Church choirs > TV talent shows.

The confidence to perform in front of large audiences week after week, vocal training at the price of transport fares to and from choir practice and the opportunity to work with almost any music instrument, a properly-run choir can unearth talent and polish it as good as any talent show on TV can.

Chris Oyakhilome and his choir deserve credit for nurturing two of Nigeria’s premier contemporary gospel acts, Sinach and Frank Edwards. The latter has just released an album that’s up to par with offerings from his contemporaries in the mainstream, especially in technique and structure, even though it’s on a different path in spirit.

Frank invokes that Spirit throughout his 21-track LP, genuflecting in a combination of English and his native Igbo. Three songs even have the Igbo word for praise “ekele” in their titles – “Nye Ya Ekele”, “Agam Enye Gi Ekele” and “Nara Ekele”. Not the most creative choices, I know, but that’s where the similarities between the songs end.

Okay, I lied, forgive me Lord.

All the songs are structurally different but thematically almost the same. They rehash that impersonal, 3rd person narrative that most praise and worship songs are known for. Take “I Love You” for instance, the singer shares –

think about my life today and the way you raised me up…

But squanders the perfect opportunity to go deeper and make his salvation message more personal and relatable, going on to detail generic stories of triumph instead.

Many of the records on Frankincense follow this pattern, they are hearty performance records rather than heartfelt personal reflections. But Frank never told you that he’ll use his music to finally answer questions about whether he’s dating Pastor Chris’ daughter or not, so no need to force the issue.

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Even gospel music purists who accuse Mr. Edwards of vocal doping with Auto-Tune would applaud his exceptional songwriting and bold production choices on Frankincense. “If God be for me” is the kind of musical confluence that happens when a performer doesn’t allow genre boundaries dictate to him what he can do in 4 minutes and “Ka Anyi Bulie” is what happens when he doesn’t allow language barriers to do so either. On the latter, Frank gets legendary American gospel singer Don Moen to perform an entire verse and chorus in nearly-flawless Igbo! It’s moments like this that make you understand Mr. Edwards tries to make music with a heavenly outlook but doesn’t ignore its earthly impact either. Many gospel artistes seem to think – I’m doing the right music, so I don’t have to do music right. Not Frank Edwards.

On his 4th album Frankincense, the self-proclaimed “Rich boy” pays respect to music composition as an art form and Nigerian music as a culture. When an artiste shows that respect, regardless of his genre, you have no choice but to reciprocate it.