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Young Fathers Are Ambassadors Of Empathy In 'Cocoa Sugar'

It starts in sing-song. It could be the lullaby that played every time you opened the music box passed down through generations of your family.

Cocoa Sugar

Don't be sad

To say your bye byes

Don't you worry

I'll be here

Until the sunrise

It could be the theme music to the Saturday-morning cartoon you watched while you ate cereal and your parents drank coffee and read the paper in the next room.

And when I wake

I'll cast you out

Onto the low tide

Cocoa Sugar

Baby, drift away, it's all right

It's all right, you have arrived.

And then, the storm — waves and panic and splintered wood. The hardest decision a parent could have to make, and the mortal danger of a child alone on a boat. "Cocoa Sugar" seeps into your marrow and makes you not think about or talk about, but feel about the world's refugee crisis.

Graham Hastings of Young Fathers told me that the song (which comes out today, and which shares a title with the band's Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning album) was written at a time when "a lot of refugees that were traveling from Syria were trying to get to Europe. And it was basically the story of a father. I read this thing about a dad who had, you know, basically put his child on a boat by herself and ... 'Cocoa Sugar' is like the nickname for the child and [he's] saying that, you know, goodbye, goodbye for a while..." Bandmate Kayus Bankole added, "Safer in sea than on land."

Hastings and Bankole were both born in Scotland. Their bandmate, Alloysious Massaquoi, was born in Liberia. When he was 4, his mother knew they had to escape the Civil War and try to find his father in Scotland, by way of Ghana. "We had to literally get on a boat — that same sort of thing that's been happening now, has been happening since freaking whenever, you know. And folk again were falling off the boat and stuff, and everybody was crammed on because everyone's getting killed and whatnot. So there was this soldier [who] let me and my mother and my sisters on the boat — like, we were like one of the last people literally to get on the boat — and then I was, I think it was near some sort of compound, and then bombs were getting thrown and stuff like that, and we got on the boat."

Massaquoi imagines himself as a father lowering his daughter onto a boat as he cries out:

I wonder to myself

Did I shelter you?

Did I shelter you with enough?

I'm still wondering to myself

I am an unfortunate man

My ribs are broken

My back is broken

Your eyes are frozen

They're drifting away

Cocoa Sugar sees Young Fathers doing what they do best as a band: capturing tenderness in chaos and community in calamity, and acting as vital ambassadors of radical empathy.

Copyright 2018 XPN

Talia Schlanger hosts World Cafe, which is distributed by NPR and produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania. She got her start in broadcasting at the CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster. She hosted CBC Radio 2 Weekend Mornings on radio and was the on-camera host for two seasons of the television series CBC Music: Backstage, as well as several prime-time music TV specials for CBC, including the Quietest Concert Ever: On Fundy's Ocean Floor. Schlanger also guest hosted various flagship shows on CBC Radio One, including As It Happens, Day 6 and Because News. Schlanger also won a Canadian Screen Award as a producer for CBC Music Presents: The Beetle Roadtrip Sessions, a cross-country rock 'n' roll road trip.