From bluesman Bibb, a homage to migrants everywhere
Eric Bibb, the veteran U.S. bluesman, is a migrant. He has lived in Scandinavia — currently Sweden — since the 1970s. He left America disillusioned at the time with what he says was the collapse of of the Civil Rights Movement and with the Vietnam War. So there is a certain personal drive behind his latest album, “Migration Blues”.
“We are all linked by one migration or another. We are all connected to migrants,” Bibb told me as part of a story for my main employer, Reuters. “The hysterical reaction against migrants is really hard to understand. Have we really forgotten our history?”
The album is not just about the most recent incarnation of the global migration story — the sight of hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean in boats and marching north to Western Europe through the Balkans — although that does get the Bibb treatment. Rather, it is a reminder of many of the mass movements of the past.
There are farmers from the 1920s fleeing to California from the DustBowl, Mexicans seeking a future in the United States, families moved from land the U.S. government has just seized, and a Cajun jig reminding listeners of the expulsion of French Canadians south down the Mississippi.
For Bibb, an African American, a key inspiration 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. He makes the point sharply in “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 current migration crisis gets covered in “Prayin’ For Shore”, a blues about those fleeing civil wars in the Middle East on sometimes fatal seaborne journeys to Europe.
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
The song, Bibb writes in an accompanying booklet, is about remembering the drowned.
Politics, of course, comes into such a subject as human migration. But Bibb pretty much steers clear of it in favour of simply expressing the passion of it all — his, theirs and ours.
Indeed, he says the album has nothing directly to do with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose anti-immigrantion policies include a pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep undocumented people out.
Bibb said the album 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”. Bibb said it reflects his personal belief.
I still believe/we can find a way/to live in peace/I do. How’ bout you?