Not everybody in the world subscribes to the same idea of God. Even Christians themselves have sometimes differing beliefs on the same God they worship. But one thing that never fails to bring people together from different religious beliefs is music. Gospel music is known for moving its listeners, regardless of their belief systems. So what is the secret healing power of gospel music that it manages to unite people from all over?
First, here’s a bit of history on modern day. Gospel music was originally called “negro spirituals” during its initial phase of development. American slavers brought scores of Africans to the US to work as laborers, particularly in the South area. As the slave trade flourished, the demand and need for more African laborers increased as well. One method the slavers utilized in keeping the enslaved Africans in check was through the use of religion wherein slaves were required to attend worship service with their masters. The newly converted slaves then started to adapt the normally somber church hymns for themselves by incorporating their native African music into the hymn. It was inevitable that they would do so, considering the Africans considered their tribal music as a means to connect to the sacred.
Most of the music produced that time focused on overcoming adversities and obstacles in life through God. To a believer, the healing power of music lies in the reinforcement of the idea that God is looking out for them and all will be well. But if you take out the religious context of gospel music, to a non-believer, the lyrics could also talk of simple emotional uplifting and transcending the obstacles. Gospel music is a potent carrier of not just religious ideas but political ideology as well. There are some who believe that the African slaves back then secretly communicated their messages for one another via gospel songs.
An evidence of the healing power of music is the rise of the African-American culture in the US amidst the hardships and trials they had to face before and after they were emancipated. Gospel music was continuously propagated among the slaves because of their situation; with nobody to turn to at their time of need, they could only rely on God and themselves, and they achieved this seemingly elusive connection with the spiritual through gospel music. Psychologically speaking, this would also make sense since verbal affirmation plays a key role in helping a person define the goals he is pursuing.
The healing power of music tells people that they can overcome the trials life throws at them. This idea, more than anything else, was a running theme in gospel music especially for the enslaved African-Americans. Ideas are a very powerful thing because once it is planted in the minds of people and the moment it takes root, it can be very hard to disregard its influence on the person. People face obstacles everyday and overcoming these obstacles is a task everyone knows all too well, regardless of their religious beliefs.
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by Gary Harbin