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Immigration Detainees Sing The Blues

Immigration Detainees Sing The Blues

22nd December 2014

Campsfield Blues

Campsfield Blues

A group of detainees at Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Oxfordshire have recorded a series of music tracks to give a rare insight into life in detention – with a little help from Music in Detention.

Going under the name Campsfield Blues, the band is a loose-knit group that grew out of almost daily jam sessions held in detainees’ rooms to pass the evenings – when they are required to stay in their housing units. “Come seven o’clock we send others a text: ‘It's jam time’,” says Misfni.

“We find music is our little escape,” adds lead guitarist Jonetane, “and we're so blessed we've met loads of musicians here – and all nations: guys from Ghana, Uganda, Malaysia, Germany, the whole lot … Music is a thing that brings us together. We don't speak the same language, but music covers all. Basically we are making the most of a bad situation.”

“What we feel, our daily life, what we see here – that's what we want to express,” says Daniel. “We want to let the people know that we exist here,” agrees Summitus, “because we feel like being garbage here, rubbish. [Through the music] we can express ourself to the whole world, that we're also human being. That we need caring as well. We need to be free as well … What is happening to us, it's like a punch, more than a punch – because it's totally draining us; emotionally, mentally, even financially.”

Every member of the group has something to contribute: be it lyrics, rhythms or song ideas – “Matthew here, our friend from Australia, has very good input,” smiles Jonetane. “Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree…” sings Matthew on cue – one of the Australian folk songs he’s introduced to the group, while he tries to get the hang of the guitar. “I’ve got a long way to go,” he says ruefully. 

The first song the group created was a blues song, hence the band’s name. “It's also because one of us [Reuben, removed to Malaysia after 13 years in the UK], who has gone actually, was very good at blues music – and because of the place that we're in,” explains Moses, the band’s conga player. The lyrics are a snapshot of the journey detainees undergo; from the initial shock of being detained, to daily life in an IRC: “You can walk and talk but you don’t cross the line / You’re watched every step of the way, even while you dine.”

Keen to get the music heard beyond the IRC’s high walls, Jonetane emailed Music in Detention, which runs regular music making workshops at Campsfield House. “It’s rare that we hear directly from people while they are in detention,” says MID director John Speyer. “Detention grinds away at your self-respect, and one of the most important things about our work is that it gives detainees the chance to achieve and feel like they matter. So when we heard this group were doing it for themselves, we knew we had to help out”.

As well as the self-titled single ‘Campsfield Blues’, MID artists Alexander D Great and Téa Hodzic helped the band record two cover tracks – and fellow music workshop leader Kevin Davidson is set to record more of the band’s compositions soon. The latest, ‘You've Done It All’, highlights the frustrations of completing all the required paperwork and bureaucratic steps required to apply for permission to stay in the UK – but then ending back at square one. “We've tried our best, we've gone left, right and centre – we're just going round in a vicious circle,” says Jonetane.

It’s a welcome distraction for the group. “The only thing we've got on our hands right now is time!” says George. “Music, for me, because of the restless spirit, it brings out emotions and thoughts, it helps you just pass time … when I make music it takes me to another place.”

Making music has also become a social glue, bringing often isolated detainees together. “Music in a place like this, aside from the fact that music is soul food, it's also brain food,” says George. “So it creates an opportunity, an environment whereby people can actually meet each other.”

 “It gives comfort for all of us while we are here in the detention centre,” adds Summitus. “So we are more brothers – even though we are not the same on paper in [terms of] nationality.” What would they do if they didn’t have music inside the IRC? “If we don't have music in here? Oh boy!” exclaims George. For Summitus the thought is even worse: “It's torture.”


127 plays

Campsfield Blues

An original blues composition

‘Campsfield Blues’ lyrics

Well, I never thought I’d be detained one day, by the police

Thought they’d send me a note to tell me to go, at least

Maybe it’s better not to tell the truth, Oh! No!

Better to give some bull, they treat you nice, you know

Well, I’m on way to Campsfield

And I’m singing the – Campsfield Blues


Was kept at the police station for four full days

Denied my phone call and I was in a daze

No shower, no cleaning my teeth, and no shave

Just reading the Bible, sat in my cave

And I’m on way to Campsfield

And I’m enjoying the – Campsfield Blues


They’ve given me a bed and I can make my calls

Food is dished out and you can shop within those walls

You can walk and talk but you don’t cross the line

You’re watched every step of the way, even while you dine

There’s freedom in Campsfield

Let us sing the – Campsfield Blues


You’ve got a fever? You’ve got nothing to fret

Take a cup of water and you won’t regret

You’re finally given your dosage and you take it there

But until then, your sickness or headache, you’ll have to bear

But it could be worse at Campsfield

So I’m happily singing the – Campsfield Blues


One day you’re detained, the next day ‘release’

They keep you or release you, as they please

If you look at the statistics, immigration is in control

They’ve deported so many, so the public is told

But come and look at Campsfield

You might wanna sing the – Campsfield Blues


Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!

Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!

Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!

Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!  Na!


Well, it’s great at Campsfield

Not if you end up singing the – Campsfield Blues


52 plays

Deep Enough For Me

Gospel Rock

A funky version of this song by Canadian band Ocean, performed by the Campsfield Blues band.

43 plays

The Young Ones


A tribute to Cliff Richard who was born in India! A souful cover his 1962 hit by the Campsfield Blues band.

A big thank you to our MID volunteer researcher and writer, Carinya Sharples who interviewed the band members and wrote up this piece.