I remember Highschool and the bullies we’d have to avoid. If you were coming out of the bathroom as they were walking in, I’d get nervous and look down, avoiding eye contact. The bully knew it and would provoke my anxiety like a button. Eventually, you accept the fact that there’s no way the bully will let you leave until you show them respect or you get assaulted and they walk away. The only way you win… is if your friends are there, waiting quietly in the stalls to show support and to right a wrong. That bully never really goes away after school for many minorities. If you are Black, Indigenous and part of the racialized community, then the bully becomes systemic racism within our leaders of authority, including law enforcement and hospitals. Not all are racist but the problem is not going away. I do not identify as part of the racialized community, but I stand beside my friends and family that do. Racism is a cancer and we need to push the cure.
Music is something we all understand universally and can be used as a vessel to carry a message. The Freedom Marching Project is preparing to send that message at volume 10 on February 4th. The song is entitled Freedom Marching and it was the brainchild of award-winning R&B/Soul singer and songwriter, Rufus John. The song is available for pre-order and after you hear the story behind the project, you might want to buy 2 copies and give one to a friend. In support of the EP release, the project will also include two official music videos, one in-studio performance video, a Call-To-Action Commercial, a Behind the Scenes Docuseries and a website that will feature resources and information for those who are willing to watch, listen and learn to then #JoinTheMarch.
The Freedom Marching Project founded by John and inspired by the thousands of people who took action by marching through streets all over the world shouting, “Black Lives Matter!” It’s being hailed as the most significant civil rights movement of our generation. The goals of the Project are to use the creative power of Art, Education and Activism to honor the community leaders, that are fighting daily on the frontlines for equity, access, diversity, participation, and rights for Black, Indigenous, racialized communities, to shed light on the lived experiences and to provide resources and information to those who want to ‘Stay Informed, Get Connected and Take Action’.
John used his connections within the music industry to bring together some Juno & Grammy award winners & nominees to lend their voices and talents to this special project. Collectively the talented group is called, United Artists 4 change and the ensemble features over 40 Black and Racialized Artists, Musicians and Producers from around Canada. The EP was produced by Da-Rell Clifton, vocally produced by Gary McAuley, Rufus John & Darren Hamilton, and mixed/mastered by Dan Brodbeck. Some of the artists involved are: JRDN, Carlos Morgan, D.O, Chad Price, Dan-e-o, Owen “O Sound” Lee, Dwayne Morgan, Quisha Wint, Jason Simmons (Vocal Paint), The McAuley Boys, Nefe, Clair Davis, Aphrose, D/Shon and The Waterloo Region Mass Choir.
The Freedom Marching Project has partnered with Community leader Selam Debs & the initiative Parents of Black Children. A Go Fund Me Page can be found at the end of the article to help support this call for agency and equality as they unite to combat racism, oppression and discrimination within our current systems and communities.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Rufus John about the potential impact of this EP and this much anticipated song. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “I wanted to first commend you on taking great initiative for a great cause. Can you tell me when the idea and the real work started, in putting this project together?”
RUFUS “It was 2 years ago in June when the world stopped. One reason was the pandemic and the other reason was because of the social justice issues coming to the forefront – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, as well as other events happening in Canada. Throw all of that into a melting pot and you have 30,000 people show up at a march out here, in Waterloo. I think it really shocked the community to see so much solidarity and support. When I left the march, I felt united in how we all felt but I also felt a little deflated. I felt so uninformed regarding the core issues and how systemic racism worked. I wanted answers, so I went out looking for them through research and reaching out to community leaders, activists and organizers. I’ve grown up in this community for 20 plus years and have been blessed to have built relationships with the people that were now organizers of the march. Having taken myself off of social media, I began seeking out more information. Through that, I realized this was an important time for me, much like a series of snapshots of my life – I knew I had to put it into my music.”
HNMAG “What was your writing process for this song?”
RUFUS “I reached out to a good friend of mine, Michael Harris. Michael is great at helping me to channel my noise. When I’m working on a project, I walk around with a notebook and write sentences, phrases and whatever else comes to me. This process was the same but when I look at it on paper, it’s all noise and I can’t channel it. I know what I want to say but don’t know how to say it, so I take my notebook to Mike. I told him the lyrics need to resonate with the people going to the march, the people on the bus listening to it on the way to the march, the people at the march – I want this song to gas them up. Once he came up with the chorus, it was exactly what I was trying to say. Through that, I was able to spit out the first verse within 45 mins.”
HNMAG “How did the song grow into The Freedom Marching Project?”
RUFUS “It wasn’t until we listened to it, we knew we had something that was bigger than us and we needed to figure out what to do with it. I reached out to the organizers of the march and requested a town meeting. I wanted to know how people were feeling before the march, during the march and after the march. I wanted the help of the community to help with taking this song to the finish line. Unfortunately, Covid wouldn’t allow us the town hall meeting, so I reached out to the organizers of the march. We also realized we needed women’s perspectives on the situation and onboard. I reconnected with some phenomenal Black women in our community. They’re writers, performers and friends of mine. We met with the organizers and we took many notes. Once we were finished the meeting, I rented out a small theatre and we took all of the notes and put them on a large 2 ½ X 3-foot sticky note board. We took everything the community was saying in those notes to ensure we were on point to develop the song that you’re going to hear on Jan. 28. Freedom Marching is born!”
