Before we even heard them sing, Messiah’s Men won over Sing-Off fans with their inspirational story of struggle, survival and, ultimately, salvation through song. Now based out of Minneapolis, the Afrocentric gospel group is made up of former Liberian refugees who use their music to portray a message of hope.
Unfortunately, the Messiah’s Men were eliminated in the first round of the show (along with high schoolers Soul’d Out), but that message definitely came across in their stirring renditions of “People Get Ready” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Ben Folds applauded their “moving” performance, while Shawn Stockman said the group was made up of real “storytelling voices.”
Though their time on The Sing-Off was short, Messiah’s Men member David told me it was a “wonderful ride” for the group when we spoke this afternoon — even for the members who worried their Christian message might not translate to a reality show. And the ride is far from over. Messiah’s Men have big plans ahead, including raising money and awareness for orphans in their native Liberia (more on that, and how you can help, below!).
Read on for our interview:
Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV: Hi David, how are you?
David, Messiah’s Men: Hi Meghan, I’m doing great. I’ve been crying all night and all day, but I’m doing better now.
Oh no, why are you crying?
Because we got sent home!
Oh, I’m so sorry. I was really sad that you got sent home, too! I really was.[Laughs] Oh, I’m doing OK. It’s been a wonderful ride, seriously. The entire experience, it’s surreal. You know, sitting at home and seeing us on TV performing and knowing that so many folks at home are watching, and the feedback that we’ve gotten from family and friends and even some of our fans that we’ve had, and new fans that we’ve made, it’s been incredible, so I’m doing great.
I’m sure you do have a lot of new fans. I thought you guys were wonderful on the show, especially your swan song. That was reason enough right there for them to keep you.
Thank you so much. I do agree that, watching the performance on TV last night, our swan song came out much stronger, you know, in the delivery and our vocal harmony, than our main song. But it was beautiful, and the swan song, as an Afrocentric group, the swan song is right within our style of singing, so that came natural, singing that type of song.
What made you decide to sing “People Get Ready” as your signature song?
“People Get Ready” has a very positive message, and Messiah’s Men is essentially a gospel a cappella group. Participating on The Sing-Off, we were trying to sing to a broader audience, and that has some challenges as far as the song selection. “People Get Ready” is very popular, it has a very positive message, and it has a Christian connotation to it. “There’s a train coming,” if you don’t take it literally, it’s conveying a message about salvation, a message about hope, a message about a better tomorrow, and I think the message of the song is consistent with the message of our ministry.
How did Messiah’s Men come about as an a cappella group?
The group got together in July of 2003, and we’ve been singing a cappella music since then. Prior to 2003, all of the group members are from Liberia, and for the past several years, Liberia did have a civil war, and many of us lived as refugees with different West African cultures, specifically in the Ivory Coast and in Ghana. During our lives as refugees, there were no jobs, there was nothing to do living in refugee camps. Many of the group members had a passion for music, we had sung in choirs in our churches. But because there were no instruments and nothing to do, we branched out into singing a cappella music. There were a few a cappella groups in the camp, and some of the group members have sung in different groups. In fact, four of the members in the group are biological brothers, actually.
So, after our experience living as refugees, one by one we began getting opportunities to come to the United States, and in the summer of 2003, some of the members decided to call other members they knew were here, to say, you know, when we sung a cappella music as refugees it was really beautiful. A lot of us agreed that if we had the opportunity to leave and come to the United States, we’d continue to sing gospel a cappella, and it would be great for us to get together and put a group together. We had several teleconferences and in July of 2003, the group came together and named itself the Messiah’s Men. And the overall goal of the group as it was determined at the time was to continue to spread our testimony of the goodness of God, but also to be able to share our story of the tremendous challenges that we had living through war, living as refugees, but being able to overcome all of those experiences. So the group has been together since that time. We’ve had smaller performances, throughout many different states here in the U.S. At churches, at different events, corporate events. We have done three albums now, and some of the songs are on our website.
Your story was so inspiring to see on the show, and it really came across well. But as an evangelical group were you concerned about how your message might translate to a reality show?
That’s a great, great question. Most definitely, yes. In fact, as part of the internal conversation that we had as a group, there were disagreements as to whether or not we should participate on The Sing-Off. There were some members who felt that The Sing-Off was a “secular show,” so being a Christian, evangelical group, we would not be able to get our message out there, and that the platform would not be appropriate for our message. And there were others in the group who felt that that was not the case, in fact there were other groups from previous seasons that were Christian groups as well, and that went on the show and they were able to portray their message. So there was some disagreement internally. In our conversation with specifically the vocal coaches, who had worked with us with song selection, we did tell them our concerns, and they were very, very accommodating, in terms of giving us songs that were religious in nature, that portray a positive message.
Coming out of the show, were those members who were worried about it, did they feel like it was overall a good, positive experience for you?
Oh my gosh, yes. In fact, even when we were in L.A., doing the show, some of the group members who were not totally sold to the entire idea, and came along kicking and screaming, I think those were the ones who had the most amount of fun. We kept joking with those guys that they would have passed up a great opportunity, and now they were enjoying it.
I read that Messiah’s Men are planning to hold a concert in Africa. Can you tell me more about that?
Yes, that’s true. One of the goals of the group is to have a concert in Liberia. In fact, we had planned the concert for last December, but we had to put the plans on hold because there are some immigration issues that still need to be resolved to allow all the group members to travel out of the country and return. But it is our goal to be able to go and hold a benefit fundraiser concert in Liberia, where we are all from. Throughout the years, one of the things that was done with fundraisers and concerts here in the United States is to raise funds and obtain donations for orphanages in Liberia. The civil war has left a lot of children there with their parents dead or missing. So there are a lot of orphanages there, and we believe that those of us that were fortunate enough to make it here to the United States, we have a responsibility to give back to our community back home.
And so we’ve been doing some fundraisers and working with some orphanages there, donating educational supplies. And so our goal is to go back home as a Christian Liberian gospel group, have a benefit concert there to be able to raise funds for the causes there. It’s still our goal. As part of the planning that we did last year, Ghana is one of the most stable countries in West Africa politically and economically, and it’s the country where many of the group members lived as refugees when they sang a cappella music. So the plan is to go to Ghana, have a concert in Ghana and then fly to Liberia and have a concert there. We still have those plans, so once we can figure out all the logistics, we’ll head out there.
If someone watching the show or reading this interview wanted to donate, is there a specific organization you’re working with that they should look into?
There is an organization called Sister Girl, and we’ll be performing for them in a few days, and they work with orphanages in Liberia. There is another Liberian gospel artist who lives in Liberia and she runs an orphanage as well, and her name is Kanvee Adams, and she also receives donations as well. Our website is there also, if you want to follow the group, make donations and buy music: MessiahsMen.com.
What are you taking away from your experience on The Sing-Off as a group?
That it’s really nice to live as a celebrity. [Laughs] I’m kidding. You know, we’re taking several things away. It was certainly great to be on The Sing-Off and work with the musical team, the vocal coaches. They really taught us about vocal harmony and learning your song to almost perfection. It was great working with the choreographing team about the physical presentation of your song. That is something that as a Christian group, we just didn’t have. So it was great working with them. It was also great meeting the other groups. I believe there are some friendships and collaborations that could result from our interactions with the other groups on the show. And the opportunity to be able to reach millions of people with our music and our story is an opportunity that we are eternally grateful for, and so we will continue to work as a group to keep ourselves out there. Hopefully get a better recording contract to records some albums. But more importantly, continue to tell our story and keep our Afrocentric a cappella style of music relevant with a cappella music here in the U.S.
(Image courtesy of NBC)