Graeme Welds, Reflections on the Border Condition

Reflections on the Border Condition / Reflexiones sobre la condición fronteriza

Graeme Welds


This project attempts to document the transformational process of experiencing life near the US-Mexico border through music. Doing so necessitates the consideration of a host of political and human realities when determining the themes and techniques that are used in this artistic medium. For the purposes of this project, I decided to focus on issues of identity and socio-economic and human realities. However, rather than impose my own understanding of the identities and realities of others, I address the issues of the border through a series of reflections on my own experiences in Nogales, Sonora. The result of this is four recordings that address an array of different issues and reveal complex and at times even contradictory emotions. The idea behind this strategy is to reveal the complexity and heterogeneity of the border as well as the confusion and hypocrisy that often dominate privileged Western views of the region.

There are three main concepts that I utilized in this project that serve as mediums through which to convey the various messages in the songs. These are bricolage, appropriation, and human rights. Bricolage refers to the use of disposed materials for the purpose of creating art. The Sonoran desert is littered with the possessions of many migrants who have left them behind as they travelled onwards towards the United States. All of the percussion used in my music was performed using empty used cans found in the desert. This recovery of material for the purpose of creating rhythm helps to symbolically restore the memory of the migrants who pass through the desert. Additionally, in musical terms, the percussive rhythms of the songs contained in this project are derived from Hispanic though not necessarily Mexican musical forms.


These rhythms however also contain Afro-Caribbean influences and so they speak to a colonial legacy that is shared both by myself (as the artistic creator in this instance) and by the people of Latin America. This is an example an interaction between the concepts of bricolage and appropriation that are both used throughout this project.

There are several more examples of appropriation throughout the project. Some are references to my own cultural heritage while others point towards more global phenomena such as Christianity. In “Valley of Death” psalm 23 serves as a constant reference, at once bringing into play my own history studying in Catholic school and the faith that so many of the migrants crossing the desert share. Furthermore, this song infuses a reggae rhythm with Latin-styled percussion. The title “Reflection Song” was thought of as a play on Bob Marley’s redemption song and the use of Patois in the lyrics also signals back towards Jamaica. In addition, during “Valley of Death” there is a lyrics which references both Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff regarding the crossing of rivers, symbolic of the many trials that we one faces in life. These references not only point towards Jamaica and my own cultural heritage but also interact with the other musical styles being utilized, and the theme being addressed adding to the immense diversity of thought, expression and origin that defines the border region.

In addition, the songs make use of guitar styles that include typical American folk music “Reflection Song” and more contemporary acoustic styles “Twisted Irony”.


Redirecting these references toward the situation of the border acts as a means of bringing both Western listeners and myself closer to the themes being discussed. The use of Spanish in the tribute is due to its direct message to Esther and the volunteers at HEPAC for the work they do to make the world a better place. Furthermore, an introduction to each song and translations of the lyrics in Spanish serve to provide some context to the people from Nogales so that they might understand the message of the music and the reasons that each song came about.


Finally, the idea of human rights is inescapable when addressing the border in any form and is evident in each of the recordings present in this project. In particular, “Reflection Song” speaks to an experience at the garbage dump Terra Vicci, and the stark inequalities in our society that become uncomfortably evident once there. The songs in this project attempt to both raise awareness of human rights issues at the border (not strictly pertaining to immigration) and the fact that these transgressions against a decent living exist throughout the world.


Thus, the collection of songs written in this project represent fragments of an experience that is incredibly broad and diverse. Still, each song comes from an experience that was particularly moving for me and each song provides a platform from which to consider more deeply the range of issues that present not just the people of Latin America and the United States, but for all of us as human beings.



Valley of Death


This song speaks to the experience I had in the Sonoran desert. It makes use of percussion instruments that I found in the desert. At the heart of this song is faith and Psalm 23 in particular. Also, there are two opposing experiences that are mentioned in the song, though both experiences take place in the desert. This serves to recognize the difference between the privileged position I had while I was in the desert in contrast to the conditions that migrants suffer during their journeys.


Sales de la roca que no te quiere

Vienes a un lugar difícil

Para ganar suficiente para la comida y el agua

Para que puedas alimentar a tu hijo y cuidar a tu hija


Pero cuántos ríos tienes que cruzar

donde agua no hay?

Y estás seguro cuando miras tu cruz

No eres una oveja de sacrificio


Porque es un valle de muerte mi amigo

Tienes que cuidar tu cabeza mi amigo

Y cuando ya estás solo mi amigo

Recuérdate de lo que dijo David


Salgo de mi hogar cómodo

Vengo a un lugar difícil

Para mirar el espectáculo

Que ha matado a tantos


Pero cuándo lo reconoceré?

