For Vashawn Mitchell, South Africa is a second home. This is surprising, even to him, considering his initial reluctance to accept an invitation to minister at a conference there. Intrigued by the offer, Mitchell was less than encouraged by the 20-hour flight necessary to get there. Fortunately, the celebrated multi-gifted artist (he is a songwriter, producer, singer and worship leader) made the trip. It was life-changing. He immediately fell in love with the country, its people and their worship. “On my first day there I thought, ‘this is an amazing place,'” says Mitchell. “The sincerity of the people’s praise and worship is hard to put into words. It was like a tug on God.”
Mitchell has since traveled extensively to the continent, including Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, South Africa, as well as neighboring Namibia. When he decided to record his seventh album earlier this year, he knew he wanted to do it in South Africa. However, his desire was to do more than just fly there, record, and fly back. He wanted to create an immersive worship experience, one that would leave a marked imprint on South Africa’s countrymen. He also wanted to give back richly to the place that had given so much to him; the place that had fostered the creative and spiritual space that cultivated the songs he had written. The answer was to host The Call, a praise and worship conference that would offer workshops and culminate with the recording of Secret Place. It was a masterful approach that resulted in a masterpiece of an album.
“The Call was great,” says Mitchell. “We had over 200 registrants who participated in workshops such as vocal training, praise leading and the mind of a worship leader. It was a mutual learning experience, a lot of give and take, a lot of sharing about cultural traditions. During evening praise and worship the 1,000 seat church was packed and more people were outside wanting to come in. When it came time to record, the energy was magnified because everyone knew the music already; they knew each song from beginning to end because of the connection that was already established. This made the recording session and the sound that was created that much richer.”
One of the night’s most memorable moments was established when Mitchell redid his hit song “Nobody Greater.” When asked why alter that song’s perfection, he laughed. “First of all, I could not go to record in South Africa and not sing that song. Then I realized that the song has [a] long life. God used me to carry this song into the world, and it became the world’s song. It is still relevant; that message still needs to be heard. Also, this is the end of an era for me and ‘Nobody Greater’ represents memories of what God has done throughout the prior season of my life.”
The remake features his friend and mentor Bebe Winans. “The room was turned upside down the moment that Bebe hit the stage,” Mitchell recalls. While recording, Winans spontaneously called Tasha Cobbs to join him and Mitchell during a reprise. “It was powerful and the song just kept going. Everything felt like we rehearsed it, but we didn’t. I didn’t do much editing on the album version because I really wanted people to feel the organic growth of the song. It was definitely one of the evening’s major moments.”
Many artists have trouble identifying a “favorite” song on their new body of work, but for Mitchell this was an easy question to answer: “God Will Take Care of Me.” “I write some revelation and testimony songs … this is that next song for me. Over the years I could have given up or gone a different way, we all could have, but I remember that God will take care of me … the song talks about the care of God and reminds us that the reason we are still here and in our right minds is because God takes care of us.”
Secret Place was born out of what South Africa represents to Vashawn Mitchell. It is a place of contemplative reflection – a location where he rediscovered the spiritual importance of silence. “One time I was there and realized that the vast time difference creates a space where it is totally quiet. I wasn’t getting calls or text messages or emails or social media notifications. I started to write again, I started to hear again and I spent more quality time with God. ” Although this was something that happened organically for Mitchell, meaningful time with God is now something that he purposefully creates and is intentionally emphasizing to the world.
Mitchell recently embarked upon his Secret Place Tour, through which he is sharing this resplendent “Live in South Africa” worship experience with people around the United States. The tour kicked-off November 9 in his hometown of Chicago. “This was by design”, he says. “Chicago is home. Many of my friends and family weren’t able to be in South Africa for the recording, and I still wanted them to experience the music live.” The tour stops in Warren, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Columbia, South Carolina; Philadelphia and New York in November and December. “Expect an experience and not just another musical,” says Mitchell of the tour. “The artists are singing together, not doing individual sets, and people will experience a level of family, friendship and relationship. I want people to come together and, like the single says, feel the ‘Joy’ of the Lord. With everything that is going on in the world and in our country, this is an opportunity for friends and families to come together and find strength and hope in this secret place,” he says.
Though he currently lives in Washington, D.C., and before that lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Mitchell says Chicago absolutely shaped him as an artist. “Chicago is the birthplace of Gospel music and when I was there, every artist came through the city for events and conferences. I went to everything. I saw Thomas Whitfield’s last ministry at the Chicago Gospelfest. The lessons that I learned and the artists that I was able to study under shaped me. I was a songwriter before anything, but the artists that I first wrote for (including Smokie Norful, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Bishop Paul Morton) were also artists that I would watch and study.” Those studious, formative years served Mitchell well, as he not only has released seven albums, but has executive produced and produced two of today’s most notable Gospel artists: Anthony Brown and Tasha Cobbs.
Now that Secret Place has been released, Mitchell looks forward to what may come next. As he mentioned, this is the end of an era for him. He soon will turn 40 and is sensing that, as he enters a new life decade, there will also be new life and ministry directives. He says, “I am hearing a new sound coming. I don’t know what the sound is, but I can hear that there is going to be a shift.” However, with that God-defined shift, Mitchell will take with him the already orchestrated growth and spiritual disciplines that have brought him to this place, and he hopes to inspire the same in others.
“My need for personal time with God is now heightened. I want to share with people how important it is to find those spaces to have conversations with God…We have to learn how to hear God for life. People often say ‘God didn’t answer me’ when actually they may be too ‘noisy’ to hear what He said. We can go to church seven days a week, but if we don’t have that personal time with God we will miss revelation. This is especially important for Gospel artists. What we do is for God. If we fulfill our purpose than we shall be fulfilled.”