HNMAG “You have some incredible talent on the album/project. JRDN, Carlos Morgan, D.O, Chad Price, Dan-e-o, Owen “O Sound” Lee, Dwayne Morgan, Quisha Wint, a choir. Did you know these artists personally and what was the response like when you initially reached out to them?”
RUFUS “In my writing process, it was my song before it became our song and now we have to make it their song. I made 3 lists… the first list was – who do I know, that I’d like to be part of this? The other list was – who do I know of, but don’t have a relationship with that I feel would be really dope on the project. The others, I dove into the research in finding the younger R&B kat’s out here in Canada that I think I’d like to work with. After compiling the lists, I began putting out the calls. Typically, the responses were ‘Rufus, I know you. If you’re asking me, I’m happy to be part of it’. Other responses varied between ‘can you tell me more about it’ and the others were hesitant… but once they heard the demo, the conversation shifted from ‘I dunno’, to ‘this song is amazing, I want to be a part of it – what do you need? It was really the strength of the song that brought everyone to the table.”
HNMAG “The lyrics were all written and on the demo before approaching the artists?”
RUFUS “Yes, we re-recorded after that writing session, how we wanted it to sound. It was a rough version of what we wanted and we really loved the energy in that recording session. We really captured magic and during it, the vocal producer, Gary said to me that the bed-tracks/demo tracks sounded amazing and that we could keep/use them. I told him no and that we needed to get rid of it and replace them with as many artists as possible.”
HNMAG “Do you foresee this track getting radio play?”
RUFUS “This is the ‘Field of Dreams’ theme with the song. If you build it, they will come. When people hear it, you can’t help but feel… something. They’ll start to question, how so many people became involved and how did it happen? The song feels good and you can’t deny it when you hear it. Whether it gets on the radio or not isn’t really the goal, it’s really to get it out there on social media and the universe and let the universe do what it’s supposed to do. With the artists on it, as well as myself, I believe it will cause people to pause long enough to give it a listen. Once they hear it, they will be hooked on it and want to share it with their communities. That is when they’ll hear the backstories of the music and the why.”
HNMAG “This is one of 3 songs on the EP?”
RUFUS “That is correct. The other two songs are a Hip-Hop version and an R&B version because I wanted to reach as many people as possible. The R&B has a mass choir plus approx. 36-39 artists and the Hip-Hop has 8 artists on it. The music is a commercial for ‘here we are, here’s our thoughts and here’s our opinions. If I’m feeling like this, then there’s gotta be others that are Black like myself, as well as other races that have the same questions and don’t know where to begin. I wanted to create a platform with resources and information. I created 3 disciplines to help as a guide, which are… stay informed with the issues – get connected with your community leaders and activists in your community – take action at your own capacity. Taking action could mean voting, donating, boots on the ground at a protest or whatever that looks like for you. You’ll at least be armed with information from these resources that will then help you through that journey. These songs are a commercial to say that these resources are available for you to tap into, to help you join the march.”
HNMAG “Getting everyone into the studio to record must have been an enormous undertaking.”
RUFUS “The process was daunting. When we started this – in my mind, I was picturing ‘We Are the World’. I watched the documentary online, it looked very simple and they won a Grammy award. The way that Quincy Jones had everyone come into the studio with the engineers banging out a song in 3-5 days was amazing and made total sense. However, Covid said no way, absolutely not, it’s not happening! I found a couple of studios that were able to facilitate us – Revolution Recordings said we could make it happen with one artist in at a time, then wait 45 minutes for purifying the room before the other artist entered. It was a constant revolving door and had gone from a 3-day session to a week and a half of recording. Some of the artists were able to record at home while others came in. I stayed the course and it was a logistical nightmare but luckily, I had a team of people that saw the vision, understood the vision and were willing to ride it out with me. Da-Rell Clifton was the producer, vocal producing was by Gary McAuley. Darren Hamilton did the choir arrangements and it was mixed/mastered by Dan Brodbeck. The end result is phenomenal.”
HNMAG “How long is this song?”
RUFUS “Oh that’s a good question. I believe it’s 4 ½ minutes.”
HNMAG “How many people helped to write this song?”
RUFUS “There was myself, Varice, Vacel, Bowen, Latoya Ottley and Michael Harris. It took about 2 days for the hook and the verse and once we got together in the theatre, it was a weekend – meaning Saturday and Sunday. This song would not be what it is, if we didn’t go through that process.”
HNMAG “Were you able to get any support from the city of Waterloo?”
RUFUS “Yes, they supported us in a few ways. We have the Arts Fund out here, which we were able to benefit from in the form of a grant. We also have a theatre here called The Centre in the Square and they had a granting body called Create and Connect that also provided me with some funding to make it happen. When I went to shoot the video, I ran into a logistical nightmare. Shout out to Bob Egan and his team for getting me the permits I needed, to shoot the video the way I wanted to. The city did play a part in some capacity.”
Rufus really strives for change to happen. It’s in his voice, it’s in his plea and it’s on this EP, FREEDOM MARCHING! Go grab a copy on Feb. 4th. You can also pre-order from the links below. If you’d like to support The Freedom Marching Project, please go to A Go Fund Me page.
Connect with The Freedom Marching Project: