On 9 September, Liverpool Lighthouse will be hosting the UK’s first mainstream gospel music festival. To mark this occasion, Carla Jacobs interviewed music director Anu Omedeyi, about her inspiration for the festival, the history of gospel music and why gospel music is important to shape our evangelism today.

Omedeyi, is the music director at the Liverpool Lighthouse, a National Portfolio organisation for Arts Council England, where she is involved in developing a National Gospel Music Centre. In 2015, she left her profession as a barrister to commit to directing her local church gospel choir where they sang and ministered beyond the four walls of the church. Through this, she then began to develop her skills in vocal coaching, music directing and songwriting where she worked alongside various worship leaders, gospel choirs and other gospel artists across the UK. I caught up with her to find out more about her passion to create the UK’s first mainstream gospel music festival.

Tell our audience, essentially what is gospel music? 

Quite simply, gospel music is music derived from and inspired by the Christian faith, deriving from the Black experience and embodying the sounds of African and Caribbean people. According to the Gospel Music Industry Alliance (GMIA), which governs gospel music in the UK, gospel music is African, American and Caribbean musical experience relating to the Christian faith…incorporating both the gospel genre and the gospel message delivered overtly or by inspiration.” The gospel music scene in the UK and Ireland encompasses a wide range of genres that showcase R&B, hip-hop, rock, pop, reggae, afro-beats, garage and even grime. 


So, who is gospel music for?

Gospel music is for everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from or what you represent. We are instructed in Matthew 28:19 to share the gospel with people from all nations and not just one community of people, one ethnic background or one nationality:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (NLT)

In other words, gospel music cannot be defined and limited to those from a specific community but open to all nations and all people. Therefore, we as believers have a responsibility to share the gospel, make disciples and give everyone the opportunity to experience the goodness of God – even if this is through gospel music!

What is the aim of the gospel music festival?

Evangelism is at the heart of this whole project. The aim of the gospel festival is to equip and edify believers whilst presenting gospel music as a form of evangelism for those who may not usually seek out existing music festivals. This festival aims to cater to all ages, cultures, religious beliefs, backgrounds and communities, offering a message of hope and light to everyone who engages with it.

What inspired you to put together the UK’s first mainstream gospel music event?

The genre of gospel music isn’t new. Gospel music has been used as a tool for evangelism for many years, surpassing the four walls of the church. However, it is time to bring the historical value of such a long-standing genre to the forefront of mainstream Christian conversations.

Each genre of music can reach different audiences and groups of people meaning that for our evangelism to be different, how we narrate the story of the gospel through music must also be different. Christian-centred festivals like the Big Church Festival and Spring Harvest do a great job at creating spaces for Christians and non-Christians to come together for a weekend of creativity, music and fun – and even events like the Festival of Praise create spaces for believers to join in worship and fellowship, with the purpose of edifying one another.

There is a dominant music culture that takes the front seat in our Christian praise and worship sets across the UK and other Western cultures. The familiar sounds of Christian contemporary or rock performed by popular Christian worship artists such as Hillsong, Elevation Worship and even Maverick City Music, fills our churches on a weekly basis. It is what we are accustomed to, and it is what we know best. However, there is a clear gap in the UK Christian music scene for a mainstream gospel music festival that highlights the history, diversity and unique purpose of gospel music in the Christian space today.

"...gospel music cannot be defined and limited to those from a specific community but open to all nations and all people."

Why is this gospel music festival so important?

It is clear that the gospel music scene does not have the same reach, financial support and spaces to exist and develop as a genre, within the mainstream UK Christian music scene. In order to create more space for gospel music to exist in the same way as other mainstream Christian genres, there must be commerce and a larger audience, to make this happen. However, for many growing up in the UK, gospel music remains at the heart of the Black church experience. Whether this has been through listening to and engaging in local gospel choirs, hearing gospel music and witnessing traditional Christian worship songs remixed into a gospel-style to fit the genre of the church and its musicians.

And so, for the culture of gospel music to continue to exist and grow in the UK culture today, there needs to be a level of incorporation into the larger Christian festivals. The message of hope, joy and positive affirmation that flows within the very foundations of gospel music is something that more people and communities should be able to experience. In a world where negativity and anxiety exist, the need for a type of creative outlet, such as gospel music, that affirms, the power of the God through evangelism, should be experienced by all nations and all people.

What can we expect from this gospel music festival?

There will be performances from several UK choirs, such as Kingdom Choir, Volney Morgan and New-Ye, London Gospel Choir, Lighthouse Choir and other local schools and community choirs from in and around North-West England. There will also be UK artists such as Called Out Music, Sarah Teibo and David B and a presentation of diverse styles of gospel sounds such as afrobeats and traditional worship music. It promises to be a family-friendly fun day out!

For those who do not listen to gospel music or know much about it, what would you like to tell them?

The chances are, many have already probably heard the gospel sound without even knowing or acknowledging it. Gospel music presents itself across a wide variety of genres and other creative media outlets such as in film soundtracks and through the musicians and sound-engineers that work in secular spaces. This kind of festival aims to provide another step for people to fully understand and engage with gospel music in a more direct way amongst all of God’s people.

"The message of hope, joy and positive affirmation that flows within the very foundations of gospel music is something that more people and communities should be able to experience."

If you would like to buy tickets for this event, or for more information visit: liv​er​pool​light​house​.com/lgmf