U.S. immigration crackdown inspires Jessie Reyez’s charged new music video

Nick Krewen

Special to the Star

Oct 07, 2019

In the visually compelling video for her latest song “Far Away,” Toronto’s Jessie Reyez pulls no punches when depicting immigrant persecution in Trump’s America.

During the two-minute-and-50-second scenario directed by Peter Huang, Reyez’s character and her male love interest are dancing at a party that is suddenly stormed and tear-gassed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who end up separating the couple and fatally shooting her defenceless lover.

During the build-up to that climactic scene, the video opens with a static-filled television screen, which later serves as a backdrop to several disturbing images, including U.S. President Donald Trump angrily addressing the press, a U.S. border wall — and a Caucasian family being stoked by the propaganda that is making them angrier by the second.

Although the Colombian-Canadian singer and songwriter says she hasn’t experienced such family separations and border-detention camps that are enabled by current U.S. immigration policy, she says she can relate to their victims.

“It’s something that as a Latina, it’s very easy for me to see myself in a lot of these kids that are being separated from their families,” Reyez, 28, told The Star by phone en route to a west-end Toronto video shoot.

“It’s very easy for me to think about the family friends that we’ve had that have faced similar immigration issues.

“On top of that, my parents waited 16 years to be able to get their legal papers. So it’s hard for me not to think, ‘Oh f–k, what if they were being persecuted at the time? What if they (were at the receiving end of) violence?’ ”

Reyez says that “Far Away,” which offers a sensuous R&B vibe, was originally written “with the idea of long-distance love inhibited by other factors that harm the two people involved.”

He came up with the concept. I loved it and we moved forward with it.”

Reyez says she hopes that the biggest messages received from the “Far Away” video are ones of understanding, tolerance, respect and empathy.

“I hope they see that there are a lot of us that are good people who are running away from situations that are going to harm their children and are trying to build up a better life for themselves, but life circumstances tell them they’re not worthy.”

The video implores viewers to “be part of the solution” and directs them to JessieReyez.com, where three non-profit organizations are tagged: the American Civil Liberties Union, Al Otro Lado and The Florence Project.

All three offer direct assistance to immigrants who may be threatened by ICE.

“I know a lot of people say they want to help but it’s difficult,” Reyez explains. “People are hesitant because sometimes with a foundation you don’t know where the money is going … sometimes you can’t see follow-through … But these three different organizations, I like them because they offer opportunities to help in different areas. So, for example, there’s an organization that offers help directly with living conditions at the border.

“Then there’s another where people who are uprooted and affected by the situation are interviewed by a lawyer — and the lawyers who are actually fighting these cases are the ones who are helping people reunite their families.”

“Far Away” is the first song from Reyez’s highly anticipated debut album following a couple of hit EPs in Kiddo and Polaris Music Prize short-lister Being Human In Public.

Due in the first quarter of 2020, the two-time Juno Award winner equates making an album with another lifegiving process.

“It’s coming, man,” she says. “It’s cool, but it’s painful. It must be like birthing a kid. Every time you get comfortable, it sucks, it hurts, there’s contractions, lost weight, gained weight, you look like s–t — and then the baby comes out and it’s like, ‘I love you.’ So I’m waiting for the ‘I Love you.’ ”

Reyez has also been recuperating from an injury — a herniated disc, she says — that has caused her to cancel several summer dates, but promises she’ll be in tip-top shape in time for her Oct. 21 sold-out Red Bull Festival appearance at the Winter Garden.

She’s also buzzed by the response to her “Far Away” song and video have been generating, even though it’s only been out since Friday.

I knew I was going to get some negative (reaction),” Reyez says, “but that’s a given. I’d rather be polarizing than have something that’s just OK or decent or just fine with everybody.”

“Far Away” isn’t the first song where Reyez has spoken out against injustice. She tackled sexism and sexual assault in the music industry with “Gatekeeper” and lauded feminism in “Body Count.”

Does Reyez feel that she speaks for the disenfranchised?

“I guess so — yeah,” she responds. “But it’s not like, ‘oh this is what I’m going to talk about today.’ It’s feelings, it’s unique, it’s like watching an interview and then crying and then asking myself, ‘what can I do to help contribute?’

And is she worried about potential “Far Away” repercussions from a president who has occasionally portrayed himself as vindictive?

“A little bit,” she says. “But if I muzzle myself, I’d feeling like I was cheating myself … I would feel that I was being inauthentic. I’d feel so empty.”