Move over Sister Act, Toronto has it's own inclusive gospel choir

March 14, 2023

March 30, 2023

Phil Villeneuve


For a lot of queer folks, gospel music is terrifying. This is where Toronto's gospel & R'n'B choir Inkloosiv comes in.

For a lot of queer folks, gospel music is terrifying. There's a lot of trauma, or just plain-ol' religious association and connotation that comes along with the music. But it's the energy, the power, and the voices that come out of gospel music that often transcend all that. Once you hear the melodies and the emotion - not to mention most of our greatest divas of all time where raised in church choirs - so much of the negativity and judgment of a traditional church melts away.

This is where Toronto's gospel & R'n'B choir Inkloosiv comes in. In March 2020 they held their first auditions, moved rehearsals online to combat lockdowns during the pandemic and now they are a full fledged choir performing at events all over the city. We asked Inkloosiv Founder and Artistic Director Jacen some questions about how it works, who is welcome and Sister Act 2, obviously.

OK, biggest question right off the bat... why did you start Inkloosiv Voices?

Jacen: Great question!! Growing up queer in the church, I never felt like I fit in.  Gospel music kept me there - the creation process, the harmony, the community - it anchored me and gave me the foundation and opportunity to foster music as a passion and a career.  As the church choir continued to grow and flourish under my direction, it was apparent that I wouldn’t be able to continue without conforming to a societally masculine leadership role. I refused to ‘man up’, tone it down, and get rid of my glitter - something inside of me deeply felt and understood that I couldn’t continue in that space if I wasn’t going to be able to fully show up as myself.  

After some time outside of the church working as a singer, I left music entirely - it was a really difficult transitional time for me. I had lost my gospel community, and as I tried to find meaning and fulfillment in other sectors of the music world, I was again being asked to ‘lower my voice’ and lean into the toxic masculine stereotypes that were so rampant in music culture in the early 2000’s.  It became very clear to me that if I wanted to be able to fully show up in a space that I was going to have to create it myself.

It took years of processing anger, guilt, shame, animosity, and fear before I was able to take the leap and start In-Kloo-Siv Voices with the support of dear friends and family who had been pushing me to reconnect and find new meaning for my gifts as a singer and choral director, and my passion for gospel.  

Who are some your biggest gospel inspirations?

Jacen: Rather than naming a particular artist, I’d say the music, the content, and the style of the genre itself - these songs that have been passed through generations and widespread through communities to foster healing and growth - are what inspire me more than any individual artist or group that sings them.  And more than that, outside of gospel, I’m constantly being inspired by music that spans across so many different genres.  When I hear a certain song and the harmonies that live inside of them, I get so excited to arrange it and bring it to the choir.

How has it grown over time? Who has been joining?

Jacen: The In-Kloo-Siv community has grown and changed so much since we started in 2020.  The most wonderful thing about our growth is that energetically we attract so many people with similar shared experiences as mine.  Whether it’s been in regards to their experience as an 2SLGBTQ+ person or otherwise - people seeking community in music who have either never felt like they fit in, or are just looking for an inclusive space to sing in harmony together without bias or judgement.  

How do you find people approach you or the choir when often religious associations come into play? Do people struggle with this?

What a big question!  This is something that I try to be very intentional about when selecting our gospel repertoire - finding songs with a universally human message, and inviting our members to connect and resonate with the music on an individual level - whether that be religious, atheist, spiritual, emotional…that’s up to them. Up to this point, nobody has struggled with it - gospel music has been such a powerful connecting tool for us to get in touch with our emotional and spiritual landscapes outside of organized religion.

When LGBTQ+ folks come to sing, why are some their reasons for joining?

The joy, acceptance, and support we bring to rehearsals and performances is nothing short of infectious. We hear over and over from our members that they feel an immediate sense of belonging, and a relief that they can show up and simply ‘be’.  All of my “Yassssss Queeeeeennnss” when the harmony is en pointe is also a big selling factor - lol.

Who are some of your favourite special guests you've had sing with y'all?

We haven’t gotten to that point yet - since we’ve been able to perform post-covid, we were so excited to self-produce our first Christmas concert this past December, and it completely sold out.  This inspired us to self-produce our second show - a Pride concert this coming June (!!!!) and we’re looking forward to collaborating with some very special Toronto artists - so stay tuned ;)

So many of our favourite divas of all time grew up singing gospel music in church, do you find it important to separate yourself from a church setting?

Yes and no!  It’s case by case. For example, we currently rehearse in the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, and have received so much support from Pastor Ralph Carl and that community.  It’s the most progressive and inclusive church space that I’ve ever experienced and been in relationship with, and we are so grateful for their continued support. As long as a space actively shares our values, and walks the walk, we’re happy to roll with them.

We have to ask, are there any Sister Act 2 "Joyful Joyful" esque moments that happen live or in rehearsal?

Haha - we do have LOTS of gospel magic moments during rehearsal and in performance - but I’d say we are constantly embodying that attitude and energy.  For example, we don’t have choir uniforms - we tell people to wear whatever they want (as long as it’s *fashion* and *chic*) and overall, we leave lots of room for play. We want to allow people to shine as individuals as well as part of our choir.