Puedo andar este camino pero no es igual

Y cuándome daré cuenta

Qué significa sentir este dolor?


Porque es un valle de muerte mi amigo

Donde a nadie le importa tu salud

Y cuando respiras por la última vez

Recuérdate de lo que dijo David



Twisted Irony


After meeting with some migrants, I began to realize the stark difference between my own experience as a migrant and theirs. Our motivations, modes of travel and obstacles are completely different. Finally, it was a great shock for me to consider that I had travelled problem-free simply to speak with these migrants while they could not travel to where I was coming from in order to work and provide for their families.


Lejos de casa pero no

Más lejos del infierno

Es grande la distancia

Y empieza a cobrar un precio


Porque no te quieren allá

Pero no puedes regresar

Es demasiado tarde

Ya tienes mucha sed

Te llaman ilegal

Te echan en la cárcel

No les importa tu hijo

No quieren saber su nombre


Te llaman un cuerpo

Tal vez esto es lo que encontraron

En un mar sin agua

Tantos se han ahogado


Me pintas un cuadro

No en tantas palabras

Pero es un cuento diferente

De los que he escuchado


Ahora vengo para verte

Así yo puedo entender

Las luchas y esfuerzos

De otro hombre

Vengo de donde vas

Sé que lo sabes

Para mí es tan fácil

La ironía perversa


Yo también salí de mi casa

Pero regresaré cuando quiera

Porque tengo la libertad de ir donde voy

nadie me dice que no puedo


¿Dime cual es la diferencia

Entre tú y yo?

Por qué es la vida reservada para algunos

Mientras otros mueren?


No tengo una respuesta

Solo tengo un pensamiento espantoso

Pudiera ser yo en tus zapatos

¿Qué haría yo?





This is a tribute to Esther and the women who work with HEPAC. The importance of this piece is to recognize the work of these women in a context where they receive no support from the government. The tranquil tone of this song offers a break from the more intense themes of the other songs and provides a message of hope for a better future.


¿Cuál es la respuesta adecuada

A un sistema económico desigual?

¿A un gobierno que no quiere apoyar

Su lucha contra la pobreza alrededor?


Dice Ud. la esperanza

Dice Ud. el amor

Dice Ud. una comunidad

Para una vida sin temor


De repente me acuerdo de mi comunidad

Tengo más “tías” y “tíos” que mis madres tienen hermanos

Me doy cuenta de que la niñez no es así para todos

Qué sentimiento tan incómodo


Pero a Ud. no le importa las circunstancias

Como lo prueba más de 30 años

Se podría suponer que después de tanto tiempo

Ud. Ha ganado un descanso tranquilo


Pero allí está

Sonriendo como siempre

Allí va otro chico con comida

Para que no tenga hambre


Me inspira

Me motiva

Me asombra

¿Cómo lo hace?


Nosotros vemos la violencia

Vemos las drogas

Vemos el hambre

Vemos la desesperación


Pero Ud. ve la esperanza

Ud. ve el amor

Ud. ve una comunidad

Para una vida sin temor


Gracias Esther!


Reflection Song


The last song of the collection was inspired by a brief visit to Terra Vicci a garbage dump on the mountainous outskirts of Nogales. This experience made me think about my upbringing, the lives of poor people around the world (especially in Jamaica), and how the privileged classes in society try to hide these realities of life from their view. After a series of meditations about these issues, this song represents a response to the inequalities we take for granted in our societies.


El aire está lleno de suciedad

Pero no puede eliminar el olor de nuestra desesperación

¿Qué hacemos aquí?

Como si de repente nos importara


Construimos la sociedad

Sabiendo de que hay escenas como ésta

Pero para proteger nuestra felicidad

Nunca venimos demasiado cerca


¿Por qué nos escondemos?

No hay razón para esconderse

Aquí también la vida sigue

Como el ritmo de un tambor



Sin embargo lo podemos ver en la luz clara del día

¿No podemos encontrar una solución

Para que todos tengan una voz?


Porque no es justo

Que algunos tengan que luchar

Como esclavos día y noche

Por una pizca de dignidad


Debemos mirar adentro

Vas a reconocerlo “¡Dios mío!” eres igual a él

Vas a decir “¡Caramba!” eres igual a ella

¿Pero podrías tú aguantar el daño?


Porque el tiempo viene

No te preocupes de los hombres que no les importa

Ahora es el tiempo de despertar

Que ahora debemos levantar la voz


Queremos justicia

No solo para uno pero justicia para todos

Si no tenemos esto no queremos nada

Porque sin esto vamos todos a fallecer


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