Song To a Refugee
A Sensitive and Powerful Collection of Perspectives on the Nature and Treatment of Refugees.
At the core of this release is probably the song which is least explicitly about refugees – “Humble;” nestled away three-quarters of the way through the album.
Here, the album’s genesis lies within – suffering from a year long illness caused by a gas leak in her apartment, forced Diana Jones to realise that “Life made you humble – all the living and dying,”
and faced with the media demonization of those who seek home and safety, arose the inspiration for the album.
Jones’ survival instinct mirrors that of those who seek to escape war and to find peace and she speaks “to” them to address negative media portrayals. The album opens with the Marty Robbins feel of “El Chaparral” – but darker lyrically because of its current subject matter – about one of the key crossing points on the Mexican/American Border, where infants were forced into squalid conditions away from their families.
Jones’ isn’t afraid to use pathos and personal stories to trigger an emotional response in the listener – the Scottish air of the title track “Song For a Refugee” doubles the emotional layers in musical mood and lyrics with its wish that
“May you be happy and full and grow old”
– a loving wish for safety, as
“None of us know where our footsteps will fall”.
“Where We Are” takes the voice of a dispossessed child with
“Number 47 on my shirt, on my arm” and “Santiago”, with its plaintive fiddle explodes the stories that arise out of the small details of personal possessions.
Elsewhere, Jones uses the voices of refugees – stories from her encounters and friends and from news coverage – “Mama Hold Your Baby” uses old time fiddle and banjo to recount Elizabeth Warren’s passed on tale of a Guatemalan mother who’d carried her baby to the border, reflecting both the horror and strength in such a story.
“I Wait For You” and “The Life I Left Behind” both speak with the voice of the refugee looking back on their former home. In the former, it’s the tale of a Sudanese woman forced to marry at 13, who, having escaped is now waiting – and hoping – to be reunited with her children, whereas in the latter, the refugee in their new land looks back at the destruction of their place of origin with sadness – both songs united by a Joan Baez-like musical delivery.
“The Sea Is My Mother” and “Love Song To a Bird” both take differing aspects of refugees at sea – in “The Sea Is My Mother” there’s a
“Dream of peace and something more / waiting on a distant shore”
and the path to that destination is the sacrifice of family. “
Love Song to a Bird” takes the detached view of the refugee boat from above and the distance amplifies the danger of the journey – musically in both lyrics are to the fore, with largely fingerpicked guitar leaving the lyrics out front.
One of the more uptempo numbers is “Ask a Woman”, which befits the positivity that the song proposes – set to a gentle country “boom-chick” rhythm, the strength of mothers and women are held up as being worthy of inspiration – not criticism,
“Ask a woman – with a child in her arms.”
“We Believe You” – has been the lead out track to the album in the media and it contains a loud message about the importance of belief and empathy in the refugees’ stories.
Steve Earle/Richard Thompson/Peggy Seeger all take turns on vocals -the symbolism being that it isn‘t just one person believing in their stories of why they are fleeing – but “we”.
The repeated title becomes a mantra to consolidate that message – it’s going to be a festival rabble rouser for years to come.
The album ends, quite fittingly with “The Last Words” – Diana Jones talks of the shared experience of refugees and non-refugees
“The stillness and the shadows come to steal our loved ones away”
– we all seek safety and home and the refugees message is a Universal Message – we want home, safety and all that comes with it.
I’d vote for that.
In this album, Diana Jones has taken what could have been a one issue topic and exploded it wide, exploring viewpoints and narratives in and around the issue of refugees and putting the lyricism and poetry of those stories to the fore.
Review by Nick Barber
Released 25th September 2020
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