We shall not, we shall not be moved We shall not, we shall not be moved Just like a tree that’s standing in the waters We shall not be moved

I did not write “We Shall Not Be Moved.” It’s been around since at least the mid-1800’s. While the copyright was granted to two white male gospel composers in the early 1900’s, the standard line is that “nobody knows” exactly how long it has been around. To my ear, “nobody knows” sounds an awful lot like, “this song was written by an enslaved person, but in America we don’t talk about slavery unless there’s no way to avoid it, so we’re just gonna leave it mysterious.” Barring the discovery of new original documents or the invention of time travel, the name of the original composer is lost to us; but we do know that the lyrics are inspired by Jeremiah 17:8:

They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

When I think of the composer, I imagine a black woman sustaining her spirit in the face of the sadistic and dehumanizing conditions of slavery by drawing on the certainty of her immanent human value; just like a tree whose taproot draws on pure, nourishing water from deep beneath the earth. Her voice spread that nourishment to anyone who could hear her. The magic she spun has sustained generations. While I will never know the horrors she faced, I have often turned to music to save my own soul when faced with dehumanization and objectification, both as a young girl and as an adult woman. I honor the memory of this ancestral songwriter and express gratitude for the gift she gave us in the spirit of human survivorship and commitment to overcoming all forms of oppression.

Inspiration

 

In August of 2017, a group of right-wing extremists held a rally in downtown Seattle. A diverse coalition of Seattleites mounted a several thousand-person counterprotest at a nearby park. Our plan was to march on the right-wing rally, overwhelm them with our numbers, and force them out of our city.

The police had other ideas. As we advanced on the extremist rally, officers began firing off flash bang grenades and threatening to arrest all of us if we didn’t clear the street and turn back. Instead of obeying, several hundred of us sat down in the street and began singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” I was handed a microphone and asked to lead the singing.

It’s not easy to disobey a direct order from a phalanx of heavily armed riot cops, but the act of singing together transformed my fear into a feeling of profound fellowship and trust.

In the end, the police couldn’t arrest all of us and they couldn’t intimidate us into turning back. Instead, they had to disperse the extremist group because we had them so vastly outnumbered.

That protest was a microcosm of the political situation we face today. The vast majority of Americans want a more equitable, inclusive country; but a small group of right-wing extremists have seized power. We have the numbers, so we have to stand our ground – no matter the risks – and keep marching forward until we reclaim our government. As I thought about this parallel, the lyrics and melody of this adaptation began pouring out of me.

Knowing that the original “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an African American spiritual, it was important to me to build this song with a black-led production team that reflected the coalition we need to build to save the soul of our nation. I am deeply grateful for the leadership of my colleagues, Maurice Jones Jr. and Josephine Howell in crafting this piece of music.

 

Maurice Jones Jr.

Maurice Jones Jr.

producer • arranger • bass

Maurice has achieved a lifetime of professional experience as a music producer, filmmaker, recording engineer, musician, educator, performer, graphic artist, production facility designer and entrepreneur. He has worked along side of notable talent including the Neville Brothers, Peter Gabriel, Live and the SongCatchers.
Josephine Howell

Josephine Howell

featured performing artist • vocal director

Josephine first explored her interest and abilities for singing in the children’s choir at her childhood church, The True Right M. B. Church. Her range of talent extends from singing, dancing and acting to the very production and direction of the arts. The experiences of her performances reflect the spirituality, love, struggles and victories of one who tells a story of triumph where there was no hope.
Lara Lavi
Lara Lavi

music video director

Called once by Bonnie Raitt as “one of the best kept secrets in the music world,” Lara is a media/tech/entertainment law attorney, an entrepreneur, an entertainment company executive, a business development specialist, a film and TV producer & writer, and a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter.
Album Credits
Vocals: Tae Phoenix, Josephine Howell, Chyée Howell, Tanisha Brooks, Lisa Allen, Maelu Strange, Gena Brooks Guitar: Jeffrey Carolus Piano: Tae Phoenix Organs / Synths: Mark Cardenas Bass: Maurice Jones Jr. Drums: Kai Evan Hill Producer: Maurice Jones Jr. Production Assistant: Audrey Lowell Mastering Engineer: Pete Stewart Recorded at Red Door Studios and Bobby Lang Studios in Seattle, WA. Album cover photo by Brian Wells. Cover art design by Tae Phoenix.
Artist’s Statement on Cultural Appropriation

 

The original “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an African American spiritual and civil rights song. This is an adaptation.

All artists draw inspiration and influence from one another across cultures. Capitalism and white supremacy have perverted this natural artistic interplay, leading to a centuries-long pattern of white artists co-opting and monetizing the work of black and brown artists without recognizing, advocating for, adequately paying, or accepting leadership from the originators of the work.

“We Shall Not Be Moved,” is different. This project is a collaboration between artists from multiple intersecting backgrounds specifically designed to break through that pattern by:

1) Uplifting and honoring the history of the original song.
2) Presenting the work only in ways that promote the human and civil rights of marginalized people.
3) Funneling at least 50% of any profits derived from this work** and future works of this type to movements and organizations that are run by and for marginalized groups. (The other 50% will be used to make future work of this type economically sustainable.)

In am especially grateful to Allegra Searle-LeBel, Charles McDade, Dion Thomas, Dan Roach, Isiah Anderson Jr., Jen Moon, Josephine Howell, Maurice Jones Jr., Modessa Jacobs, Nikkita Oliver, and Rev. Harriett G. Walden for holding me accountable to approaching this material with the mindfulness and respect it deserves.

** From music and merchandise sales, downloads and streams, and ad monetization.