Once again with feeling

Leon Lee

Gospel music may not be everybody's first pick, but a new album has brought people from different backgrounds together

Leon Lee |

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Hiromi Wada (front left) and Marvin Leung (front right) with jazz musicians The Chung Brothers
Hong Kong's music scene has traditionally been dominated by Canto-pop and Mando-pop, even if more and more people are listening to K-pop, Western pop music and hip hop these days. But one sound nobody expected to see near the top of the charts was gospel.

Yet a new album called We Are One (WAO),the brainchild of influential local producer Benjamin Ng, has managed to do just that.

It was Ng who came up with the idea to modernise hymns some 35 years ago. Before Ng, hymns were usually directly translated from English into Chinese

"What he did was basically start to produce the first generation of Cantonese-written songs," says Marvin Leung Yuk-hou, executive producer of WAO. Ng and several of his friends founded the Association of Christian Music Ministry (ACM) and produced albums featuring this new brand of gospel music. WAO is their 12th such record.

The album took two years of planning and the result showcases how local gospel music has grown and evolved over the past three decades.

It involves 108 people from 11 different countries and features well-known names in the Christian music world, such as Grammy nominee Howard McCrary, and local stars, such as Jade Kwan Sum-yin and Corinna Chamberlain.

While the singers and lyricists were Christians, the album included work from other musicians who were not, a rarity in the genre.

"The concept that we are all one is all over the album. We are all one in Christian society, one in culture, one in nationality. As long as you are a good musician, that's all we were concerned about," Leung says. This unity is evident in tracks such as Please Send Me My Lord which features a whopping 13 singers, including singer and actress Hiromi Wada.

It was one of the few gospel songs that Wada knew well. She became a Christian about three years ago and admits that she didn't know a lot about gospel music, usually preferring to listen to more mainstream sounds.

At that stage, she was an aspiring Canto-pop singer but noticed that the industry puts more emphasis on image than music. When she began singing gospel music, things were completely different.

"These are serious musicians who tell me to sing with emotion. The vocal technique is not the first priority; it's actually connecting with listeners that is most important."

She is more careful with her musical choice now. "I won't sing songs about people breaking up and then becoming so sad that they want to die," she says.

"Songs like that really affect people negatively. You might think that those lyrics reflect what you are feeling but they actually just encourage people to keep falling into the darkness."

Leung sums up the feeling best: "Musical genres and styles are categorised by people. But what really shows the difference between gospel and non-gospel music is in the lyrics."

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