Vancouver’s Khari Wendell McClelland was here last February at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre for a ten-day run of the ‘documentary theatre musical’ that the songs on this album were written for. He ‘collected and interptreted songs that likely accompanied his great-great-great grandmother Kizzy as she fled US slavery into Canada’. He held the Release Party for the CD version at the Burdock on February 22nd. But this production is not a re-creation of slave songs carefully cleansed to not attract attention from the master; this interpretation envisions the songs performed as intended, by people now free. He also places them in modern settings, often with new lyrics. So this album is not just the audio portion but a major project in its own right. In “Song Of The Agitators”, accompanied by tuba, guitar, drums and choir, Khari’s first verse sings of abolishing slavery but the second verse details more current concerns: pay equity, treaty rights, foreign wars and youth unemployment. The chorus, with its gorgeous melody, says the agitators will continue until we are ‘family, born equal and free’. “No More Auction Block” follows the same pattern, with Khari singing a traditional verse accompanied only by guitar, with the choir joining in for the contemporary verse. “Liberty Songs” is even more ambitious with two long highly listenable rap verses by Khari double-tracked and a catchy chorus singing ‘Sound the trumpet for me so we can all be free’. “Never The Child Be Sold” opens and closes with a sound clip of an interview with a former slave describing a slave sale. Khari’s vocal drives home the point that these are humans not farm implements. “Song Of The Fugitive” tells the story of the escape and of the freedom waiting in Canada – a lovely hymn-like tune. “Oh Dearest Mary” is also an escape song layered on top of a 78rpm original. Khari’s vocal here is accompanied by a dulcimer and a portable organ. Innovatively, Khari opens “Am I Not A Man And Brother” as though he was on a 78rpm disc for the first verse of this hymn. The choir has some of the most beautiful passages on the disc here. Seldom has protest music sounded so wonderful. Khari Wendell McClelland still sings with The Sojourners but I hope he has time for more work like this. His web site is www.khariwendellmcclelland.com.

March 2018 - Suzie Vinnick
March 2018 - Suzie Vinnick