This is a 5 song EP put together by various artists through the British Red Cross to raise awareness to the plight of refugees worldwide. Tinariwen, Scroobius Pip & Didier Kisala, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Robert Plant, and Kindness all contributed tracks to this project. It is a great album of diverse moods and styles that all synergistically combine to speak with one voice for human dignity and human rights.
The British Red Cross even developed a Lesson Plan with learning objectives, song lyrics, video, and discussion points for use in the classroom for students age 14-19. Specific learning points focus on developing empathy and understanding identity formation and acculturation. So the whole thing is an excellent educational package as well as including great music. Many of the artists are refugees themselves and the artists spoke with other refugees and captured real-life aspects of their stories in the song lyrics.
The first track is “Kek Algahalam Mas Tasossam” by Tinariwen. It is a great track that has both movement and spaciousness and a very catchy chant. This band is great and their sound defies classification – layers of guitars, harmonic group singing, soaring movement, and a spaciousness that brings images of the desert. They are a Tuareg group from the deserts of northern Mali. They formed in 1979 in Algeria after being displaced by war, and returned to Mali during a cease fire in the 1990s. They have performed internationally and are well-respected by many diverse musicians. Their 5th album Tassili (2011) included guest appearances by Nels Cline (of Wilco) and Kyp Malone (of TV on the Radio). In 2012 the group was specifically targeted by anti-music Islamic militants, most of the group escaped but Abdallah Ag Lamida was briefly captured whilst trying to save his guitars. They resettled, temporarily in the Southwest USA, where they recorded their sixth album, Emmaar, at Joshua Tree National Park in California. (Biographical details from Wikipedia page, “Tinariwen”).
The second track is “Who Are You?” by English spoken word artist Scroobius Pip and Didier Kisala, founder of the English Congolese band, The Redeemed. The song was inspired by the real-life story of Ramelle, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I had never heard of either of these artists before, but it is a moving song. It starts out slow and melodic guitar for a bit with Didier Kisala singing and then Scroobius Pip layers in with a smooth rap about the plight of a refugee fleeing war and violence and finding discrimination feels increasing frustration and anger (as a guitar cuts in with dissonance), but the anger is directed toward getting a degree from school.
The third track is “World Peace,” by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. I love this band and the song is so positive and upbeat with a reggae vibe as they sing “We talk about peace, we want peace, everywhere, we talk about love, spread love everywhere.” This band knows first-hand the plight of refugees, having to relocate from Freetown, Sierra Leone to neighbouring Guinea due to war. The band formed in the Kalia refugee camp in 1997 with the help of a couple guitars and a microphone donated by a Canadian relief agency. Eventually they returned to Freetown and met more refugees there and continued making music, releasing their first album in 2006, Living Like a Refugee. A documentary called Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, they had a song, “Seconds,” on the U2 tribute album In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2, and they released their fourth album in 2014. Their website summarizes their story: “After a 10-year adventure that has taken them from the squalor of refugee camps to the world’s biggest stages, Africa’s most inspirational band continues to ascend. Over the years they have evolved to become one of Africa’s most recognized bands with fans across the globe. Their albums and live shows embodies and radiates the joy, passion for music and love for their fellow man that have made Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars a living testament to the resilience of the human spirit and an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.”
Robert Plant contributes the fourth song on The Long Road, “The Blanket of Night,” which is a cover of the original song by the English band, Elbow. This song is off their 2014 album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything. Plant’s rendition is even more ethereal. The song is a slow, sad, and open, evoking the wide open ocean and the dangerous journey that many refugees make across the open waters. The lyrics capture the rise and fall of the waves and the sea of chance and fate as refugees face the perils of the ocean’s nature.
That bears us from our home
Could save us
Or take us for its own
That life should lead us here
Could I have steered us clear?
The fifth song, “A Retelling,” is by Kindness (Adam Bainbridge). The song was inspired by the story of a refugee who fled Syria:
Ayman Hirh said, “I hope that my experience and the album will encourage people to think about the reasons people like me are forced to leave home.”
The song has a sad, plodding piano with Kindness’ slow vocals. (Kindness did a haunting cover of The Replacements “Swingin’ Party,” on his 2012 album World, You Need to Change Your Mind).
The British Red Cross web page for the album also features a video about the making of the music and the vision of the project that was musically produced by Ethan Johns, who has worked with Kings of Leon, Paul McCartney, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
This 5 song EP brings together a topical message about tolerance, empathy, and understanding moving between cultures in an educational package. The stories of many of the musicians, themselves, testify to the resilience of the human spirit. The music is heart-felt and brings together the full-spectrum of human emotion. We should remember that all of us are immigrants to the wide world outside of Africa as scientists tell us that Africa is the homeland of ancient humanity and we all trace back through our DNA to one mother: Mitochondrial Eve (whose initials happen to be the same as Mother Earth).