It's just a fact. So we've got these wise old heads watching over us, making sure nothing goes to our heads."

The future looks so bright for The Worldwide Message Tribe that it's little wonder that they're wearing shades in their publicity photographs. They are hoping to expand the size of the team and eventually see a theatre company employed by the Trust to assist the schools work. They are also playing the Davenport Theatre in Stockport on 25th, 26th and 27th November, when they're hoping to really go to town with the show which will include three massive video screens. The sheer scope of their vision is quite mind-boggling, and yet it all stems from keeping their eyes fixed firmly on their calling. The closer they look, the bigger it gets.

The Tribe must stay in Manchester, but their vision need not be limited to the one city. Zarc: "Helping other people to set up is really a part of our ministry. I'm keen to use the studio in that way and Andy and Mark are always willing to give advice on schools."

Andy: "We very much want to be a catalyst to other cities. We'd like to see other people getting a vision. We don't feel led to leave Manchester right now. It would be much better if other people did the same in their cities." CR

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.