My dear brother gave me a gospel CD to listen to, which I am ashamed to say, stayed on my living room table for weeks before I ventured to pick it up and play it.
If I am honest, the reason was purely a pre-judgement based on my past and at times negative experiences with Christianity and a fear of being preached at. And yet, the music and message behind every one of the 13 tracks on the album lifted my spirit and emotions in a way I never would have expected.
The album, especially the first and my favourite track ‘Heaven Heaven’ is an eclectic mix of sounds that draw on strong Latin rhythms, rolled up in reggae beats, brassy instruments and an 80s edge rippling with a modern twist – not your average kind of gospel album but its producer Birmingham-based Bernard Taylor is not your average kind of guy.
Taylor’s music engenders positivity and courage that seems worlds away from the childhood challenges he faced battling to cope with his father’s mental breakdown.
“Sometimes when you see brokenness around you, you have to look in another direction,” he says. “For me, being a reflector, it meant I internalised a lot of my feelings and emotions. But I wanted to try and inspire and speak into peoples’ lives – for those who have gone through brokenness.”
According to Taylor, a lot of people that have listened to his album have found comfort in songs such as ‘Couldn’t Go on Without You’, and ‘Mercy Looking Back at Me’. Others have said it takes them on a journey, like it is being narrated, which he says was his intention.
“ I wanted to paint a picture of some of the highs and lows that a person goes through in life and use that to minister to people”, he says.
“The song – ‘What Does the Future Hold’ resonates with a lot of people because life is unpredictable and we cannot know what is going to happen tomorrow. When you have a relationship with God, you are putting your life in God’s hands and whatever happens, you are secure in him.”
An accomplished guitarist by the age of seven with a thirst of amassing more knowledge and a locally
accepted talent for music – Taylor’s story reads like so many other artists in the music business. His skills as a youngster were honed outside of the classroom and it is on the streets that he absorbed new musical skills including learning to play the drums from a group of local Rastafarians.
These skills that landed him a spot and studio time with local talent scout Wooligan where he produces his first track ‘When I am a’ Thinking’. And yet, despite writing and producing this single at the tender age of 17 and the managers behind Birmingham-based reggae icons Musical Youth and lovers rock sensation Winston Reedy showing interest in his musical style, Taylor turned his back on the opportunity.
“There was a battle in my mind – should I go forwards or stop? I didn’t go forward because there was this world that I didn’t understand and felt I would get lost in. Everyone else I knew went down the drugs scene and I didn’t want to fall into the wrong hands,” he says.
Also, for Taylor, it was important that the integrity of his message was not sullied with people trying to pigeon-hole him as one type of artist. As is reflected in his current album, it is hard to pin point one creative style in his work.
“After writing the album, I remember I was in the studio with a producer and a mixing engineer who commented afterwards that the music I had produced didn’t sound like anything they were hearing at that moment in time.
“Some people when they listen to it hear Latin beats, others can hear the influence of the 80s but also modern influences are present,” he says. “It could work as an instrumental, or a gospel track. It’s almost like a fusion of different styles.”
Music and me
Even though Taylor didn’t pursue music in the conventional sense of the word, music never left him. He trained to become a music teacher working with students from primary school up to secondary level and has managed to combine his passion for the craft with learning some of the more practical skills linked to working in the music industry.
With his studio skills, experience in graphic design, multi-media and a healthy interest in film and media, Taylor understood the mechanics behind developing an album, and creating a stage presence for emerging artists who had the raw talent but not necessarily the experience of working in the industry.
Taylor’s expertise and passion has meant he has rubbed shoulders with reggae artist Pato Banto and Birmingham soulstress and recently –turned face of Loose Women Jamelia on judging panels aimed at showcasing new talent. He has even transitioned into theatre – playing a small role in Fay Thompson’s ‘Diaries of a Black Woman’ at the New Beginnings Theatre Company, Taylor says. And his passion to minister has even taken him to prison where he has used his love for the Lord to speak to inmates and inspire the young about life choices.
During all these journeys, God has always been there. “I spent a lot of time in church and the passion just didn’t go away. I felt as though God was calling me.”
And it was at church that Taylor founded a worship group called La Jira Praise which means the provider of praise. The aim behind the group was to use his ministry gift to bless people, usher people who are seeking and needy into the presence of God, to bring hope, refreshing, inspiration, and inner healing to as many people who hear his message in music.
As a result, Taylor does not feel that he has missed out on a musical career. “I have always wanted to be more than just an artist and believe that I am achieving that through the different paths I have taken. I have been able to draw on the inspiration of legends such as Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Luther Vandross and delve into their minds, as well as harnessing important transferable skills to help make me more rounded.”
All that and more is visible in his debut album ‘I’ll Wait on You’. And although Taylor’s album has been six years in the making, it is well worth the wait.
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong
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