Songs For Social and Spiritual Transformation was my Masters dissertation back in 2007.
I have had a belief since I was in my teens that music could change things, shape things, educate people and be an inspiration and fuel to the transformation of individuals and society. I was aware of how my life had been shaped by songs. I remember, when I was asked in Cape Town, why I had brought students to South Africa that I realised the birth of the project could be found in Live Aid and songs like Peter Gabriel’s Biko. Songs sent me off to the Bible to see whether justice issues were close to the heart of God; of course they were!
In 2005 two things came together that fired my dissertation. While on Sabbatical, as Writer-in-Residence at Regent College, Vancouver Charles Ringma introduced me to James Cone’s book The Spirituals and The Blues. Around the same time Bruce Springsteen’s Sessions Tour included seven Spirituals. Cone and Springsteen connected in my theological surmising. How did these Spirituals last through centuries? What did they have that made them transformational forces even to this day.
Of course this has all been infusing my life, writing and ministry ever since. This past weekend it had me sharing thoughts about the Spirituals, Gospel and Protest Song on Sunday Morning With Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland. In the Belfast studio I became a panelist with the likes of John Bell, Karine Polwart, Andrea Baker and Ian Gilmore, in the Edinburgh studio, in a fascinating discussion about the power of song.