By Melanie Henderson
Upon the release of “Gospel en Argentina: The Documentary,” I felt compelled to continue to spread the news about what’s going on in Argentina with regard to gospel music, as it is growing in force and size as each year goes by; turning into something ever more extraordinary.
There was a time in Argentina when BA’s gospel world — i.e. the now former Coro Gospel de Argentina (the first official full-size concert gospel choir to be created in Buenos Aires) — member’s future was uncertain, due to the closing of choir’s doors. After three years in action the end of 2011 saw the end of the project, and all of a sudden the 50+ sized crew was left without a director.
It wasn’t all tears and sadness, though. The determination of the star members of this wonderful group made it so that gospel music would not die and that, moreover, the choir’s closure marked the mere beginning of what was to become of Argentine gospel singing. Four new choirs, including the Afrosound Choir, UNTD (former BAICA) gospel choir, Coro Gospel Joy and the Boulevard gospel choir opened and new repertoires were well underway throughout 2012.
Markanthony Henry’s arrival
However, Franco Gandullo, the producer and co-creator of the Coro Gospel de Argentina, decided that it would be wise to take a short break from choir production (managing a group of 50-100+ people alone is not an easy task), and took a year to plan his next step.
After having laid down the foundations of gospel music in Argentina over the course of ten years, between his work with star director Gerardo Flores (they managed the Cordoba Gospel Singers/Choir together) and former CGdA director, Natalia Welbey, Gandullo decided it was high time he sought out further inspiration from the source. The United States of America.
In April of 2012, Gandullo was on a plane to one of the biggest cultural centres the States has to offer: New York City. It was there that he discovered the glory of Harlem churches, was introduced to the likes of the Mama Foundation and above all, met Markanthony Henry: director to Cissy Houston (yes, Whitney’s mum, but also one of the biggest gospel stars of all time).
Henry, an experienced gospel director, singer, pianist and vocal arranger has worked and continues to work with the stars of gospel music in the US, ranging from Hezekiah Walker to Vickie Winans and Kirk Franklin (to name a few).
Henry and Gandullo sat down and started to plan the beginning stages of what was to be, a very exciting journey.
Workshop number one — October 2012
Henry arrived to Buenos Aires for the total of one week and was introduced to over fifty singers and directors of all of the new gospel choirs in town. Not only did the directors of the “official” groups come to take part, but also directors from other groups that weren’t as well-known beforehand. Argentina’s gospel circuit became acquainted and Henry worked his magic.
The week presented many opportunities for the word to be spread about the goings on at the San Andres church in San Telmo, which included trips to Radio Nacional and Radio Ciudad with a select group of singers.
After a grueling week of 3-4 hour-long rehearsals, a concert was given at the end of the week, all of which was recorded. The repertoire covered included gospel classics, such as James Hall & Worship & Praise’s “God Is In Control,” Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise,” and Marvin Winans’ “Let the Church Say Amen,” to name a few.
The week’s work attracted the eye of international media, including China’s television channel CCTV, who came to report on the goings on.
The week’s excitement also fueled the very first Argentine gospel documentary, put together by talented video and filmographer Leandro Bgs; which can be seen here.
Gospel expansion: workshop number two
It’s fair to say that post-visit, Henry impacted hundreds of people in Argentine gospel, as the word was further spread to more gospel choirs beyond those who took part in the 2012 October workshops.
A year later, the New York-based gospel director returned for another week-long workshop for singers, but this time bringing a far more complex repertoire and a firmer hand on the musical side of things, adding a 4-piece band. The response was massive and over 80 singers attended.
As much as it was a massive advancement in terms of gospel music education for Argentina’s gospel crew — in the eyes of the participants and audience — it also gave a huge spotlight to new Argentine talent, that might have gone unnoticed, had the workshop not occurred.
An example of this was Argentine singer Laura Sabrina la Paz, singing the solo, “I Love The Lord” by Richard Smallwood.
Not only La Paz, but many other wonderfully talented soloists were uncovered during the workshop in 2012 and 2013, including the director of the Afrosound choir, Caterina Finocchi, musical singer/actor Mariano Condoluci, musical singer/actress Bela Belita, gospel singer Raul Barba, gospel/r&b singer and rapper Lucas Finocchi, soul/funk singer Virginia Alayon, soul singer Ana Laura Avalos, gospel/r&b singer Mel Isabel, gospel singer/director Gerardo Flores, gospel/rock singer Paula Carrevedo and gospel singer Natalia Romero.
Regarding the musical side of things, the 2013 repertoire cranked up the difficulty levels from the previous year, using more complex harmonies. The song list included, Richard Smallwood’s “I Love The Lord,” Tramaine Hawkins’ “Changed,” Dianne Williams’ “Make Me Better,” Hezekiah Walker’s “Every Praise,” Ricky Dillard’s “God Is Great,” and James Hall’s “God Wants A Yes,” to mention only a few of the songs.
“”I always enjoy coming here, because there are just so many great, great, great singers. Gospel music is definitely on the rise in Argentina.”
All in all, the message and the positivity of gospel music is spreading in Argentina as each year numbers grow in the current gospel choirs and more groups are being opened. A second documentary was made, to give insight into 2013’s magnificent week, which can be viewed here: –
Although the progression of gospel music has come a long way in Argentina since 2011 — it still feels like this is very much the beginning. There are said to be some 500 people working in gospel music in the country now, between Buenos Aires and Cordoba province, and the numbers only keep growing.
Henry told TMS in an exclusive interview, that he “hoped to be able to bring his own singers and musicians” on his next visit, which will no doubt, cause a quadrupling in popularity in his absolutely amazing musical workshops.
“I always enjoy coming here, because there are just so many great, great, great singers. Gospel music is definitely on the rise in Argentina,” Henry said.
To find out more about Argentina’s gospel agenda and how to get involved in gospel music, check out the Gospel En Argentina site –https://www.gospelenargentina.com.ar.
To listen to sound clips from the first year’s workshops, visit: –
To watch the CCTV report on Henry’s first visit, by reporter Daniel Schweimler in 2012, click here: http://english.cntv.cn/program/general_news/20121029/103575.shtml
To see more images from the second workshop, check out :
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