STL-Raised Reverend, Activist and Author Releases a Powerful New Record

By Cara Wegener
In Culture

Reverend Osagyefo Sekou is a St. Louis-raised theologian, author and activist. He has travelled globally to speak, organize, and hold mass meetings to help people understand the ongoing struggle for racial justice, economic and social equality and to end police brutality. Rev. Sekou attended high school in St. Louis, went on to study philosophy at the New School, systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary, and religion at Harvard University. During the 1990s he taught alternatives to gang violence at Stevens Middle School and served as a youth pastor at Friendly Temple Baptist Church.

Rev. Sekou

Rev. Sekou. Photo by Ashlee Wiest-Laird

His long list of accomplishments include two collections of essays, “Urbansouls” —which he describes as a “meditation on his work in St. Louis”— and “God, Gays and Guns: Essays on Religion and The Future of Democracy”—which includes a long essay on the killing of Mark Duggan in London. He is currently working on another book titled “Riot Music: British Hip Hop, Race, and the Politics of Meaning.”

Sekou has lectured at Princeton University, Harvard Divinity School, the University of Virginia, University of Paris IV – La Sorbonne and Vanderbilt University, to name a few. He has led numerous non-violent protests, including a civil disobedience at the White House at which more than 350 people were arrested. He was arrested himself multiple times during the Ferguson uprising.


Photo courtesy of April Martin

When Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed in August 2014, Sekou was a visiting scholar at Stanford University. His initial thoughts were, “It’s so ordinary. This is America,” he says. “What was extraordinary was the resistance. These were poor working-class people at the center of the discourse and in a little place that most people had never heard of, with kids that nobody cared about.”

Upon his return to STL, Sekou immediately took to the streets, reaching out to friends who he knew were organizers, paying close attention to what was happening on social media and the news. “For 100 days the military force occupied the American soil,” he says, “and that gives you the blues.”

Following last year’s Movement For Black Lives in Cleveland, OH, Sekou met San Francisco Bay Area singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Jay-Marie Hill after police used pepper spray on a crowd protesting the release of an illegally detained 14-year-old boy. After unexpectedly meeting again weeks later in Oakland, CA, Hill reminded Rev. Sekou of their first encounter cleaning the burn from their eyes. The two struck up a friendship and the idea to create a soulful, healing album was born under the name Rev. Sekou and The Holy Ghost.

sekou poster_stlouis

“The Revolution Has Come” is an album that combines gospel, folk, soul and gutbucket blues to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and capture the spirit of music in black history. “The blues is about telling the truth about the darkness, but not letting the darkness have the last words,” says Sekou.

Sekou and Hill, along with many other talented musicians and vocalists, recorded the nine-track album in just three days. Recorded out of three studios, including Nelly’s Ex’treme Institute, TBeats Studio and Suburban Pro Studios, “The Revolution Has Come,” has been called the soundtrack to the Movement For Black Lives.

“I don’t know if it’s a soundtrack to the Movement,” Sekou says, “I just know it’s what I had in me and it’s what I had to get out.”

Sekou says his grandmother provided vocal lessons when he was young—he sang in high school and church choirs, and he attended a small historically black college on a vocal performance scholarship under the instruction of Charles Gladden. “I miss him. I wish he was still around to yell at me,” Sekou says. Hill, having a band back home called Bones Of A Feather, is well-versed in the process of music-arranging. “I like to think of myself as a musical organizer,” she says, “I coordinate a lot of the music for this job.”

sekou guitar

Photo courtesy of April Martin

Based on chants and freedom hymns, “We Comin,” features the Saint Boogie Brass Band (download for free here). The powerful horns and organ made it an easy pick for the hit single. It’s a song declaring independence, celebration and self-determination. “It’s hot,” Sekou says.

A song called “Goodbye Baby,” takes on the subject of a mother who has lost a child to police brutality. During a hymnal for Antonio Martin outside of Mokabe’s Coffee Shop, Sekou recalls the wail of a mother’s voice in the crowd. The song is about “trying to interpret that wail and how it made me feel,” he says. With Papa Ray on harmonica, “it’s just mournful,” Sekou says.

Although much of the album is inspired by recent events surrounding the Movement for Black Lives, there are other currents circulating through “The Revolution Has Come.” “It’s a multi-generational album,” Sekou explains, “Jay [Hill] and I are from two different generations. I am not a baby-boomer,” Hill says with a laugh. “It was magical to bring the rooms that we had together—intergenerational, not all black bodies. People who would’ve never known each other otherwise, and now we’re gonna do work. I am grateful to facilitate change,” says Hill.

As a gender-queer person, Hill incorporates the theme of identity and comfortability throughout the album as well. A song called “Past Time,” a ballad giving trans women a voice, Sekou calls “the best song on the album.” It’s a song “about trans women being murdered,” says Sekou, “I’m getting all emotional just thinking about it.”

Band Portrait2

Photo courtesy of April Martin

Being the only straight man in the studio at times, Sekou notes “whatever [discomfort] I have in that room for those two hours, is what they experience everyday,” he explains, “then I cease to be uncomfortable.”

Speaking on a song called “Welcome Home,” Hill remembers a time when, as a genderqueer person, she was uncomfortable being true to herself. “It’s about that, it’s about welcoming people in and accepting them.” As a lead songwriter for this album Hill addressed her lyrics saying, “I don’t like to say lyrics that I wouldn’t say just walking down the street. They are real conversations that I’ve had.”

Sekou and Hill are overjoyed to share the experience Jan. 31 at 2720 Cherokee. It’s going to be a revolutionary night celebrating music, freedom, equality and individuality.  “We prayed a lot. The ways that we use prayer and testimony in our music and our process of making it transforms it from a regular album of people just making music,” says Hill.

Pre-order the album here. It will be available on iTunes and other media outlets after the official release Jan. 31.

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