Sing about it until it can be realised

IMG_0655.JPGBy Talitha Fraser

“Sing about it until it can be realised” said Ched Myers at the Kinsler Institute, a call to write, play and sing the songs of freedom until freedom is won . This is not a new idea, we sing in the tradition of so many justice movements: civil rights, suffragettes, apartheid, slavery… What songs are we singing that are calling us forward and giving us courage along the way – in this place, at this time, in this context?

For those of us Down-Under, a key current issue is Australia’s approach to border control and refugee/asylum seeker resettlement which has both onshore and offshore solutions. In particular, the offshore response sees to it that “boat people” never reach the safety they set out in hope of. The UN has found Australia in breach of protecting the human rights of asylum seekers.  Asylum Seekers are undertaking peaceful protests daily as power and water are being turned off in the centres they have been illegally detained, living under increasingly punishing conditions and in fear of their safety. These are some of the songs we sing as we seek to understand what is not understandable and find a way forward.

This first one is from the Ngatiawa River Monastry, on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand, a contemporary contemplative community retreat centre and can be sung as an echo or a round.

Given for you

This is my body given for you
Remember me.
This is my blood of forgiveness,
Remember me.

Tricia Watts is an Australian singer, composer. From her resource ‘Sanctuary’, we want to offer Sanctuary, we want to link hand in hand, we want to hear the voice of justice cry.

Justice Cry

Hear the voice of justice cry,
Moving through our land,
Ringing out o’er hills and plains,
Linking hand in hand.

During Love Makes A Way (LMAW)  actions, often sit-in of politicians offices, some supporters stay outside to bear witness to the action – singing, praying and holding vigil with those within.  So far this draws heavily on the freedom songs of the Negro Spirituals, changing the lyrics to familiar tunes has largely been led by liturgist and activist Samara Pitt who has often taken that support-role and collated a Love Makes A Way song book. A story we identified with and apprenticed ourselves to, “As I go down to the river to pray…” becomes “As I go down to Bill’s (Shortens) office to pray, welcome the refugee, let them stay” or “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” becomes “Were you there when they turned the boats away?”

This little ‘set’ wouldn’t be complete without a rousing Hallelujah chorus from the Freedom songs of the civil rights movement – it’s hard to know who to give credit to because groups of musicians gathered for “Sing for Freedom” workshops and wrote them together.  These songs were written to be a call for integration and confrontation of the status quo.  African-Americans in the 60s in the South were singing “We’re gonna sit at the welcome table”, today we (as white Australians) have to acknowledge that we’re already sitting at the welcome table so by Samara’s hand we now sing “they’re” as we aspirationally hold space and hope that those held outside will one day come inside and join us at this table.

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table
They’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days (hallelujah)
They’re gonna sit at the welcome table
Sit at the welcome table one of these days (one of these days)

They’re gonna feast on milk and honey
They’re gonna feast on milk and honey one of these days, (hallelujah)
They’re gonna feast on milk and honey
Feast on milk and honey one of these days (one of these days)

A-ll God’s chil-dren gonna sit to-gether
Yes, a-ll God’s chil-dren gonna sit together one of these days (hallelujah)
A-ll God’s child-ren gonna sit to-gether
All God’s children gonna sit together, one of these days (one of these days)

We’re gonna share our songs and stories
Yes, we’re gonna share our songs and stories one of these days, (hallelujah)
We’re gonna share our songs and stories
Share our songs and stories of these days (one of these days)
Share our songs and stories of these days (one of these days)
Gonna share our songs and stories one of these days

The style and language of these songs were written for a particular context and a particular time – certainly we can borrow their songs but Samara posed the questions “Where are our songs? Where is the style or the voice arising out of our own context?” This song came out of trying to answer that. As we looked at the Freedom songs it felt like they communicated grief but called for hope, they were often short and memorable because as you’re walking around you need songs people can just pick up even if they don’t have the words in front of them.  I wrote this trying to find words for a situation I don’t have words to explain.  [Variations: there is room for… the children, in the playground, in the classroom, etc.]

There is room

There is room at the table (x3)
Let them in, let them stay.

There is room at the border (x3)
Let them in, let them stay.

There is room in our hearts (x3)
Let them in, let them stay.

There is hope for a new tomorrow (x3)
Let them in, let them stay.

Flowing on from the last song and our desire to have local songs coming out of our own context, I had a look around for who might already be producing words that hold this sense of lament and hope, short and memorable… this led me to make up the melody for Leunigs poem Love Is Born.    Michael Leunig is an Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator, I think Leunig is a bit of a prophet, speaking out of hope and darkness, on behalf of many voices…  this can be sung as a round which is beautiful because when you’re looping “love is born” rings out through and over the “dark and troubled” and “when hope is dead”.

Love is Born 

Love is born with a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead and in a most unlikely place
Love is born,
Love is always born.
Love is born,
Love is always born.

Daniel Berrigan has written a beautiful and confronting reflection in Beside the Sea of Glass referencing Revelations: “I saw those whose had won the victory… they were singing”.  Let’s be the people who are singing. Let’s share our songs.

3 thoughts on “Sing about it until it can be realised

  1. Joshua

    As a song-writer, on Haudenosaunee land in so-called southern Ontario, as a settler, thank you for reminding us about the necessity of songs.

  2. Isobel McGregor

    Thanks for this! I was desperately trying to think of something to restore hope and resolve in our small home group called “Befriending The Earth”, after a horrifying month around the world of hurricanes, floods, fires, heat exhaustion and death due to the ravages of the escalating human-caused Climate Crisis on planet Earth.  And of course it is the poor who suffer the most.

    How to restore hope and resolve?  Even after seeing two inspirational films in the last week on the subject (Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ and ‘Beyond Crisis’ by Kai and Toronto Peoples Climate March) I was still discouraged and actually thinking of cancelling the group.

    Then the first thing I see this morning on my email is “Sing about it until it can be realised” (‘realized’, in Canadian :-))

    Could you email me the tune for “Love is Born”?  Happy to pay for it.

    Rev Isobel McGregor (long retired) Waterloo (near Toronto) , Ontario (a province), Canada (the country above yours) 519-954-4822

    1. Hi Isobel, Talitha here – I’m sorry I’m a contributor to this site not an administrator so I didn’t see your reply! I’d be very happy to email you the track if you still want it – I’m on itellyouarise[at]… these are hard times but still hopeful I think.

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