What do a global icon best known for his role in Star Wars episodes II & III, George Harrison’s drummer,
and a former TV Idols judge have in common? They’ve all chosen to support the Firstfruits Music
Awards initiative. Founder Nigel Swaby from the United Kingdom explains that it’s a music event
specifically for Christian artists, but he claims that it’s refreshingly unique in concept.
Unlike most music competitions that receive all types of music, Nigel insists that Christian music is
different because the main purpose behind the lyrics is to praise, worship and honour God, and of
course to bless the listener too.
“Song is a really important medium to reach people for Christ particularly through radio and digital
platforms, especially in circumstances where traditional missionary outreach is impractical due to
prevailing laws in certain countries”, explains Nigel. Psalms 105:2 states, “Sing to Him, sing praises to
Him; tell of all His wondrous works!”
Having previously worked in Christian music production and as a judge for the highly regarded US-based
International Christian Visual Media Crown Awards, Nigel describes his experience of the modern
Christian music scene as very mixed, saying, “Although there are some quality and timeless Christian
songs, there can be the temptation for some artists to produce songs that ‘tickle’ the senses containing
lyrics with a misleading message, limited Christian values, or even worse, blasphemous content.” Nigel
goes on to explain that even with the Christian genre, the music business is fiercely competitive. It may
be tempting for Christian artists to succumb to the enormous pressure to produce material that appeals
to the masses, sidestepping the Christian message. He suggests that if artists are not careful they could
fall into the trap of pushing God to the background as they are inadvertently drawn to the limelight and
tug of fame.
In a bid to protect the Gospel message from being watered down or even tainted by worldly influences,
Nigel has decided to take a stand on the subtle war currently being waged against modern Christian
music, hence the motive behind his new initiative. He insists that Firstfruits Music Awards is a platform
which will allow the voice of unknown Christian artists to be heard, those that have a genuine love for
God, that is clearly demonstrated through the lyrical content of their songs. It’s a fabulous opportunity,
offering a level playing field to aspiring Christian artists from across the globe. This is because unlike
some other well known Christian music awards, Firstfruits Music Awards is open to all Christians and not
only to professionals with chart success.
The multiple stage song evaluation process is very stringent, evaluating each song based upon multiple
criteria, with Christian and Biblical content being top factors in the scoring. During the competition
general members of the public can register with Firstfruits Music Awards to be a song reviewer and will
be given the opportunity to vote on the finalists’ songs. Public reviewers submitting the most insightful
song critiques will win cash prizes. Nigel explains that this concept is unique and has some distinct
advantages, as each reviewer must approach every song with much consideration and sensitivity to
God’s Word to stand a chance of winning prizes. This process fuels social media interaction as
reviewers tell family and friends about their involvement in the contest, or that they’ve won prizes. The
increased buzz on the net will aid to raise artist profiles too. In addition, it will provide songwriters with
the comfort that their songs are being taken seriously and gaining valuable public exposure, which as
any artist will confess, is one of the key ingredients for success.
The culmination of this event takes the form of a panel of highly experienced music industry
professionals subjecting their ears to new mouthpieces and creations, carefully teasing out Christian
artists that have the gifting and potential to make it in the highly competitive modern Christian music
world. These judges with roots from the USA, UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand truly make
these awards international. With such diversity, including one of the judges being an ordained minister,
the panel has the cultural sensitivity, depth of Biblical and industry knowledge to appreciate the subtle
nuances that may be present in songs submitted from across the globe.
In particular, Nigel values the panel’s willingness to affirm the event’s Biblical principles and values,
which include, to only select commercially viable songs which honour and glorify God (Psalm 66:1-2)
and to do nothing out of selfishness or personal gain, being humble towards others (Philippians 2:3-4).
Although Nigel explains that the contest’s focus is to identify and be a voice for aspiring Christian artists
who accurately portray God’s Word through song, he points out that entrants have much to gain from
Unlike the majority of mainstream competitions that have no submissions cap, entries to
the Firstfruits Music Awards are strictly limited to 5,000 worldwide. This means that contestants are six
times more likely to win the Grand Prize of £25,000 than other mainstream competitions which, in some
cases, receive in excess of 30,000 entries.
Even if an entrant doesn’t win a prize, they should rejoice in knowing that a proportion of their submission fee will be used for missions and projects with the emphasis on advancing the Kingdom of God. In summary, Nigel states that this contest is for all. Artists
will have a realistic opportunity to win a top cash prize, increase their profile, attract new fans, and ultimately advance their music career! Public reviewers will be instrumental in this process, in shaping the outcome of the contest and have the opportunity to win cash prizes as well. The church also benefits with £5,000 being awarded to outreach initiatives.
The panel of judges include:
Alvin Taylor – Musician, music director, record producer for Capitol Records and ordained minister. Credits
include 78 gold, 48 platinum & 18 diamond records across 500 albums. Collaborated with numerous A-list
artists, including George Harrison, Elton John, Bob Welch and Natalie Cole. Awarded ‘Star’ on Palm Springs
Walk of Stars.
Muyiwa Olarewaju – Multi-award winning radio/television presenter, gospel singer/songwriter. OBE Queen’s
honours recipient for services to music. Radio broadcaster and TV presenter for a global Christian show with
an audience reach of 70 million. Judge for numerous music awards including BBC Songs of Praise.
Dave Thompson – Former Director of Marketing and A&R at BMG Africa and Sony Music Africa.
Responsible for both domestic and international labels including Arista, Columbia, Epic, Ariola and J
Records. Music supervisor for Big Brother, Fear Factor and Project Fame. Instrumental in establishing
South African Idols, judging and having the casting vote for the first five seasons. Executive producer of over
100 multi-platinum selling South African records.
Jay Laga’aia – A multitalented artist, best known internationally for his supporting roles in Star Wars
episodes II & III. Household name noted for numerous roles in television, including Home and Away,
Australia’s longest running soap. An accomplished singer/songwriter who also lectures and delivers
workshops at a leading Australian Christian College.
Graeme Press – An internationally acclaimed music professional, Graeme is best known as Music Director
for Australia’s TV Channel 7’s Carols in the Domain in Sydney and Carols by Candlelight in Adelaide. With
audiences of up to 80,000, these events represent Australia’s largest Christmas celebrations, attracting top