Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Story of the Song | TV, personal interaction lead to immigrant question

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Irie Souljah

Irie Souljah wrote the lyrics to his song Who is the Immigrant, which appears on his 2015 album Immigrant, after watchin g scenes of Africans trying to get to his home country - Spain. At the time, he was living in Stony Hill, St Andrew, having moved to Jamaica in February 2014. He had already seen some of the experiences of the Africans who had made it into Spain.

"I was among the first set of youth in Spain to study alongside African youth. One day the teacher said, "We have a new student". They did not say if he was black or white," Irie Souljah recalled. The classroom door had glass, and when the African student stood outside looking in, Irie Souljah could imagine what he was thinking - "'Jah know, a pure white people'. And we on the other side a look at him and a say this youth black."

They ended up sitting together. "I used to give a lot of trouble, and they put me by myself," Irie Souljah said, and the teacher put the new student beside him. He was taken under the wings of some students, to the extent that "after a couple years him speak perfect Spanish. Up to now, is my brethren. Him and his cousin were the first black people in my school."

There were also the encounters on the train from Calelle, where Irie Souljah lived, to Barcelona. The journey was about an hour by train, and the person checking if passengers had tickets would often go directly to the black passenger. Souljah would ask why that one person was targeted out of the 100 on the train.

He said it got to the extent where "I used to get into fights with Nazis, who do not like black people, Rasta, and so on".

Then, after seeing on screen the terrible experiences - often fatal - of persons from African countries attempting to get into Spain, Irie Souljah wrote Who is the Immigrant. It starts with a news clip reporting of 30 Haitians drowning when the boat they were in hit a reef off an island in The Bahamas. He asks in the song, "Who is the immigrant, if we are living in the same land, sharing the same song?" And he speaks about the common origin - the same mother of creation.

The music tracks were laid at Anchor and the vocals recorded at Grafton. Irie Souljah said that Who is the Immigrant took time to make. "Lyrics changed from where I start, to where it took the story. It took an evolution." The feedback in the studio was favourable - but the predictions were a bit off. "People were saying it would be a hit," Irie Souljah said. However, it turned out that Learn and Grow became the most popular song from the Immigrant album, leading to performances with Cocoa Tea.

All the tracks on the Immigrant album were co-produced by Genius in Barcelona, and there is one Latin-American country in particular that has taken to the album. "The album is big in Costa Rica. We are planning some shows," Irie Souljah said.