Border Violence

Dave: Three Rivers

The album cover shows a small boat at sea, a symbol of migration which is the central theme of the album with very personal insights into Dave’s family history as migrants. (notably his own mother’s testimony of migration at the end of the song Heart Attack). In this melancholic song, the young rapper from south London tells three different stories of migration and the struggle migrants face when trying to settle in the UK.

The first verse tells the story of the windrush generation, a generation of Caribbean people that were “drafted to England” (Dave, 2021) with the promise of citizenship and better life conditions. However, these people suffered from the latter change in immigration laws and many suffered and died from being unlawfully deported as they could not prove their status. (Williams, 2020) The Jamaican community, especially in London, is a main actor and influence in British culture, (Dabydeen, 2010). Dave highlights said influence by referencing the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the world’s biggest street carnivals. Dave also names a list of English footballers from the national team, who are children of migrants of the Caribbean, to put emphasis on the way the United Kingdom profited in many ways from migration.

The interlude then follows with a sample from a news report about the false promise of the British government to those migrants and a moving testimony from someone who lived in the UK since they were 10 years old, paid taxes for 37 years but are still deemed to be illegally here.

The second verse is about a migrant family from Eastern Europe in the 1990’s with description of violence that can point towards the Balkans War. Contrary to the first verse which depicted the origin country of migrants as paradisiac, the image painted here is much more gruesome with ‘dictators and leaders persecuting your people’ and ‘Bodies of the innocent pilling’.  This is a reminder that people who are risking their lives on dinghies and under cargo trucks are not doing so out of spite or as a scheme of undermining a country’s identity but because they are “escaping from war, conflicts, violence and injustices” (Cesare, p50, 2020). The end of the verse explains how through difficult times this migrant drinks to cope which causes him to be violent towards his family and become a reflection of what he was seeking to escape. This is an interesting point about various forms of violence that occurs with migration and how the hardship and violence inflicted upon migrants can cause wounds that will be the root of more violence: a form of transgenerational trauma (Phipps & al.2014) .

The final verse is about migration from the Middle East. It sheds light firstly on the duality of western governments when it comes to migration. “Your oppressor is your liberator” (Dave, 2021) is an antithesis referencing the multiple interventions for freedom and peace causing constant war and violence in the region. The same governments that profit from the demise of ‘third world’ nations, through weapon sales, natural resources exploitation and “an economy of dispossession” (Walia,p.29, 2021), are also the governments building walls to protect themselves from the migration of people leaving the chaos.

There is also further exploitation of the migrants that compose an important part of the workforce of many western countries while still often being less considered than other nationals. This is beautifully expressed by Dave: “We rely on migration more than ever before, they’re key workers but they could not even get in the door”. Key workers are the workers in the UK that had to keep working during the Covid pandemics, many of which came from migration. (Fernandez-Reino, 2020)

Finally in the outro, Daniel Kaluuya talks about identity and racism, as a famous Academy-Award winning actor, British-born of Ugandan parents. He explains then rather than defining himself against the tide, which “still makes it about them, still makes it against the poison that you’ve internalised”, he “Switched rivers” which is to say he changed his perception of what being black or from a migrant family means, and conceived it as an “asset”.

The overall song with melancholic piano and various samples from news reports and testimony creates a touching and emotional atmosphere which can help the listener connect with the stories on a deeper level, through empathy. The common feature of the three stories is that they depict the human reality of migration and forces us to face it. It deconstructs the various preconceived ideas about migration to draw a complex image of violence in migration.

Julien Djenidi


David Dabydeen, 2010, “Notting Hill Carnival”, Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick
Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. “Migrants and the State.” In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Phipps, R.M. and Degges-White, S. 2014, A New Look at Transgenerational Trauma Transmission: Second-Generation Latino Immigrant Youth. Journal of Multicultural Counselling and Development, 42: 174-187
Mariña Fernández-Reino, Madeleine Sumption, Carlos Vargas-Silva, From low-skilled to key workers: the implications of emergencies for immigration policy, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 36, Issue Supplement_1, 2020, Pages S382–S396
Wallia, Harsha. 2021. “Fortress Europe.” In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.