Last week I wrote about singing and slave spiritual, the songs the slaves sang while they were working on the fields or at their church services. The Bible told stories about freedom from slavery and even if there was little hope to become free during the slaves’ lifetime, they knew they were going to be free after death.
For a pragmatical person it might seem useless to wait that long for freedom, but for a faithful person the hope for better days to come is what is keeping him or her up. They say that the last thing that you lose is hope and we are many who have experienced hard days. The only way to endure these is by our hope for better times and even the smallest glimpse of hope gives new energy and helps us to endure our trials. The slaves sang together and got energy both from the singing and the knowledge that they were not alone. The other slaves were going through the same trials so it became a little bit easier when they shared the bad times.
Some weeks ago I wrote about the human brain and in that article I mentioned the”fight-or-flight reflex.”
We have that in the oldest part of the human brain and that reflex has saved our lives through generations. It kicks in an instance as soon as we feel threatened somehow so we know if we can fight our enemy or if we must flee away from it.
An enemy can be a lot of things, it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who is threatening you with a weapon or someone who is harassing you somehow. The enemy can also be stress, a bad work situation, a bully, an abuser etc. Whatever it is our bodies react to it with this ancient reflex. What happens if we can’t fight our enemy or flee from it? We get stressed, anxious, get high blood pressure and the pulse gets high. All these symptoms damage our bodies as well as our minds and in time we get sick, get pain in the body, depression or even a heart attack.
Singing is a great stress relief, it has such a positive impact on our brains and the brain sends out signals to the rest of the body. The level of stress decreases and with that also the blood pressure. We begin to breathe more calmly and focusing on the singing is making us forgetting our worries for a while. The slaves at the plantations in both North and South America had no freedom at all, but when they sang their spirits were free.
After the civil war in America, 1861-1865, when slavery was banned, many of them didn’t want to leave their masters. They had become mental slaves and didn’t know how to handle the freedom. There is a slight parallel to the current situation in the Gambia; mental slavery. There are people who look back at the ”good old days” and complain about the current situation. They fear the changes and say that it was better as it was before. Others are taking advantage of the freedom and do and say things they never would have dreamt about before. These people have not found the balance yet, but that will come. Every great change comes with some pain, it is painful to give birth to a baby and the Gambia has gone through a re-birth. It was not better before, there were no ”good-old-days”. We must praise God for our freedom and not take it for granted. Let our words, prayers and songs be like a gospel. The slave spirituals evolved to gospel; songs of joy and happiness. Songs where we praise God for our freedom.
The slave spirituals were based on stories from the first part of the Bible; the Old Testament and the gospel songs are based on the second part; the New Testament. To give a very simplified explanation about the difference between these two parts is that the first part tells us about the time before the prophet Jesus, and the second part tells us about Jesus and his life.
The stories about the prophet Jesus tell us that he will come back one day to earth and bring all Christians with him to heaven. Life was not a bit easier for the freed slaves so they really needed to hear the good messages from the Bible to lift their spirits up.
The gospel songs are different from the old slave spirituals; the gospel songs are more joyful and upbeat. These songs invite you to clap your hands and move your body to the rhythm.
I know some of you, dear readers, wonder why you should be listening to gospel music when you are Muslims. Why not? Why not listen to a good message that is telling us about God and his grace instead of other kind of music? Those of you younger readers who listen to pop music, hip-hop etc get a very different message than in the gospel, but do you question that? Music is a strong force, it can be used for good purposes as well as bad. Music can be joyful and create a sense of togetherness, but that togetherness can have a purpose of its own.
Let’s say that a large group of people gather at a concert and the most of them have racist opinions. The music is loud, the lyrics are harsh, the words in the lyrics can be hard to hear but they go directly into your subconscious mind. When it is in there a process will begin and you try to figure out what you have heard. You are still caught up with the spirit of the concert, all the ”cool” people you have met and the sense of have been a part of something bigger than yourself. If you are a person with a very low self esteem, you will easily be caught up by this lifestyle and the opinions others have implemented in you will soon be your own.
Music can be used to implement certain opinions in people and when we listen to it we need to be aware of the message it is giving us. Is it a good message, is it something we can talk about without feeling embarrassed?
What kind of message do we get from hip-hop, for example? That depends of course on which artist or group we listen to, but with the music comes a certain lifestyle, dress-code and language. As a young person it is appealing, it has always been like that no matter which music style that has been popular. Older people have always been complaining and warning the young ones about the new influences that could be bad for the youth. This is how it is and will remain, but what I wish to show is that it is always important to be aware of what kind of message you get through a certain style.
Why I mention hip-hop is because I know that the style is very appealing, the way the singers express themselves in language and attire. No wonder elderly people dislike sexy clothes as they have been brought up in a tradition of decency. From the popular music found on internet you can see young girls showing the largest parts of their breasts and they shake their behinds so you could believe that it wasn’t attached to the rest of the body. I had a Gambian friend once, who loved to watch this kind of videos. I was appalled by them, felt that they were humiliating the women and showed them as objects instead of dignified people. I asked my friend why he liked these videos and he said that they were sexy. I tried to explain my point of view and asked him if he would have liked his sisters to dance like that, to show up as sex toys without brains. He had no good answer for that, I could see that he got embarrassed by the question – it was obvious that he had never been considering that these girls are actually someone’s sister or daughter.
The men in these kinds of videos are wearing expensive jewelry, have big muscles and look cool. The message in many of the songs is about what to do with women and how hard.
They speak about gangs, violence, rivalry, drugs and fancy cars. As a young person – is this what you wish your future children to listen to? Is this the world you wish for them to live in? Where is the dignity, the kindness, the compassion? Where is love and understanding? Is love a synonym for sex? Do we build up and develop a good society, where we care about each other, by using alcohol and drugs, crash cars just for fun, kill people if we disagree with them and have uncontrolled sex just because we can? If that is the only message we are listening to I don’t want to be a part of that society.
I know I sound like an old nag right now but sometimes we need to exaggerate to make people listen and to make the message clear.
Not only the girls in the videos give the wrong signals to others, that they are more or less for sale, also the boys do. It is modern among young guys to have their jeans down so their underwear shows.
It can’t be that comfortable and it doesn’t appeal to women – so sorry boys – pull up your pants.
I will tell you where this style came from – it came from the American prisons.
Wearing your jeans in that way is a silent signal to the other homosexual prisoners that your behind is ”open for business.”
I don’t want to be clearer than that but I think you get the message.
So – if this is the signal you guys wish to give to others, then go ahead but be aware of your message to others.
There are hip-hop musics with a good message, as well as in every other kind of music. What I wish for you to do is that don’t be an unreflective consumer. Listen to the lyrics and look at the style. If you feel happy, get good energy, the lyrics touch your heart in a good way then everything is fine. It is important in every part of our lives to be reflective, to stop and consider where we are heading and why. Muslims or Christians, believers or not, still our lives can be like a gospel, our message for others can be a good message.
I will finish by giving you a tip about a beautiful old time gospel called ”It’s me again, Lord” by Rev. F.C. Barnes & Company. You will find it on YouTube if you wish to search for it. The song is like a conversation with God and that way of speaking to God can be unfamiliar for some of you, but it doesn’t make it bad – only different.