There’s a reason the songs of Rev. Osagyefo Sekou — better known as Rev. Sekou — carry strong messages.
He’s a man who up until 2014 preached his messages from a pulpit, who spent much of the 1990s teaching alternatives to gang violence and ran a fellowship centre at a housing project in his hometown of St. Louis, Mo.
Music was always part of his life, he said, and he attended college on a vocal performance scholarship courtesy of St. Louis’ “rich tradition of choral directors,” he said, and the reality the music programs in many high schools were like feeders to post-secondary choral music opportunities.
He’s bringing his musical message to B.C. for the first time — he’s only been in Canada to perform once before, in Toronto last year — when he performs at this year’s Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, which runs in the fairgrounds there from Aug. 16 to Aug. 19.
Sekou said he and his backup singers and band “will play what we play and just try to get free,” a sentiment that speaks as much to what motivates and drives his songwriting and activism as it does his musical set list.
Sekou said while he preaches now and then when invited to do so, he left his church four years ago this week, when teenager Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Mo.
“I left the pulpit and headed to the streets,” Sekou said.
He was arrested there twice, once for praying in front of the riot police dispatched to quell the uprising over the police shooting of the 18-year-old black youth and once alongside friend and fellow activist Cornel West at a protest in front of the Ferguson police department.
Since then, he’s co-written with West a book on what happened in that community after Brown’s death, And the Young Ones Shall Lead Them: The Ferguson Rebellion and the Crisis in Black Leadership, as well as a news article, “The clergy’s place is with the protesters in Ferguson.”
In 2015, he was one of the honourees in Ebony Power 100, an annual event of Ebony Magazine that honours outstanding black Americans.
During a confrontation last year in Charlottesville, Va., between rallying white supremacists and those who don’t share those beliefs, Sekou ended up inside a church with hundreds of more people. They sang because, as he said at that time, “when we can do nothing else, we’ll sing a song.”
He led protesters in This Little Light of Mine.
Reminded of it during the KTW interview, Sekou said singing is an existential victor in face of legislative defeats,” something the black American community has been fighting for 400 years.
“So what we’re seeing today [in the Donald Trump presidency] is clearly new but definitely familiar.”
Sekou will kick off the evening set on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m. on the main stage. Earlier that day, he’ll be at the barn stage alongside the Dimpker Brothers at 11:40 a.m. and the blues stage at 4:15 p.m.