Rev. Osagyefo Sekou
In Times Like These (2017 / Thirty Tigers) is an intense blend of late North Mississippi Hill Country Music, Arkansas Delta Blues, 1960s Rock and Roll, Memphis Soul, Chuck Berry St Louis vibes, and Pentecostal steel guitar. Written in the shadow of the divisive 2016 election, the album is testament to the enduring power of protest music and a call-to-arms for a new generation looking to resist.
"With optimum protest music there is an urgency, immediacy and the acceptance of responsibility. Consider the Neil Young-written Ohio: "We're finally on our own … gotta get down to it." Or consider Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, the American poet, pastor and renaissance theologian. "In times like this, ain't no one going to save us," he asserts on the title track to his debut album In Times Like These. "We're the ones we've been waiting for." Globe and Mail
To make his debut solo album, In Times Like These, noted activist, author, documentary filmmaker and theologian Rev. Osagyefo Sekou went back to his Southern home searching for his family’s musical roots in the deep Arkansas blues and gospel traditions. Produced by six-time Grammy nominated Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, featuring Luther’s brother Cody Dickinson, and supported by Thirty Tigers, Rev. Sekou’s debut solo album is a new vision for what Southern blues and rock can mean today. In Times Like These is drenched with the sweat and tears of the Mississippi River, the great tributary that ties so much of the South together. The album’s sonic landscape captures the toil of Southern field hands, the guttural cry of chain gangs, the vibrancy of contemporary street protest, backwoods juke joints, and shotgun churches—all saturated with Pentecostal sacred steel and soul legacy.
Rev. Sekou’s blues lineage runs deep. his biological grandfather, Richard Braselman played on the chitlin circuit with legends like Louis Jordan, Albert King, and B.B. King. Rev. Sekou, a third generation ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ was raised in part by Rev. James Thomas, also a minister and a bluesman. During the recording of “In Times Like These”, Rev. Sekou made a pilgrimage home to Zent, Arkansas and stood at his beloved grandparents gravesite. “I had to go home, smell the air, and be in the presence of the folks who gave me the best pieces of themselves to make me who I am,” Rev. Sekou said.
In Times Like These is Rev. Sekou's second outing. On Jan. 31st, 2016, Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost released their debut album, “The Revolution HasCome”. AFROPUNK celebrates the album’s ”deep bone-marrow-level conviction”. The single, “We Comin'” was named the new anthem for the modern Civil Rights movement by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The sanctified blues of Rev. Sekou is an intense blend of late North Mississippi Hill Country Music, Arkansas Delta Blues, 1960s Rock and Roll, Memphis Soul, Chuck Berry St Louis vibes, and Pentecostal steel guitar.
In Times Like These’s opening song, “Resist,” begins with a rousing speech given by Rev. Sekou at a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, protesting the shooting of Michael Brown. Upon hearing about Brown’s death, Sekou immediately returned to his hometown of St. Louis, MO, taking to the streets in a series of protests and interfaith demonstrations that led to his being arrested multiple times. “Resist” surrounds the listener with the spirit of protest. An homage to Standing Rock— the song’s driving bass line, blaring horns, and potent lyrics champion a long line of freedom fighters. The images of Ferguson’s protests are burned into Sekou’s mind even today, and led to his moving cover of Bob Marley’s classic, “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” which captures the feeling of the riots. “In Times Like These”—the album’s title track—confronts the sense of helplessness that many feel in this current political moment. Carried by congas and explosive steel guitar, the song moves around the central line “In times like this, ain’t no one going to save us, we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
While the record speaks to the current political moment, there is more at stake.
Three generations of musicians play on In Times Like These—each with their own intergenerational connections to the music. Luther Dickinson, and his brother Cody Dickinson, form the critically acclaimed North Mississippi Allstars. They are the sons of the late Jim Dickinson who recorded with Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan and founded Zebra Ranch Studios, where the album was recorded. The album also includes legendary Hammond B3 player, Rev. Charles Hodges, known for his collaborations with Al Green as part of the famed Hi Records/Stax Rhythm Section. AJ Ghent—pedal and slide steel guitarist from Fort Pierce, Florida, brought his mastery of the “Sacred Steel” tradition, founded by his grandfather. Background vocalist Raina Sokolov from New York brings a singular jazz and soul sound, and her mother, Lisa Sokolov, performed with Alice Coltrane. Art Edmaiston—tenor and baritone saxophones—has played with Bobby “Blue” Bland and William Bell, and Marc Franklin has played trumpet for Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy. Packed into the Zebra Ranch Studios, it was Rev. Sekou’s voice that soared above all of these amazing artists, drawing them into his undercurrents of soul, gospel, and blues, with the voice of a preacher cresting the wave of this powerful music.
Rev. Sekou—Scholar in Residence at Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute—recently signed a five book deal with Chalice Press—a leading publisher of progressive religious thought. In June 2017, Chalice Press is republishing Rev. Sekou's Urbansouls: a meditation on youth, Hip Hop, and religion and Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy. His new titles are The Task of the Artist in the Time of Monsters (January 2017), A Liberation Theology of Ferguson (August 2018) and This is Not Your Daddy's Civil Rights Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr (March 2018). He has written widely on the 2011 killing of Mark Duggan by British police and the subsequent London riots, and is the author of the forthcoming Riot Music: British Hip Hop, Race, and the Politics of Meaning (Hamilton Books 2018).
