PJ Harvey and Egyptian political rock musician Ramy Essam have collaborated on a new track, whose proceeds benefit the Beyond Association. The NGO aims “at promoting social, economic, cultural, educational, environment, and health issues among several underprivileged groups” in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley, which is where the song — which focuses on Syrian refugee children in the region — is set.
The track is titled “The Camp,” and like much of Harvey’s work, is also a collaboration with John Parish, who plays drums and guitar here, and also handled production and mixing duties. The video is composed of stills of photojournalist Giles Duley’s images from his book I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See, intercut with grainy footage of Harvey and Essam performing, all edited together by Rich Holbrook. Duley released a statement accompanying “The Camp,” drawing on why they chose particularly to support the Beyond Association:
It is hard to comprehend the scale of the crisis in Lebanon, a country of 4 million now hosting over 1 million Syrian refugees. The infrastructure of the country is pushed to its limit, and nowhere is that situation more desperate than in the Bekaa Valley. However, there are some amazing organisations doing incredible, effective, and selfless work on the ground there, and of all the NGOs I have documented, none have impressed me more than Beyond. To visit their schools and witness their programs is to see hope – and that is something we have to support.
Harvey formerly worked with war photographer Seamus Murphy for video collaborations for every song on her album Let England Shake; they thereafter traveled to select locations together and compiled a book of photography and poetry, The Hollow of the Hand, much of which would be taken as lyrics for Harvey’s most recent album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. Duley describes that he and Harvey have likewise been working together for a while on developing a collaboration, telling the Guardian:
Starting from Lesbos and following the refugees’ route through the Balkans to Germany, the images in this video follow the desperate journey of everyday people forced to flee their homes in the face of conflict. For several years, Polly [PJ Harvey] and I have been looking to collaborate on a project, so when she and Ramy recorded The Camp it seemed like the perfect opportunity…I believe this is an important moment in the history of a humanity, a time when we must all decide: do we turn our back or open our arms and offer safety?
Essam became internationally known in 2011, when his song “Irhal,” demanding the resignation of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, turned into the soundtrack of political revolution in the country, and the Arab Spring at large; he was arrested and tortured when the Egyptian Army cleared Tahrir Square and deemed him an agitator, and was ultimately offered safe residence in Sweden in 2014. Time Out, who deemed it the third most influential song in history, wrote that “what really makes ‘Irhal’ significant is how it caught the public imagination, and conscience, at precisely the right moment. ‘Irhal’ struck a resonant chord with Egypt’s dissatisfied citizens, and the rest is, literally, history.” Of the theme of his collaboration with Harvey, Essam tells the Guardian, “I believe that people, no matter who they are and where they come from, can have their freedom and live together in peace.”
Listen to the track/watch the video:
Here’s the accompanying art, by Semaan Khawam, Giles Duley, and Fabrica: