Joan Osborne Addresses Immigration On New Song “What’s That You Say”


Multi-Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Joan Osborne addresses immigration on her new song “What’s That You Say”, released today. With all the new issues and controversies happening in real time, immigration no longer leads the news cycle, but the problem still exists as much as ever. Osborne takes a thoughtful approach to the subject through the experience of one family. The track appears on Osborne’s upcoming new album Trouble And Strife, which comes out on September 18th via Womanly Hips/Thirty Tigers.

“What’s That You Say” was inspired by the story of Ana Maria Rea-Ventre, an immigrant whose family came to America from Mexico to seek a better life when she was a child. Her story is powerful and emotional. Rea-Ventre’s words can be heard in her native tongue throughout the track. Listen HERE. Osborne talks below about what inspired the song and her experience talking to Rea-Ventre.

“The crisis at our Southern border has been pushed from the news cycle by fresh outrages, but it’s still happening. I hear these debates about ‘the problem’ of immigration and I’m just dismayed. I think America has been enriched by its immigrants in every way. How can we forget that? Can you imagine how boring this country would be without the cultural traditions immigrants have brought with them – their food, their music, their ideas, their storytelling – and without the new forms that are created from the interplay between all these traditions? How have we come to this place where we don’t celebrate that anymore?”

“‘What’s That You Say’ is a song about a character who embodies that richness, that joy that immigrants bring to our nation. She is brought here as a child, and blossoms into a beautiful, vibrant, woman, a pillar of her community. There was a space in the song that was crying out for a spoken-word passage, so I thought, why not turn it over to someone who has lived this immigrant journey? It seems we’re always talking about immigrants, debating this ‘issue’, and rarely listening to them speak for themselves, which makes me nuts.”

“I knew about the legal and social services that RAICES provides to our incoming immigrant community, helping children and families who are seeking a better life in the US and navigating a dehumanizing immigration system, so I reached out to them to see if they could connect me with someone who’d be willing to talk about their experience. ”

“They put me in touch with Ana Maria, and I interviewed her for several hours. It was very emotional, hearing her talk about her father’s kidnapping, about how her parents no longer felt safe in Mexico and told her that they were leaving the only home she had ever known. She was a little girl who had to say goodbye to her cousins, grandparents, the teachers that she loved, and she knew she might never see them again.”

“She told me about living in the small town in Texas where her family settled, about always feeling like an outsider, always afraid. When she applied for citizenship as a young adult, after living and working here, volunteering for AmeriCorps for 2 years, the officials still treated her like she was trying to steal something. As she says in the voice-over, her life hasn’t been an easy one, but it has made her strong, and she uses that strength to give back to her community. My favorite line is the one that ends the song: ‘I’m no longer afraid’.” – Joan Osborne

Learn more about RAICES at and follow their work on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Trouble and Strife is Osborne’s first album of original material in six years, which she wrote and self produced. The new album is unlike anything the acclaimed vocalist has ever released as it offers a powerful and uplifting response to many of the socio-political issues taking place over the last several years. Osborne masterfully balances the weight of her messages with solace and optimism.

Throughout her celebrated 25-year career, Joan Osborne has never been restricted by any musical boundaries in her original music or as an extraordinary interpreter of other’s material. She has shared the stage with artists ranging from Stevie Wonder and Mavis Staples to Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt. She continues use her powerful voice in song and now to raise awareness of injustices happening before our eyes.