As of this writing, the song is atop Billboard's club play chart. Here's praying for Sean, Waters and the disco denizens who may feel ministered to by a song that may plant spiritual seeds despite its origins.
Hifi Sean featuring Crystal Waters
(Plastique/Defected [U.K.], unsigned U.S.?)
Former Soup Dragons singer/guitarist-turned-DJ Sean "Hifi Sean" Dickson and '90s diva-on-the-comeback Crystal Waters aren't the first people to record a discotheque hit with the churchy title of "Testify." They're not even the first to place the title and its concomitant lyrics in a churchy context*. It's catchy as anything, textually confounding and possessed of a back story that puts its gospelly bona fides into question.
Considering the direction his former band took, from jangly pop of the type on British music weekly New Musical Express' epochal mid-80s C86 cassette to getting into the late '80s-early '90s Manchester sound of fusing indie pop clamor with clubby beat work, it's no surprise Dickson became a DJ and producer. Neither is it any shock that he would draw musical inspiration from the African-American church, rooted as it is to so much U.S. music and disco and its scions specifically. The song's radio edit video makes the influence evident with clips of baptisms, people in pews (not all Black) and related imagery edited in time to blithe piano-accented house music with growly acid bass* that grows stronger toward the song's end.
"Testify's lyrics could almost be the product of cCm market songwriting, muddled fantasia of non-linear imagery that they are. With Waters, best known for Clinton era pop crossovers "100% Pure Love" and "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)," getting bolder through the course of lyrics seeming to dare God (?) to minister to her, speaking of how she's a lonely soul sister who has two fists, a rose, a rope, etc. If the biblical model is Jacob's wrestling match with the Almighty, given a feminine spin and added enigmatic signifiers, mission well accomplished.
If the song, however, is a misunderstanding of soteriological concepts by one or two non-believers appropriating Christian, or at least churchy, concepts, it's still a jam, but one to be appreciated perhaps more advisedly. I don't know where Waters is spiritually, but Dickson in interviews upon the time of "Testify"'s U.K. release early this year has brought up coming out as homosexual, albeit one who was a husband and father under the traditional definition of marriage.
As of this writing, the song is atop Billboard's club play chart. Though club culture is a hedonistic permutation of the kind of fellowship and camaraderie that ought to characterize Church, the former's sonic root in the latter allows for numbers such as "Testify" to gain acceptance. Here's praying for Sean, Waters and the disco denizens who may feel ministered to by a song that may plant spiritual seeds despite its origins. Regardless the unfortunate caveat as to those origins, this still merits at least a listen...
*Others include the songs so titled by word-faith choir director Donald Lawrence and The Tri-City Singers and another by another choir, Sounds of Blackness; the latter, to my estimation, were more of a gospel unit in the early '90s when they were an extension of St. Paul, MN's Macalester College who had the good fortune of impressing R&B producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam enough to want to produce them than they are now singing numbers extolling racial pride such as "Royalty" and "Black Lives Matter" (yep, "Hands up! Don't shoot!" in harmony), that are getting serious soul gospel radio play.
**As in acid house, the variant of house music wherein the drum machine is used to create unearthly, low and warbly low end.