In "Sanctuary Song," indie roots duo Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno show the power of a single story.

Documenting the tragic deaths of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramirez and his toddler daughter Valeria, who drowned in the Río Grande in 2019 while trying to seek sanctuary in the United States, the track is simple and stripped-down, with minimalist accompaniment from haunting guitar and strings. Accompanying it is a similarly bare-bones music video, depicting Calcagno and Liva performing the track on a stark, black and white riverbank with the sounds of water rushing around them.

These light dressings allow the song's potent lyrics to speak for themselves. Penned by songwriter Richard Fortmann, "Sanctuary Song" offers both an entreaty for understanding and a call to action. By calling Martínez Ramirez's name throughout, Calcagno and Liva force their listeners to hear and internalize the story of him and his daughter, and consider the inhumanity of the US immigration system.

In fact, the lyrics were "the first thing that attracted us to 'Sanctuary Song,'" says Calcagno, who resonated with "the brutality of this story and the senselessness of a militarized border."

That inhumanity is deftly criticized with the incorporation of Christian aesthetics in the song's lyrics, which pray for aid and comfort for those seeking a better life in the United States by crossing the border. "Love is in the shadows, darkness everywhere," sing Calcagno and Leva in a deeply-resonant harmony, asking for light to be shone on "the homeless and forgotten seeking shelter on our shores."

The duo recorded their version as part of the Sanctuary Song Project to raise money for Annunciation House, a volunteer organization in El Paso, Texas that offers help to migrants, immigrants, and refugees. Proceeds from the track will go to benefit those efforts.

“It was unimaginable cruelty that led to the senseless deaths of Óscar and Valeria,” Fortmann says. “In the face of that cruelty, people like the volunteer staff at Annunciation House keep working.”

You can learn more about Annuciation House via their official website.

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