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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Thin Blue Border’

There are at least six million Syrian refugees who have fled the war-torn country since 2011. Millions are in countries, where they fled, waiting in camps for a chance to sail to freedom. They yearn for an opportunity to rebuild their lives in Europe, even as the rise of virulent strains of right-wing politics threaten their ability to seek asylum.

Ryan Harvey, Kareem Shimara, and Shireen Lilith call attention to the plight of Middle Eastern refugees, especially Syrians, with their protest song, “Thin Blue Border.”

The song refers to the “coast guard on the horizon” taking bribes. “Revolutionaries and widows, orphans, survivors, and heroes” will have to get past them to continue their harrowing journey.

In the second verse, they sing about the smugglers, who profit off this massive humanitarian crisis. “Fifteen hundred a ride, whether or not you see the other side.”

“Throws their bags in the water, and packs them in like cattle,” they add. “Fifty people on a rubber boat, and they pray to god that they stay afloat.”

One of the more enduring lyrics is the line, “It’s a twisted version of privilege to be the one(s) who escape from the village.” They note the terror of barrel bombs, shrapnel, and secret police.

The third verse acknowledges the failure of politicians holding meetings while also alluding to the ultra-nationalist authoritarians, who have risen to power in the European Union to make safety even harder for refugees to obtain.

As they sing of all the warfare, exploitation, and political indifference, the lyric, “pushes the waves on a thin blue border”,” illustrates the crisis.

Samara is a London-based Palestinian oud player. Incorporating the oud gives the song a brooding quality that helps focus listeners on the lyrics, and the instrumental breaks elevate the song.

Lilith is a Dutch singer based in Amsterdam. Her harmonies with Harvey, an artist known for protest-folk music, deeply enrich the lyrics.

“Thin Blue Border” (along with other tracks) were written by Harvey when he volunteered for a month on the beaches in Lesvos, Greece. And the trio’s music video acknowledges the work of Sea-Watch, which has engaged in sustained efforts to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

For Harvey, Shimara, and Lilith, it was important to match the emotion and politics of their lyrics with a meshing of sounds and accents.

There are strains of Arabic and Western folk mixed with some punk in the “Thin Blue Border.” This creates a vibrant tune that captures the spirit of rebellion along with the realism of survival for refugees.

Listen or watch the “Thin Blue Border”:

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."