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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gospel night gone wicked

Neil Postman is famous for having written Amusing Ourselves to Death. I was reminded of the title of his book after checking in at TLC, a popular hangout around town that has become famous among faithfuls for introducing "Gospel Night".

At this bar, or whatever you might want to call it, patrons relax under dim lights whispering in each others' ears and knocking back bottles of liquor. In the next section, a generation of balokole meanwhile lose themselves in the sound of music praising the lord.

But if you must get the feel of TLC Gospel Night, pick any Thursday evening and drop by between 8 p.m. to midnight. You sure will catch the Ugandan version of American rap group, Naughty By Nature, doing their Hey Ho.

The group was by 1980s and early 90s, the talk among hip-hop lovers worldwide because of their catchy hiphop hooray and fluid stage movements. Nimble rhyming skills and ghetto street funk endeared them to thousands. That's why it was no surprise when I found Naughty By Nature's secular style being mimicked even by the 'holier than thou'.

In a world where people have so much time to expend, a doze of whatever form of entertainment is nowadays prescribed in the daily routine of life. It partly explains why brothers and sisters appear in droves to be of the Gospel Night crowd.

In buggy jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps with 'NY' scribbled on, hoods covering their heads and sometimes their brows, bands on their arms, the lads really have good times. I saw one MC Shoody, spotting a skin-tight vest with 'FBI' boldly emblazoned in front.

Another lanky lad slid onto the stage in a sparkling white suit: "Does that 'cat' think he's Luther Vandross?" someone wondered.

For the girls it's about tight pants, afro-hair style (or dancing hair especially when they throw their heads back), painted lips and nails. The daring few show off their thongs, others, hip-hugging and little flowerly dresses that mirror their seductive figures.

It must be some evangelist on LTV who said celebrityism is the new belief system born out of the show business era. So it is! At 8p.m., Gospel Night revs with life when artistes begin to hop on stage to unleash what they got. Rap, pop reggae, –name it and they'll have it exclusively packaged 'gospel'.

On the last visit, the opening song was Repent from Shaggy.

"What the heck is an unrepentant dude (Shaggy) doing in the corridors of 'holiness'?" a brother asked.

There she was, that unnamed girl moving her body like those dames in Rupee's steamy music video, Tempted to Touch. And this is the show to mend the soul and woo prodigals back to holiness!

A 14-inch screen chills in a corner above the tiny stage, a banner on a wall reads, '…For I'll yet praise Him my Lord and God.'

Praise Him they do, with blubbering voices warming up to the crescendo of the occasion and feely-touchy couples holding hands and cheering on.

"Hey Deejay, pick it up for me," an artiste will say with pomp, trying to sound American. "Track 2." And as the song picks rhythm, "Yo, put your heads in the air" to the responsive audience while chewing gum. "Watcha do if Jesus came back today?"

Then Gipir, a.k.a 'Busta Rhymes', gets on stage and the girls go wild. The lad might be physically handicapped but his trademark cocky rhyming style is as enchanting.

Even when the two squeaky speakers don't help things and when poor sound bungle things up, showmen are unbothered. A boy of about 14 will lie flat on the dancefloor and move on his stomach like a caterpillar. Applause, thunderous applause!

Normally, performances close by 10p.m. and the dance floor is opened to boogie-woogie. Boy and girl dance too close. It's there to see that the devil is clearly in charge though fans insist Gospel Night is such 'a bomb!'

Jared da Cobbler, a "holy hip-hop artiste" and a staunch born-again Christian is however, unhappy.

"I've since chucked the whole thing," he says. "You walk through hell and return through hell."

It could be why cameras are nay allowed in. Fear of exposing the devil Jared talks of? I've been to Gospel Night three times and every time I've returned with a pounding headache. Verily, this is what Neil Postman would call amusing oneself slowly but surely - to death.

Published in Sunday Monitor, May 20, 2006