RIGA - Riga's churches are generally pretty subdued and somber places. Prayer usually consists of some mournfully mumbled words of contrition and perhaps giving a few santims to the elderly beggars sitting on the church doorsteps.
This is all in stark contrast to the sort of belfry-busting, pew-rattling, bible-belting ecclesiastical services rendered by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir, who will be bringing their almighty lungs to Riga on May 18.
This is all very good news for the average music lover, who doesn't generally get to listen to much gospel in the city's predominantly Lutheran churches. The choir will be performing at Riga's Congress Nams. It's not exactly a church, but that doesn't really matter. Once the choir gets a-singing, the religious fervor is sure to get a-swinging.
The Harlem Gospel Choir was founded in 1986 by Allen Bailey, who reputedly got the idea while attending a celebration of Martin Luther King at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club. And its mission? To promote better understanding of Afro-American culture and, of course, to spread the Word.
Gospel music originated in the early 1930s in America. In many respects it is closely related to the blues, inasmuch as both musical forms were a unique means of expression for black people in a deeply divided society. But where the blues revels in a sense of hopelessness, gospel is extraordinarily uplifting and exhilarating. Spontaneous, vibrant and almost hypnotic, gospel music at its best is infectiously joyful. Why, it's almost enough to make even the most agnostic person want to thrust his hands into the air and sing out the name of the Lord.
It's probably worth going to the concert just to see how the Latvians in the audience - who are well known for their toe-tapping timidity - will react to this musical onslaught. Will they suddenly convert en masse? Or will they merely try and clap their hands in time with the choir?
The Harlem Gospel Choir raises a lot of funds for children's charities and in recognition of its work, was granted a private audience with his Holiness, Pope John Paul II, at the Vatican's 2003 Christmas bash. This year the choir is traveling all around the world with its Give Peace a Chance tour. Amen to that.
Because the concert sold out so quickly, the event's organizers, Makroconcert, has arranged an extra performance earlier on the same day. So if you don't want to miss a great night out for the soul, get your tickets double quick. o
The Harlem Gospel Choir
May 18, 5 p.m., 8 p.m. (sold out)
Riga Congress Nams
5 Kristjana Valdemara St. Riga
Tickets from 6 lats
(9 euros) - 20 lats