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Wall Songs, Freedom Portraits

Who are today’s migrants? What are their anthems?


Artist-driven organization New Orleans Airlift, artist-in-residence Jeremy Thal, and immigrant rights groups Familias Unidas en Accion and In Shadow are creatively partnering to present [Wall Songs] [Freedom Portraits]at Airlift’s celebrated Music Box Village – an interactive installation and performance platform comprised of artist-built musical houses. Inspired by the metaphor of a sonic village and the 20ft tall walls that surround it, [Wall Songs] [Freedom Portraits], will examine the humanitarian crisis at the border and in our own state.

The resultant work will be a multimedia immersive journey that portrays the lives, experiences and dreams of immigrants newly calling Louisiana home and those forced to be here. Since January of 2019, seven detention centers have sprung up in Louisiana. Looked at within the context of Louisiana’s musical history, the project will also explore linkages between “anthems” of newly arriving migrants and the songs of the Black freedom struggle in the U.S. South. What are the anthems of today’s migrants? How can we use the power of music to give power to affected migrants and move all people to action?

The project will create a series of sonic portraits documenting the experiences of recently arriving immigrants in Louisiana. The portraits will include oral histories, found sounds like footsteps across the desert and instrumentation from the  Music Box houses. The project will not “give voice” to these protagonists, but listen to the voices they have always had and to let them occupy the center of the stage that is theirs. The accompanying musical performance, led by Thal, will explore the idea of freedom anthems with an ensemble of immigrant youth, community members, dancers and puppeteers and local and international musicians. Indigenous musical forms imported from Latin America now played along the gulf coast, like Garifuna music, will be incorporated.

Airlift is thrilled to co-conceive this work with partners who will deepen our own practice and reach in our community. Thal uses collaborative music creation as a deeply effective way to become aware of the beauty, trauma, and hidden potential in communities. Familias Unidas en Accion (FUA), founded by six Garifuna and Honduran families fighting for justice and equity for Latinx people, will access newly arrived immigrants and their stories for the Sonic Portraits. FUA will also shape the project through outreach in the Latinx community and their own youth workshops and other community events and panels feeding into the project. In Shadow, comprised of artists and activists of mixed descent, does ally work for imprisoned migrants at the US border and at the new detention centers in Louisiana. Their archive of migrants oral recordings and original artworks will be incorporated into the performance.

New Orleans Airlift’s art is designed to inspire cultural cross-pollination and community building in Southeast Louisiana and beyond. The intended audience is Southeast Louisiana residents of all ages and backgrounds who attend our performances, with special emphasis and outreach to our growing Latinx community –  inclusive of those in detention centers singing refrains of freedom anthems from behind bars.

Project Media

Music Box Roving Village
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A recap of a 6 week run of a Music Box installation in New Orleans, prior to acquiring our permanent site in 2016. Videos from the current site are performance specific and do less to highlight all the aspects of the Music Box project which include one-of-a kind performances by renowned musicians and community performers, interactive public play for our audience and education. We also use our site to hold panels and discussions.

La Granja: Music and Myth in Central Mexico
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Features: Jeremy Thal

In March of 2013, Jeremy Thal and Chris Marianetti under their project moniker Found Sound Nation travelled to Amanalco, a small town several hours west of Mexico City. There they worked with a group of third graders, known affectionately as los chamacos, to create pieces of music based on stories about magical animals. This work is indicative of the community project making Thal leads in his role at Found Sound Nation and the sort of methodology he will bring to him Music Box project.

Rituals – Mosaic Project
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Features: Jeremy Thal

Mosaic Interactive is a suite of interdisciplinary works Thal led that explore our collective dreams, memories and rituals through song and storytelling with a team of artists from Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia, Palestine, South Africa and the U.S. In this video Thal is seated on stage playing with Medhi Nasoulli from Morocco and Ben Townsend from West Virginia. Cross cultural collaborations are also central to the work of New Orleans Airlift and will be part of our proposed project [Wall Songs] [Freedom Portraits].

Start and End Dates



New Orleans, Louisiana

Project Created By

New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans Airlift is an artist-driven initiative with the mission to collaborate to inspire wonder, connect communities and foster opportunities through arts education and the creation of experimental public art. Airlift projects honor tradition alongside innovation, developing with our artists, culture and communities thoughtful new directions.

In Collaboration With

Composer/lead artist in residnece
Activists and artists contibuting their trove of migrants oral archives + visual arts inlcuding photography, puppets and installation


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