Inspired by Black Lives Matter, over 40 Canadian artists record Freedom Marching
The artists from across Canada are all Black or racialized
After attending a Black Lives Matter rally in the wake of George Floyd's murder in the U.S. two years ago, Kitchener, Ont., musician Rufus John was inspired to form the group United Artists 4 Change.
Under that banner, John embarked on what would become a two-year passion project, bringing together more than 40 Black and racialized musicians to perform a powerful song he wrote, Freedom Marching (Part I).
"My way of taking action was to put it in my art," said John. "There's definitely no weak links on this track. Everybody showed up and everybody delivered.
"We've been screaming on the mountaintops for the longest time: 'Hey, there are things happening that people need to be paying attention to.'" said John. "Unfortunately, it took George Floyd for the world to stop."
We are all marching together in this quest for a better place, free of hate and bigotry and systemic racism,- Gary McAuley, the McAuley Boys
The song was recorded in multiple studios over the course of the pandemic, and is one of two songs: the second is a hip hop tune featuring eight artists.
"We are all marching together in this quest for a better place, free of hate and bigotry and systemic racism," said Gary McAuley of London, Ont., who's both the vocal producer on the track and performed in it along with his three brothers, known as the McAuley Boys.
"We hope that we left this world a better place by doing this," said McAuley.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the singers were never able to gather in one studio together to record the song. Instead, they took turns in front of the microphone.
"One singer had to come in and sing a line, and then they had to leave," said John. "Then we had to wait 45 minutes to clear the air, and then have another singer come in, and rinse and repeat and rinse and repeat."
What does freedom mean?
"Traditionally we understand what freedom has meant to many groups over the years," said McAuley. "There are regions and hot spots where people are really fighting for their lives to exist, to pray, to be, because of the colour of their skin."
Unfortunately right now, the word freedom has been co-opted by members of the trucker convoy who oppose vaccine mandates, both McAuley and John said.
"I encourage people to really do their homework and really understand the weight of the word freedom and what it means to different communities," said John.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.