S.A Gospel Music: What You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


S.A Gospel Music is a form of music that is very popular in South Africa. It is a type of music that is based on the Christian faith and is often performed in churches.


South African gospel music is some of the most widely enjoyed in the world. The country has a long and varied history with the genre, one that is inextricably linked with the nation’s tumultuous past. Here’s a brief overview of where gospel music in South Africa came from.

African American Spirituals

African American spirituals, also called Negro spirituals, are a genre of songs created by African Americans in the United States. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition that imparted Christian values while also describing the hardships of slavery. Although spirituals were originally unsung, they are best known through the gospel music compositions of great African American composers such as Wade in the Water and Steal Away. African American spirituals can be grouped into three main categories: work songs, play songs, and protest or lamentation songs.

Work songs were designed to help slaves coordinate their labor while performing tasks such as cotton picking or chopping wood. Play songs were usually upbeat and served as a reprieve from the hardships of slavery. They often contained elements of folk dance and could be played on instruments such as the banjo or drums. Protest or lamentation songs allowed slaves to express their frustration with their situation and served as a form of resistance against their oppressors.

African American spirituals have influenced many genres of music, including blues, jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop. They continue to be performed by choirs and soloists in churches and concert halls throughout the world.

Work Songs

Work songs are a type of music that was sung by African American slaves while they worked. The songs were used to help pass the time, and to make the work go by faster. The lyrics of work songs often had double meanings, which helped the slaves communicate with each other without their masters understanding what they were saying. Work songs were an important part of African American culture, and helped to keep the slaves’ spirits up during difficult times.


Shouts are an important part of southern African gospel music. They are rhythmic call-and-response songs, usually with a prominent lead vocalist and a chorus. Shouts often include hand clapping, foot stomping, and other forms of percussive accompaniment. The lead singer may also play percussion instruments such as shakers or caxixi.


South African gospel music is usually performed by a Christian church choir and has a number of distinctive characteristics. The music is often upbeat and positive, with a strong focus on the lyrics and the message they convey. The melody is often catchy and easy to sing along to, and the harmonies are often complex and intricate. The instruments used in South African gospel music are often traditional African instruments, such as drums and percussion, but can also include Western instruments such as keyboards and guitars.

Call and Response

Call and response is a musical form that iscommon in gospel music. It is also known as antiphony. The term comes from the Bible, where it describes how two groups of people would sing different parts of a song back and forth to each other.

In gospel music, call and response usually takes the form of a soloist singing a line or phrase, and then the choir responding with either the same line or a different one. This back-and-forth can continue for many rounds, with the soloist and choir taking turns singing different parts.

Call and response is often used in gospel music to create a sense of community and interaction between the singer and the audience. It can also be used to create a sense of energy and excitement, as the back-and-forth between the soloist and choir can build up to a rousing finish.


One of the most defining characteristic of gospel music is repetition. Repetition is used in gospel music to create a feeling of ecstasy, to give the listener a chance to absorb the message being sung and to create a sense of community among those who are singing.

Gospel choirs will often repeat a section of a song several times, sometimes with different words each time, before moving on to the next section. This allows the congregation to feel the emotion of the music and to join in with the singing. It also gives everyone a chance to really think about and process the message being communicated.

Repetition is also used in gospel music as a way to create call and response between the singer and the audience. The singer will sing a line or phrase and then pause for a moment while the audience responds. This back-and-forth between singer and audience creates an atmosphere of participation and togetherness that is central to gospel music.


In music, polyrhythm is the simultaneous use of two or more independent rhythmic patterns, which interact with each other to create a new rhythm. The word “polyrhythm” literally means “many rhythms”; Greek and Latin roots are combined in the neologism to describe the phenomenon. When several independent rhythms are played simultaneously, a listener experiences brief periods when all the rhythms clash and produce a transient sound of indeterminate pitch. These brief unresolved sonic clashes occur when two or more independent rhythms share identical periodicities (cycles of beats).

