The Pentecostal Blues Of Reverend Sekou’s Intimate And Personal New Album
Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou has returned with a more intimate and personal follow-up to the movement album, “The Revolution Has Come,” which was released in 2016.
As Sekou described in an interview, “In Times Like These,” has “everything to do with the material conditions that produced the Ferguson uprising, but it also has to do with the material conditions of the people that produced me.”
It goes to a much deeper place than merely responding to current events. It draws from those who chose to love him, who chose to care for him, and his love for his family and the rural community of Arkansas, where he was raised.
“Part of being black, poor, and rural” and “existing has everything to do with being an act of resistance,” and for Sekou, this album is all about honoring the communities around him that engage in “high forms of dignity,” even in the face of injustice and daily struggle.
Sekou stood at his grandmother’s grave. He broke bread with his family. He spent time with family and allowed the dirt from rural land to get in between his toes. This inspired the heart and soul of each of the twelve songs on the album.
The album was released by Thirty Tigers, a label for independent musicians based in Nashville, Tennessee. It has put out records by such artists as Lucinda Williams, Leann Rimes, Jason Isbell, Lupe Fiasco, Tanya Tagaq, The Avett Brothers, and Santana.
Sekou fondly described recording the album in Coldwater, Mississippi. There in the backwoods, where one is unable to get cellphone reception, it was possible to focus and “dig deep within that wellspring of a black musical tradition that is the foundation of all American music.”
He collaborated with Luther Dickinson and the North Mississsippi All-Stars. Organist Charles Hodges, who has worked with such artists as Boz Scaggs and Albert Collins, appeared on the album as well.
Hodges’ organ coupled with the North Mississippi All-Stars truly defines the music in the same way the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section defined so many soul, rhythm and blues, rock, and pop classics of the 1960s and 1970s.
“In Times Like These” is a conscious effort by Sekou to blend his Pentecostal religion with the sonic influences that have shaped him from childhood to now.
“I’m a third generation Pentecostal preacher, and then my other grandfather played on the chitlin circuit with Louis Jordan, Albert King, and B.B. King,” Sekou shared. “So, I grew up around the blues. I grew up in proximity of them. I grew up hearing them and was raised [by] what Amir Baraka called the ‘Blues People.'”
One of the songs on the album, where one truly feels that blues influence, is Sekou’s cover of “Lord, I’m Running (99 and a Half Won’t Do),” which originally was recorded by Brooklyn pastor and musician Hezekiah Walker.
Asked if this music is to help common people—poor and working class folks—maintain hope in a time when oppressive realities feel sharpened, Sekou replied, “The best of the blues, and particularly the task of the artist, is to be a balm on the wounds of the people while offering the possibility of new possibilities.”
Sekou expressed how the blues tradition in America is to let the blues speak but not have the last word.
“We have a tendency to focus on Disneyland, to focus on what Henry James, the great writer, called the “hotel civilization,” to focus on a place that is obsessed with new things and innovation and doesn’t take time to pause and wrestle with the darkness. So, the blues wrestles with the darkness it just don’t let the darkness have the last word,” Sekou argued.
Like “The Revolution Has Come,” the album opens with an anthem called “Resist.” Sekou sings, “We want freedom, and we want it now,” and sonically, the musicians backing up Sekou give the anthem a vibrancy and fullness that sets the tone for the entire album.
The following track accentuates “Resist.” It, too, is a message about how there are no saviors. “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” However, this seems more directed at those who are not organizers but intrinsically feel in their blood the pressures of systemic racism and other power structures.
“We Who Believe” opens with the sound of labor, like people breaking up concrete. It expresses faith in the perseverance of those in communities who fight for freedom and liberation of themselves and others. Hodges, on the organ, gives this tune a spiritual backbone that helps drive the message forward.
There is also a magnificently reworked cover of Bob Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin'” that finds clear inspiration from what happened when Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for killing Michael Brown.
“Right before we recorded the song, I told the band the story of the night of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and that having trained young folks in militant nonviolence, civil disobedience, said to them trust the system. It will work out,” Sekou recalled.”
“And then, when there was no bill to indict Darren Wilson, the murderer of Michael Brown, I felt like I lied to young people, that I had told them to trust a system that would ultimately betray them. And I understood their rage.”
“I wanted to capture the rage that I saw in the streets, the righteous indignation that I saw in the streets of Ferguson, and on that night, I saw democracy burning,” Sekou added.
Sekou also identifies with Marley. He moved from the country to Kingston, Jamaica. He was a rural creature who lived in the city. He also structured reggae and captured the “sensibilities of Rastafarianism as his religious tradition” in the same manner that Sekou captures the tradition of his Pentecostal blues upbringing.
“What I was attempting to do with the song is to render the genius and the lyrical eloquence of Marley through the medium of the music and the religious tradition that produced me. So it’s reggae Pentecostal meets Pentecostal blues,” Sekou said.
Songs from the album on posted on YouTube now. Listen to Sekou’s cover of “Burnin’ and Lootin'”: