A cappella choir Gospel Essence share the story behind their formation
PUBLISHED: 16:40 25 January 2018
Romford's Rebecca Amissah founded the Gospel Essence a cappella singing group in 2010, which has since gone on to perform on national TV. Here she shares the story of the group and her aspirations for the future
Sometimes when you make things up as you go along, the journey it takes you on can surprise you. That’s very true of the Gospel Essence story. Seven years ago I set up the group in response to an agent who was unable to find a reliable gospel choir. I couldn’t have imagined the performances it would have led us to and the people that I would have the honour to work with as a result.
We have supported Kirk Franklin, a multiple Grammy Award winning gospel artist, on his London tour; we’ve performed in a BBC series with Gareth Malone as he scoured the UK for the most entertaining a cappella group (we came fifth) and were flown out to Abu Dhabi to perform at the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix. Not bad for a girl from Romford with no industry contacts or formal training, but some talented family and friends and bags of tenacity.
My sister, Paulina Amissah, sings in the group. She explains: ‘I have always had a passion for singing, so when Rebecca asked me to be part of Gospel Essence I was more than happy to participate. People always ask if we get on in the choir, and for the most part we do. I think every sibling relationship has its moments, but if I’m honest, I wouldn’t change it. Being part of the choir has brought us closer together. I am so proud of the work that Rebecca has produced and I’m so glad that her talents have been realised.’
The vision for Gospel Essence was to arrange popular songs in a gospel style. This surprises and delights the audience as they enjoy a new take on classic, well-loved songs. This vision is something that gives me a real creative buzz. Fortunately the concept started to catch on and after a few years of getting gigs by word of mouth and really enjoying arranging songs, I approached the Prince’s Trust.
Through their enterprise scheme I launched Gospel Essence as a business. I auditioned some new singers and started creating a credible brand.
Lawal Muhammad is one of the longest-serving members of the group. He says: ‘When looking back at my time with Gospel Essence, which is fast approaching six years, I am really grateful to have had so many opportunities to be challenged as a performer. In this way it mirrors life, as without that challenge you don’t really grow and you don’t really get to know what you’re capable of.
‘If you’ve held your nerve to deliver for televised national competitions, live radio broadcasts, for wedding processions and birthday celebrations, then what else might you be capable of in the future? I look forward to finding out.’
It is this kind of attitude and commitment which has made it possible to grow this whim of an idea into a great success. Another member, Gemma Woznicki, adds: ‘I’ve seen the group go from strength to strength over the years and loved being part of it.
‘Every gig is special because the group is all about just loving singing, whether we’re singing carols or being part of huge TV productions. Although nothing tops the Romford Christmas Lights Switch On, of course!’
Starting Gospel Essence with no initial capital relied on a special group of people and I count myself blessed with the group I have. They have trusted each idea and followed my unconventional way of leading, which has brought us great things, but the entrepreneurial life is not without its challenges.
Being the driving force behind the group, aside from the creative responsibilities, I have to attend to all the business aspects of the choir, which can take its toll.
While building the choir, I also opened up a studio in Romford (AmisStar Vocal Studios) where the group practice. I have also started a workplace choir service aimed at organisations that prioritise staff wellbeing.
My clients include The British Council and the staff of two hospitals, King George’s and Queen’s in Romford (The Sound of Pride Choir). I am very passionate about how regular singing can reduce stress and build confidence, and being able to expand a service like this in the community, especially within the NHS, fills me with pride.
Juggling all this with my own performance career is a constant challenge, but my love for singing helps it all fall into place. That’s exactly what happened with our latest TV appearance, featuring on Sky One’s Sing: Ultimate A Cappella with Cat Deeley. The opportunity to take part in a competition, to release our own Christmas single and record our first album at Abbey Road Studios was too good to pass up.
With no backing tracks or instruments you are on a knife edge and any mistake cannot be hidden. In our heat, we were up against Vade, One Note Stand, Steelworks and Scarlet Street, and boy did those groups bring it! The first round required a ‘mash-up’ where I arranged Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River into Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise.
One group was knocked out and the remaining four groups got through to the iconic artist round. Rihanna was that artist and we performed a cover of Stay. Another two groups were knocked out and we went head to head against Vade, who ended up knocking us out with a great rendition of Human by Rag ‘N’ Bone Man against our rock medley of Sweet Child O’ Mine, Hotel California and Pretender.
It was a great adventure and one we all enjoyed, including one of the group’s newest members, Amber Muldoon. Amber explains: ‘Being part of the show was a whirlwind. Ultimately it came down to being dedicated and knowing we were secure as a group.
‘Knowing your harmonies wasn’t enough; we had to dance, perform to cameras and inspire audiences. It was two minutes of extreme electricity and we only had one chance to get it right. What was most difficult was that for rehearsals we hardly had our entire group together at the same time because of various commitments.
‘This isn’t everyone’s main career, so hats off to the guys that had to juggle families, careers and choir practice until 11pm on a weeknight. Rebecca was amazing, arranging it all before rehearsal and with last minute filming obligations, it was stressful to say the least. But it was the most exciting opportunity to perform in a studio for national television in front of a wonderfully supportive crowd. I really think we did ourselves proud.’
The support and the social media following we have received from the public has been phenomenal and it’s nice to be stopped and recognised in your home town! We are excitedly planning our first show for next year and we look forward to sharing more performances of songs you wouldn’t expect to hear a gospel choir sing.