Interview: Rev. Sekou

“In times like these, we need a miracle/Ain’t nobody gonna save us/We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” wails Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, in the title track of of his powerful and timely debut album, In Times Like These. Produced by six-time Grammy nominated Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, featuring Luther’s brother Cody Dickinson, and supported by Thirty Tigers, In Times Like These blends sweaty juke joint blues with the rich Pentecostal gospel tradition—the messages contained within the album’s grooves cut through the fog of misunderstanding like a hot knife through butter, and pave the way to truth with hope.

“I wanted to go deeper with this album, I wanted to mine the tradition that produced me,” explains Sekou. “When you get the likes of Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson and the great Charles Hodges in the same room, it becomes a concoction; it was recorded about an hour from where I was raised. You put all that together, and you get a sort of sanctified blues. On one level, what is in me is what is in me, and what produced me is what produced me,” he adds of his Arkansas childhood and the nurturing influence of his beloved grandmother, Houston Cannon. “During the recording process, I visited my grandmother’s grave a number of times, I visited the people in Arkansas who raised me, I was able to be in a communion of saints—to be in the presence of those who loved me and the memory, to walk on their soil, and smell their air. In times of crisis, people turn to what they know, and for this record, I wanted to do that,” he continues. “The place I’m from has no stop signs or stop lights; this experience was kind of stop sign, to allow me to pause for a moment and revel in the elegance of the people I called ‘home.’”

The album begins with snippets of a rousing speech given by Sekou at a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, protesting the murder of Michael Brown—every song calls out discrepancies and prejudices, combats helplessness felt by the disenfranchised, and injects a sense of righteousness into the resistance. “It’s a simple reflection of social movements throughout time. There won’t be a strong leader who comes to rescue us, it will be through the capacity of everyday people to seize history and bend it to their will. Political groups, church, and civil rights establishments tend to focus on the one leader who is going to lead us to the Promised Land,” he explains. “Those days are over.”

In the studio, Luther amassed a legion of legendary players for In Times Like These, and provided necessary guidance and gentle nudges needed in order to create this stunning effort. “I became a musician on this record because of the people I worked with. There were no attitudes, no arguments, and we worked 12 to 16 hours a day,” reveals Sekou of his producer. “He was so gracious and meticulous. We decided early on that, given the divisive nature of this particular historical moment, it would be important for folks across racial lines to engage in this work together,” he adds of his recent run of shows with North Mississippi Allstars. “We decided to tour together to present this thoroughly American art form, the blues. It’s an homage, not only to a broader struggle, but to a little old woman named Houston Cannon, my beloved grandmother, who made me all I am and all I ever hope to become,” Sekou adds of his stunning new release. “I hope everybody who listens to my music gets a little freer.”


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Susan Hubbard

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