“Migration Blues”, a new album from veteran bluesman Eric Bibb, uses the sounds of the American South to tell the tale of everyone from 1920s farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl for California to refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in the 2010s.
Along the way are Mexicans seeking a future in the United States, families moving from land the government has just seized for corporate expansion, and a Cajun jig reminding listeners of the expulsion of French Canadians south down the Mississippi.
“We are all linked by one migration or another. We are all connected to migrants,” Bibb told Reuters ahead of the album’s release on March 31.
“The hysterical reaction against migrants is really hard to understand. Have we really forgotten our history?”
The album’s most contemporary subject is to be found in “Prayin’ For Shore”, a blues about the plight of millions of Syrians and others who have fled civil wars in the Middle East on sometimes fatal journeys to Europe across the Mediterranean.
“In an old leaky boat, somewhere on the sea/trying to get away from the war/Welcome or not, got to land soon/Oh lord, prayin’ for shore,” run the lyrics.
The song, Bibb writes in an accompanying booklet, is about remembering the drowned.
But the fleeing migrants of today are nothing new.
For Bibb, an African American, another key moment in history was “The Great Migration” of millions of southern blacks away from America’s segregated South.
By some estimates, more than 6 million left the rural areas for industrial places like Detroit, New York and Chicago between 1910 and 1970.
“(They were) not just looking for jobs but fleeing racial terror,” Bibb said.
Such a point is made in his mellifluous rendition of “Delta Getaway” about a man fleeing a lynch mob to Chicago.
“Saw a man hanging from a cypress tree/I seen the ones who done it/now they coming after me”.
The album is being released as anti-immigrant politics is on the rise across much of the world, including the United States where U.S. President Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out immigrants.
Bibb said it was all laid down and finished before Trump’s election, but that he was nonetheless “astounded by the synchronicity of it”.
Most of the songs on the album are Bibb’s, although he offers covers of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, originally an angry riposte from the dispossessed, and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, about the merchants of destruction.
Bibb said that apart from “Prayin’ For Shore”, his favorite composition on “Migration Blues” is “Brotherly Love”.
He said it reflected his personal belief.
It offers more hope for the future, one in which people can live in peace.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)