Not In Our Town Rally Performance: Refugee

I was given the chance to sing for a Not In Our Town rally on February 1, just after the chaotic weekend where 45’s executive order came down leveling the travel ban.  The rally was inspiring as 1100 people showed up with just a couple days warning to speak out against the prejudice and discrimination of the current administration.  Speakers from all faiths led us in prayer and reflection.  Community leaders spoke proudly of the traditions of inclusivity and compassion which we honor now and refuse to part with in the future.  I was proud to be included as an artist and be able to use my voice in the cause of  justice.

My friend John Parrott recorded the song and edited it, with content added from another recording by Kelly McNamara (k3llymcnamara@gmail.com). Here it is: Refugee (video link):

I wrote this song this past summer when the news cycle was filled with images of both the refugees from Syria and victims of the flooding in Appalachia.  They were both in the midst of losing their homes and livelihoods. I was struck by the similarities in these images, the expressions of fear and uncertainty on their faces. In that expression, I sought to blend elements of both middle eastern and bluegrass music into my composition.

The melody for the haunting “ooh” part had already been in my head for months.  It was a little bit middle eastern, at least I thought so because of the vocal trill, and that’s what made me think of adding it to this song.  It’s played in C minor (though sometimes I drop it to Bm if I’m feeling throaty) with the first, fourth, and the fifth hovering behind the same melody line as a hook.

I composed the verses with simple wording and in a pattern that is reminiscent of some bluegrass folk songs where the first and last lines of a verse are the same.  There are three verses, broken up by the “ooh” part, and a chorus. When I perform this song, I don’t sing the chorus until after the second verse, which makes the first half rather sad– the song stays low emotionally–with no chorus to lift the senses.  The chorus is meant to part with the tradition in the rest of the song in that it doesn’t contain the root chord at all until the very last, perhaps that strikes some with the feeling of strength or defiance.  I think leaving out the root gives the illusion that I have transitioned to a major key, though I haven’t. The melody pattern shifts here too.  Instead of going up and down, like stair steps, the melody takes two steps up and holds, like a stance.  This to me feels right; as if the speaker is getting his feet under him and claiming his truth without either wallowing in despair or ignoring reality. Just stating what’s real.

Refugee

I went down today
To leave my home
I went down today
Where orphans go
The door has been closed
The steps are no more
I went down today
To leave my home

The sun blinds my eyes
My shadow falls behind
The light fills the sky
The earth to dry
Too late for our land
Too late for our life
The sun blinds my eyes
My shadow falls behind

For my home, for my home
I am none but my own
For my home, for my home
And for all I have known

My life and my past
I can’t carry
The building of each day
A memory
I own what I am
I own what I make
My life and my past
I can’t carry

You can also read more of my Morning After thoughts on the things swirling in this world right now.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Sara,

    Very nice article…Love that I can now sing along with the words!

    Would love the words to your other song you sang at the library….starts…The pictures in my living room are hung way too high…(I think)…I really hate this hate. I kept singing what I could remember….

    😂 Janet Guaderrama

    Like

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