Recently, in Ireland, there has been a very worrying growth in active, vocal, and headline-grabbing intolerance towards asylum seekers. There are more pressure groups increasing efforts to build social and political walls around our communities and country. Brexit is a massive exercise in ‘wall building’ and it mirrors the “Trump wall” along the Mexican border. Globalisation has reduced continents to parishes and a worldwide bout of parochialism has taken hold. Across the world there are more citizens hardening their hearts to their neighbours as extreme right-wing views are emboldened by the success of liars like Trump and Johnston.
Now, as Ireland finds itself in the midst of a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic there may be a greater momentum to “build walls” as we go into isolation mode to control the contagion. We need to remind ourselves that all walls eventually fall and are breached – they can only ever be, and should only ever be, temporary structures.
‘Why We Build The Wall’ by Anaïs Mitchell was written in 2006. Could she foresee these days of new political and social wall building? This powerful song has been vibrating in our collective consciousness for over a decade and since 2016 it has really started to reverberate. Three performance versions of the song are included here.
A thought sung with feeling is heard in the heart.
The first is the complete version of song sung by Anaïs the composer. As well as being wonderful songwriter she has an amazing voice and talent for performance. Have a listen now.
Art has the ability to express wisdom and truth in deeply effective and accessible ways. Songs of protest are most frequently employed to give a powerful voice to political and social feelings and opinions. Great songs of protest stand the test of time and I have no doubt that ‘Why We Build The Wall’ by Anaïs Mitchell will be sung for many decades to come. Unfortunately.
The second video is a short version excerpt from the opera ‘Hadestown’ with addition video and audio setting current times into the context of the lyrics. ‘Hadestown’ is a Tony Award winner and is currently running on Broadway. It is well worth checking out Anaïs’ web site and her FaceBook pages. She was on stage in Glasgow in January 2020 and one reviewer wrote that “ANAÏS Mitchell enchanted a Glasgow crowd as she took to the Old Fruitmarket as part of the city’s annual Celtic Connections festival.” There are no new planned dates for future tours or performances but watch out and go see her when you get a chance.
The third version is performed by Billy Bragg with an introduction setting the context of this song in contemporary times.
Often we struggle to explain our feelings and beliefs clearly. To those who have not heard or refuse to hear our truth it can be even more difficult to communicate. It is in these instances that art shows its power, wonder and beauty. Please sing, play, dance and recite this song often and maybe paint or compose your echo to this voice.