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December 23, 2003

Japan Times

New Jersey born, but a Japan resident of five years, Davis -- a former member of the legendary R&B group The Platters -- has assembled a choir, mainly comprised of Japanese singers, but with a smattering of others from the United States, the West Indies and the Philippines, which proves on stage that even if it gains few converts, Christianity can still ripple the spiritual surface of this country.

When they launched into "Oh Happy Day" -- called Japan's gospel anthem -- feet were stomping, hands were in the air and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. With all reticence and reserve joyously thrown to the wind, this was no staid Japanese Christmas event. Davis and his singers are onto something hot. Gospel -- the musical amalgam of West African call-and-response, Protestant hymns, jazz and the blues that is on the rise in the West -- is taking root in Japan as well, both at grassroots level and in the mainstream.

Springing up around the country are ensembles with names like The Far East Gospel Singers, and The Tokyo Voices of Praise. Not to be left out of the gospel act, some 7,000 people around the country -- mostly women in their 20s and 30s -- have enrolled for gospel courses at branches of the Yamaha Music School alone. Lessons there include not only voice control but also body movement and English pronunciation. Davis begins each practice session with his own group, called the Tokyo for Christ Gospel Workshop Choir, with a prayer and a brief explanation of each song's religious meaning.

Despite this, only a few of Japan's gospel singers are regular churchgoers. However, for all concerned the experience of raising their voices in harmony is nevertheless an emotionally charged affair, a method of overcoming the reluctance many Japanese feel about openly expressing emotion.

"You should see their faces during rehearsals," Davis said of his students, while warming up for the show. "They go from looking forlorn and timid to looking energized. They're learning they can be a part of this music."

Besides inspiring Japanese to move their bodies to the rhythm, the movie also helped foster interest in such Japanese pop acts as the five-member a cappella group Gospellers, whose 2001 CD "Love Notes" sold more than 1.8 million copies, said a spokeswoman at Sony Music group company Defstar Records.

Posted by acapnews at December 23, 2003 9:29 AM


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