A 20-year-old David Rudder song, remade by a Guatemalan singer and a US musician, has been named one of the best of 2018 by the New York Times. Rudder wrote the song, The Immigrants, after New York Police attacked Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in Brooklyn in 1997. Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks released their version of the song on US Independence Day, July 4, 2018.
The Immigrants was No 25 on critic Jon Pareles’ list in the New York Times article The 65 Best Songs of 2018. The list was published Thursday. (Coincidentally, No 10 on his list was I Like It by rapper Cardi B, whose mother is Trinidadian.)
“Parks' lush multi-instrumental arrangement envelopes Moreno's impassioned vocals,” said an NPR article about the remake on its release. “She reflects a strident defense of rights for all and celebrates immigrant contributions to America's cultural identity.”
Rudder posted a link to the list on his social media accounts Thursday, saying, “Well look t’ing! After 20 plus years.” In a Newsday telephone interview Friday, Rudder said Moreno was attracted to the song because “she’s an immigrant. It’s her story too.”
Parks, he said, was an iconic producer, citing Parks’ work with the Mighty Sparrow. “He’s something else. He’s the one who put Esso Tripoli on Broadway.”
He’s never been on a New York Times list before and was pleased that “a song that is over 20 years old has resurfaced”. He said, “Once you write things from your heart you never know where music will take you.”
The song remains topical. As the USA struggles with police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, it also confronts an immigration crisis.
The Immigrant Song “straddles Black Lives Matter and the fact that [US President Donald] Trump has over 300,000 people [in ICE custody] at the Mexican border,” Rudder said. “That is what drew [Moreno and Parks] to the song.”
The Immigrants originally appeared on Rudder’s 1998 album Beloved, with the hit High Mas. Its lyrics celebrate African diaspora music and diversity as they decry the treatment meted out in the US to refugees and other immigrants:
“So much trouble in the home of the brave/ and the land of the free/ Am I an immigrant or am I a new slave/ made for all brutality?/ […]/ They're moving like jackals in the hunting season/ And the refugee's soul is the meat.”
Moreno is a Grammy-nominated singer/ songwriter whose music spans several genres; she said in a statement quoted by Billboard Magazine that the US welcomed her 18 years ago as a Guatemalan immigrant.
Parks is a musician, songwriter, arranger and producer who produced Hot + Sweet, a 1972 Warner Bros album by The Mighty Sparrow. The album includes the songs Mr Walker, Memories and Sparrow Dead. He produced Esso Trinidad Steelband’s 1971 album, which was nominated for a Grammy award.
Parks said in the Billboard article that Rudder’s version "has a political punch, while also being joyful and underscoring how our culture is refreshed by immigrants like Gaby, and how those who arrive here can really redefine, and help build America."
The single is available for download and streaming online, and each purchase benefits the US charity Central American Resource Center of California (CARECEN), an NGO working for the civil and human rights of immigrants.