Polyrhythms can be distinguished from irregular rhythms, which occur when an independent rhythm cannot be divided into a simple repeating cycle of beats. Polyrhythm requires numbers of enough Rhythms to fill up time evenly. For example, in western classical notation, 4/4 time is commonly divided into 3+2 or 2+3 (often written as 6/8), while irregular rhythms such as 5/4 or 7/8 divide time unevenly – into 2+3+2 or 3+2+2 (often notated simply as 8/8).

The following piece consists of four different lines of equal measure ( bars) that interact with each other:


In much of black gospel music, the role of the soloist is to improvise melodic lines of varying length and complexity over a repeating harmonic progression, which is typically based around the chords found in a popular hymnal. The performer is often supported by a choir or congregation singing background parts, sometimes called the “hook”, which usually repeat throughout the song. In some cases, the hook may also be sung by soloists.

Notable Figures

In the world of music, South Africa has a unique sound that is gospel. This sound has been around for many years and has been evolving. There are many notable figures in South African gospel music.

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson was an iconic American gospel singer. Called the “Queen of Gospel,” she recorded over 30 albums, including the Grammy Award-winning “Gospel Train” and “Amazing Grace.” Jackson’s powerful voice and moving performances had a profound impact on both gospel music and the Civil Rights Movement. In 2010, she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

James Cleveland

James Cleveland was an American gospel singer, musician, and composer, often referred to as the “King of Gospel Music”. He was a driving force behind the creation of the modern gospel sound by fusing the traditions of black gospel and church music with the stylings of jazz, blues, and pop. His work in the 1950s and 1960s with the Gospel Music Workshop of America choir influenced virtually every major gospel recording artist who followed.

Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin (born January 26, 1970) is an American gospel musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is known for leading urban contemporary gospel choirs such as The Family, God’s Property and One Nation Crew (1NC), and has won multiple awards, including twelve Grammy Awards. Franklin’s work has earned him praise from music critics. In 2002 he formed the 1NC with Carl Thomas and Maurice Griffin.

Franklin was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Gertrude (née McKee) and Robert Carrier. His mother was a church secretary and his father was a truck driver; both of them were young when they had Franklin. When Franklin was four years old, his brother Michael died after an accident while riding a bicycle. Kirk has said his mother cried every day until she died in 2017; she wanted to see her son before she died but was too ill to travel to Texas. When he was eight years old, his father began teaching him how to play drums in the Baptist church; hesoon began playing piano as well. He also sang solos as a child in both the George W Tandy Jr Memorial Evangelistic Choir at Mount Rose Baptist Church and the Saint Paul Choir at Friendly Baptist Church.

Contemporary Gospel

S.A Gospel music is a type of Christian music that is popular in South Africa. It is a genre that is a mix of traditional African music, hymns, and Western pop music. The lyrics are typically in English or Zulu, but there are also songs in other languages like Xhosa and Tswana.

Hip Hop

Hip hop is a popular genre of contemporary gospel music. This type of music incorporates elements of rap, R&B, and pop music. It is often used to deliver positive messages to listeners, and it often has a strong beat that makes it easy to dance to.


A more modern take on gospel music, neo-soul is a genre that shattered the divide between Christian and secular music. Heavily rooted in R&B, hip hop, soul, and jazz, contemporary gospel is as diverse as it is talented. From the smoothest of harmonies to the most groove-filled beats, neo-soul reinvents what it means to praise God through music.

Artists like Kirk Franklin, Deitrick Haddon, and Tasha Cobbs have been at the forefront of this musical movement, using their talents to spread messages of hope and faith to listeners all over the world. If you’re looking for something new in the world of gospel music, be sure to check out some of these contemporary artists.

Gospel House

Gospel House is a subgenre of Contemporary Gospel music that is characterized by its upbeat sound and positive, uplifting lyrics. Gospel House music is often played at Christian clubs and events, and it often features guest appearances from well-known Contemporary Gospel singers.

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