Lucky Bird Media Daniel Cooper
“Rev. Osagyefo Sekou is one of the most courageous and prophetic voices of our time. ” - Cornel West, Harvard University
"In recent discussions about the challenges facing America — police brutality, the Trump administration, etc. — sooner or later someone says essentially, "at least this will inspire some powerful music." Rev. Sekou's new album is that hoped-for result. Rev. Sekou, thank you for taking us back to church. Your hope and healing has long been necessary." EXCLAIM! 9/10 Review
A blistering batch of gospel blues, In Times Like These offers up social and political sentiments more relevant now perhaps than ever from that rare artist who truly practices what he preaches. POPMatters<br>
"In a time that calls for bold, social justice-minded commentary from artists, Sekou delivers" Sojourners Magazine 2017.
"The album addresses issues of inequality through “movement music” which draws on the tradition of blues and gospel." STL Public Radio/NPR
"Somewhere between a hard lash and a longing for home, the blues was born. The blues give life by telling the truth about the darkness, but they never let the darkness have the last word. The tension between hope and hopelessness makes for flats and chords in minor keys; dissonance—two notes so close yet so different—is where the harmony is found. Joy and tragedy are not in opposition; they simply coexist, on a dusty dance floor. Like the Spirituals, blues is the stuff that faith is made of—staring at the sheer ugliness of life in face and making beauty of nothingness." - Rev Sekou Oxford American
"As a pastor, theologian, author, filmmaker, and community organizer, Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou has dedicated his life’s work to social justice. He’s given lectures and speeches around the world and trained thousands of people in the tactics of nonviolent protest. Now, he’s lending his passion for activism to a popular form of protest: music." Bluegrass Situation
"the entire record is bursting with soul and R&B stalwarts from the production of Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars to features from Cody Dickinson and Rev. Charles Hodges of Stax/Hi Records fame." No Depression
"...mixes Arkansas blues and gospel with Memphis soul to create a beautiful reminder of the origins of country music and American protest songs. "Resist" calls upon the listener to stand up, speak out, and reminds us that protest runs deep within every American's blood." Noisey/Vice
"The pulpit, streets full of protesters and a recording studio don’t have much in common. But for the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, these three environments offer the chance to spread a gospel of equality." STL Public Radio
"....During this demonstration, [Ferguson] the Pentecostal pastor, writer, filmmaker and scholar famously placed his body between oncoming riot police and protestors, dropping to his knees to pray. Sekou displays the same intensity on “The Revolution Has Come,” the new album he made with his band, Revered Sekou and the Holy Ghost. Equal parts old-time gospel, gutbucket blues, soul and funk, the album is made up of the songs, chants and slogans that dominate today’s movement for Black lives." Colorlines
"Their debut album is beautifully strung together collection of tracks that mix sanctified rhythm & blues, with gospel, funk and freedom songs." AFROPUNK - Rev. Sekou and The Holy Ghost
Excerpt from: "The Task of the Artist in the time of Monsters"
"We come to know monsters early in our lives. Our childhoods are filled with scary things that “go bump” in the night. A ferocious fire-breathing creature with bulging eyes, fangs, and foaming at the mouth stands over us. We pull the covers over our head; pray and pretend that the monster is just a figment of our imagination.
Monsters are real. History is peopled with millions of corpses left in their wake. Monsters—indeed—are not rare. We rattle off monsters’ names with great ease and compare them to our present brutes. Monsters carry out individual atrocities and conceal our complicity, which is far more sinister than the monsters themselves. Not only do we hide from monsters, we hide behind them. Nations have always bred monsters; and nations love monsters but not artists. Artists know that all nations are morally bankrupt and that politics are diseased. They remind nations that monsters are not new.
Albert Camus pleaded with the artist to never side with the makers of history but rather the victims of it. And the victims will be legion —Muslim, Black, queer, young, undocumented, old, female, differently-abled, and all of the poor. Artists must be lobbyists for the languishing. While monsters spew vile words, artists do not take any delight in such talk because demonization cannot defeat demagoguery. Audre Lorde taught that using the master’s tools makes us the master’s tools. Artists do not shame those living in the night; artists shine light.
James Baldwin—the greatest amongst us—called artists to quarrel with their nations as lovers do. Artists are not politicians. They are legislators of hope, parliamentarians of possibility. To be sure, the past is a guide, but melancholy can be a nation’s undoing. Nostalgia is a form of mourning for a past that never was, because the present is unbearable and the future is unforeseeable. When the present obscures the future and undermines the past, artists are diplomats between the world that was, the world that is and the world that is to be. So then artists’ allegiances can never be to a flag, a party, or a state. Love is their government.
When monsters say that we should lie down and die, the art of loving and living is the sacred task of artists—making home from rubble held together by the very thing that monsters have sought to snuff out for ages—joy. Artists are architects of being; building communities where there are no strangers only neighbors. And monsters fear that.
-Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou