It was a bit of fate and the guiding hand of blues man Jim Byrnes that brought the Sojourners together.
Formed out of a studio session with Byrnes, the Sojourners have become one Canada’s most acclaimed gospel acts.
“It was just one of those sort of magical situations. Everybody was on the same page, everybody understood and knew the form of music, it was just a real natural fit,” Marcus Mosely of the Sojourners said.
Ultimately, the album that Mosley and his band mates at the time sang back up on for Byrnes, House of Refuge, won a Juno Award.
“It was such a wonderful experience and Jim said ‘you guys got to take this on the road’,” Mosely said, and they did under the moniker Sojourners, which Byrnes coined. It’s the name of an African-American women’s rights activists and abolitionist from the 1800s, Sojourner Truth.
“She’s one of those icons or heroes, or what I call she-roes from back in that time,” Mosely said.
Mosely has a unique experience relating to civil rights, seeing two different sides of the coin. He was born in Texas in 1952.
“I have very vivid memories of seperate-but-equal Jim Crowe laws. Separate washrooms, separate fountains, having to step off the sidewalk if white people were walking by,” Mosely said. “Literally living across the tracks where pavement would stop, that was the black part of town.”
Mosely and his family moved to the San Fransisco area of California. Racism took on a different form for Mosely.
“There’s some positives in living in a place like (Texas) in that you know where you stand. You know what people think about you,” Mosely said. “When you move to the west, I discovered the kind of racism where people would smile in your face publicly, but behind your back would call you the n-word, do things to undermine you.”
Mosely grew up singing in churches. Though many may not know it today, much of rock ‘n’ roll, roots and even modern music stems from the gospel music originating in churches — not only as a form of music, but a form of empowerment.
“Anybody who does any reading about the civil rights movement in the States, Dr. Martin Luther King was quite brilliant in centering the movement in the church because that was the core of the black community,” Mosley said. “It was music centered in faith, but it was also music used for social justice. So it became pretty evident that you don’t have to be a Bible-believing Christian to sing I Shall Not Be Moved.”
The strengths of gospel music come from promoting the power to overcome adversity and to see one’s self as part of something greater.
Mosely, who now lives in Canada, directs a community gospel choir that features people from a diverse array of backgrounds.
“Everything from Christian to atheist to Jewish, Buddhist, whatever. We have people who are young, old, gay, straight, transgender. We’re all invited and we all have a voice,” Mosely said.
Mosely is a Christian himself though he said most of his fundamentalist friends would consider him a “liberal.”
“I believe in my particular faith journey and faith path, but I’m not a chauvinist and say ‘if you don’t believe what I believe you’re going to burn in hell,” Mosely laughed. “I think that God is big enough to encompass everybody. There’s room for everybody.”
An old missionary told him years ago “we may never be able to see eye to eye, but we can see heart to heart.”
This is part one of a six-part series previewing the Dream Music Festival. Tickets are $69, $79 and $89 available at the South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton and Wine Country Visitor Centre and online at www.thedreammusicfestival.ca.