Blessed are the music makers
In the hands of the Nine Beats Collective, music becomes a spiritual exploration, finds Laurence Wareing
There’s a surreal moment in our conversation when Nine Beats Collective founder Steve Bassett suddenly waxes lyrical about London’s late lamented Duck Tours.
Duck Tours were an idiosyncratic opportunity to drive around some of the city’s notable sights in a yellow bus that happened also to be a boat – and then drive uninterrupted into the Thames for a sail down the river. It was hardly a hi-tech James Bond moment but what people always remembered, says Steve, was that ‘splash point – where contrasting experiences connect and collide’. It was the thought-provoking experience of having conventional expectations challenged… which is precisely what happens when you start listening to the collective’s critically acclaimed concept album, Nine Beats.
The first thing you notice is that the blend of styles created by the collective’s international gathering of musicians is a world away from the narrower, upbeat worship songs of many praise bands. Steve says that much Christian music can be bland; freely admitting that some of his own songs might fall into that category. Nine Beats, on the other hand, defies categorisation, delivering an ear-grabbing sequence that brings jazz, acoustic, soul, reggae and rap into unexpected but companionable proximity. One collective member, the Californian-born Revd Vince Anderson, calls the result ‘a blue note album’ – where the spaces between the notes and ‘the beats’ are creatively explored.
The Beatitudes of Jesus, so-called because each one begins with the phrase ‘Blessed are they who…’, are the inspiration behind the project. They are most obviously present in the zombie-referencing song ‘Blessed are the undead’: passionate, poignant and utterly contemporary. But the sayings, which blend hope with lament, underpin the collective’s whole approach because, Steve argues, they speak directly into today’s world, where the bereaved, poor and persecuted are ever-present, as are the peacemakers and the merciful.
A musician and songwriter over many years, and now creative director of the Bible charity Lifewords, Steve Bassett has always been interested in the way faith, the Bible and culture impact on each other (those Duck-inspired ‘splash points’). He wanted to find a segment of Christian scripture that would inspire both a searching creative response and a wide conversation about how we live our lives in the modern world. The Beatitudes were what he turned to.
‘It was always going to be a concept album, and it was always going to be vinyl, even before vinyl started its comeback. It was to be an artistic response to the sayings of Jesus.’ The album is also accompanied by a ‘sort-of-curriculum’ – a teaching strand named Ninefold Path – but the music was to be the starting point, and it was this idea that Steve took to Lifewords’ trustees. When they gave him the go ahead it was, Steve believes, a brave thing to do – ‘because this kind of thing can be easily misunderstood’…
Laurence Wareing is Content Editor for Reform. Hear Nine Beats at www.9beats.org
This is an extract from an article published in the November 2021 edition of Reform