My world was blown open in summer 2016 while volunteering at Calais Jungle refugee camp in France. I woke to culture and language completely beyond my understanding, and also the simple power of humans making beauty together – from nothing. It’s an honor to be with people when they have a life-or-death need for ‘perspective’ – that perspective mostly gotten through tenacity, openness and wit. Through these people who had become refugees, I understood how deeply connected we billions of humans are, and how little we may know of each other.
I walked in fear for the first hours in the Calais Jungle – could I be chewed up by the sharp-eyed need and anger I’d heard about? Being with my EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) team showed me how to invite trust – mostly through music – while guiding ourselves through conflict. We shared some time in the Jungle with The (London-based) Calais Sessions, who produced an incredible, award-winning album collaborating with refugee musicians. Their project – a combination of expert professional music recording, musical arranging and generous camaraderie – affected me deeply. When this song, ‘REFUGEE’ came tumbling out of me, I knew I would reach out to them to be part of it. Similarly, it became clear that my old friends Leah and Chloe Smith, of Rising Appalachia were perfect, fierce voices to bring in.
My song, REFUGEE is about feeling bereft and misunderstood. We are all much closer to being refugees than we want to imagine. Realizing this may remind us of our humanity – especially those of us who have relatively plenty. Lately, ‘Refugee’ is the only song I feel like singing – mostly because of the raw, calling voice it asks of me, and its un-sentimental plea for compassion. I have some hope that a resolute song can touch our hearts and change us.
The video of REFUGEE came from hearing first-hand stories of unbelievable journeys. These were journeys across enormous distances and danger – mostly by walking and by boat – in many cases alone. It also came from watching young men and women grapple with belonging and self expression in the tense, dangerous limbo of the refugee camps. It also came from watching my new friends – who were left with so little – give everything – especially of their hearts. You hear about this, but to experience it first hand…changes everything that comes after.
This year, in the Greek Skaramagas Refugee Camp, I walked with greater confidence into sharing songs with Syrian, Kurdish, Afghani and Iraqi kids and meeting the musicians in the camp who were refugees also. I felt again how our little songs and lessons, hugs and even moments of disciplining slowly built a cautious trust in all of us – and a willingness to let wildness and joy peer through the anxiety and suffering.