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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno Present Viscerally Powerful Story of Injustice Along US/Mexico Border

By Devon Leger.

Sanctuary Song is a project in support of immigrant lives, centred around a haunting song of the same name that documents the tragic death in 2019 of a father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramirez, and his daughter Valeria in the Rio Grande river along the US/Mexico border.

Indie roots duo Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno were invited by the original songwriter, Richard Fortmann, to contribute their own version of the song to the project. “Sanctuary Song” will be released December 10, and all proceeds from digital sales will go directly to Annunciation House, a volunteer organization that offers hospitality to migrants, immigrants, and refugees around El Paso, Texas.

“Óscar and Valeria were ultimately the tragic casualties of American interventionism that has created widespread displacement and hardship through its military and capital occupations,” Calcagno says.

Though the song was written during the Trump years, it remains unfortunately relevant today. “​​What Óscar and Valeria found at the end of a long journey,” Calcagno continues, “was the other side of the American system: strict and inhumane border control policies and actions that blatantly favour the death of migrants over their pursuit of a life in the US.”

Though neither the duo or the songwriter are actively religious, the song borrows religious symbolism from the Christian faith, reminding people of the empathy in Jesus’ teachings.

“The first thing that hit us about Sanctuary Song was the lyrics,” Calcagno says. “The brutality of this story and the senselessness of a militarized border. Richard’s melody is intentionally simple, it’s Woody Guthrie-esque, story-first songwriting. Working with Jeff Claus and Judy Hyman of The Horseflies to help us parse through what we had created and advise us on where to go, our challenge was to produce a version that accompanied the story sonically and felt engaging and present.”

“It was unimaginable cruelty that led to the senseless deaths of Óscar and Valeria,” Fortmann says, “and in the face of that cruelty, people like the volunteer staff at Annunciation House keep working.” The goal of the Sanctuary Song Project is to advocate for immigrant rights and compassion for all humans, no matter their citizenship status.

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