Diana Jones — Song to a Refugee
“I believe these women.” It comes from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) testifying to a Congressional committee about the condition of immigrant detention centers in Texas. That belief – in people’s stories – is the basis of empathy. That moment in history, and the stories of immigrants and refugees, is the crux of the latest album from Nashville-based singer-songwriter Diana Jones. Song to a Refugee brings the stories of these folks to our ears, hoping that we might gain a bit of that empathy.
The genesis for Song to a Refugee was a couple of chance run-ins in 2018 with actress Emma Thompson in New York, who shared with Jones stories from the Helen Bamber Foundation, a British organization that helps asylum seekers. More stories came to Jones that summer, and the songs followed. Recorded primarily with acoustic string instruments, the album relates these stories not with a hard sell but nuanced compassion. The lead track, “El Chaparral” tells of a child who’s lost his family during the journey north, through Central America to California – “How can it be that I reach the last border alone.” “I Wait for You” (featuring Richard Thompson on guitar and harmony vocals) takes the listener to the other side of the world with a Sudanese woman who must establish UK residency before her children can join her – “When I send for you no more a refugee/And you come to me we will be free.”
Song to a Refugee hops the globe, for these stories are everywhere. “The Life I Left Behind” features a Syrian narrator, shattered over her formerly beautiful home, Sunday dinners and warm memories of her family – you know, the type of stuff we do here – hoping that the listener will pause a beat “before you decide I am a different kind.” And “Where We Are” gives us the heartbreaking image of children identified only by a scrap of paper – “Number 47 on my shirt and on my arm.”
“We Believe You” is the last song that Jones wrote for the album, and it was inspired by that bit of AOC’s testimony. Joined again by Thompson, along with Steve Earle, Peggy Seeger and Zara Phillips, with each singer voicing a different viewpoint, the song reflects the empathy found in belief – of the fear, abandonment and starvation that forces people to flee to other countries, and also in the strength and resilience of those who make it. “I believe you had no voice, I believe you had no choice” becomes “We believe you did what we all would do.” On Song to a Refugee, listening leads to believing, which leads to empathy. In Jones’ world, and ideally in ours, that empathy turns into help.
Song I Can’t Wait to Here Live: “Mama Hold Your Baby” – the devastating tale of a mother having her child taken from her while she slept is complemented by gorgeous, old-school Southern music.
Song to a Refugee was produced by Diana Jones and David Mansfield. All songs were written by Jones. Additional musicians on the album include Mansfield (guitar, mandolin, mandocello, dulcimer, violin), Jason Sypher (bass), Will Holshouser (accordion), Joe DeJarnette (bass), Glenn Patscha (piano), Richard Thomposn (guitar, harmony vocals) and Steve Earle, Peggy Seeger, Zara Phillips and Chapin Sisters (harmony vocals).
Order Song to a Refugee here: https://dianajones1.bandcamp.com/album/song-to-a-refugee
UK (and hopefully, soon) US tour dates are here: https://www.dianajonesmusic.com/concerts