When Warren Dean Flandez started work on his latest album Eternally Grateful, he didn’t anticipate that the funk-tinged gospel record would earn him his first Juno nomination.
“I never expected that it would really go anywhere, because it was a labour of love,” says Flandez, who was inspired to return to his “gospel roots” prior to the birth of his son.
“I did mainstream secular music for most of my career…and I loved it,” explains Flandez. “But once my wife become pregnant and we were expecting our first child, I just wanted to do something a little more personal.”
The result was Eternally Grateful, which was nominated for Best Contemporary Christian / Gospel Album of the Year. Although the record is somewhat of a departure from his earlier works, Flandez has a deep connection to the genre. “I grew up singing in a gospel choir, so it was just like coming home.”
The powerhouse vocalist’s career began, somewhat ironically, with a bout of childhood asthma. “My doctor advised my mom to either enroll me in a wind instrument or some vocal lessons just to increase my lung capacity,” Flandez explains. While the vocal lessons “didn’t go too-too well,” the experience led Flandez to join a choir led by Checo Tohomaso, a vocalist and keyboard player who had previously backed-up acts such as Marvin Gaye and the Commodores.
Flandez credits much of his current success to Tohomaso’s mentorship and musical guidance. “When you’re in your teens your life can go many directions, and I’m really blessed that Checo was there to keep me on the straight and narrow with music,” Flandez says. “He really just kind of instilled the value of staying true to who you are and to your craft.”
Eternally Grateful draws on these early musical experiences, and combines “inspirational” tracks with darker songs about “the hardships of life.” Flandez believes the diverse mix of themes helps make the record “palatable to mainstream audiences” by allowing people of all backgrounds to interpret the songs through their own experiences.
“When I create gospel music I draw from a different place of inspiration, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be things that are joyous,” he explains, citing the title track as well as the political “What the World Needs Now” as examples.
“I want to just create music with purpose,” he concludes.
Flandez has witnessed a gospel resurgence in the music industry, citing performers like Chance the Rapper and Kanye West as incorporating “a lot of gospel influences” into their songs.
“Rock music, blues music, lot of R&B – a lot of it was influenced by gospel music,” Flandez notes. With genres as diverse as Motown, rock, and country sharing a “gospel or faith-based origin,” he says, it’s only natural that spiritual music would make a comeback.
While he feels the Canadian gospel scene is “not as diverse as it is in the US,” he sees evidence that the field is steadily evolving.
Flandez says the Canadian music scene needs “a change in mindset” to foster homegrown talent, noting that many of our artists “jump ship and go to the US and Europe.” To reverse this trend, he says, Canada needs “more platforms to get [Canadian musicians] out in front of the Canadian people.”
“It would be great to see more television shows that are Canadian-based and produced promoting music,” says Flandez, who competed in CBC’s Cover Me Canada in 2011.
“That was a ground-breaking show,” he says. “I loved the premise, I loved the people that were on it…I think we need something like that again.”
In terms of his own career, he feels his recent Juno nomination has “already opened many doors” for him.
‘We have so much talent in this country,” he concludes. “It’s just an honour to be in our nation’s capital this weekend, celebrating the best that our country has to offer.”
Photo credits: Patryk Widejko
The 2017 Juno Award for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year was awarded to Tim Neufeld and the Glory Boys’ Hootenanny! at the Junos Gala Dinner and Awards on April 1, 2017.