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The influences of Christianity and commerce on the culture of popular gospel music in post-apartheid South Africa.

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Gospel music is the biggest genre of popular music in South Africa. This popularity can be attributed to various elements that are an integral part of the diverse South African democratic society. As a developing country with a relatively young democracy of just above twenty years, the socio-economic status of South Africa directly impacts upon various spheres of the lives of her citizens. The unique demographics of this country in terms of its history, population groups, languages, religions, socio-political landscape, also play a remarkable role in the evolution of various sub-cultures that represent various groups of South African people, and consequently the overall culture of this ‘rainbow nation’. This study researches into popular Gospel music within two aspects of this broader culture of the South African society, namely: the Christian religion and commerce. Christian churches and the music industry, although generally perceived as unrelated or even opposed in the nature of their operations, both have a stake in Gospel music. It is this intersection that is the subject matter and the research problem of this study which investigates the involvement and intentions of these institutions regarding popular Gospel music. By studying and analyzing various activities and programs of these institutions, the current study seeks to show how the teachings, doctrines and operations of Christianity on one side, and the pursuit of profit on the other, influence the ‘culture’ of popular Gospel music. The scope of these activities and programs goes far back to the preliminary stage of conceiving the very initial idea of getting involved with Gospel music, and culminates in the consumption of resultant music products. This study analyses these activities, and others in-between. For the music industry, these include talent scouting, management, composition, arranging, performance, production and recording, promotion and marketing of Gospel music products. For Christian churches, the involvement with popular Gospel music is both direct, in the usage of Gospel music and artists in Christian church services, and indirect in providing a support base from which music styles, songs and lyrical contents are drawn. Moreover, Christian churches harbor and indoctrinate Christians, who are seemingly primary consumers of Gospel music. This harboring and indoctrination foster a particular belief system which influences how Christians interact with, and make meaning of, popular Gospel music. All these activities and programs of Christian churches and the music industry regarding popular Gospel music are regarded in this study as constituents of the culture of popular Gospel music. This study therefore investigates how these activities and programs of Christian churches and the music industry influence the ‘culture’ of Gospel music as a genre. Although this study is located within the timeline of post-apartheid South Africa, it takes into consideration the aftermath of colonialism and apartheid, as socio-political occurrences which have had a lasting effect on popular culture.


Doctor of Philosophy. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2017.