Top Songs of Immigration (and Frustration)

Immigration rules and visa talks does not sounds like music to the ear (especially when it is coming from the mouth of conservative Government officials) except when sung by migrants themselves.

Last Friday and Saturday night parties, I realize that nobody knew that M.I.A wrote Paper Planes in 2006 because she was fed up not getting a visa. So, I decided to have a look at more famous singers that wrote about this: the move to a new country and the ‘immigrant’ life. I found many of them interesting to share so I put on a Spotify Participative Playlist

… and below are my favorites. Feel free to sing them when in line waiting for UKBA to check your work visa or filling out your visa documents…


M.I.A. – Papers Planes

“If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
(…) All I wanna do is (BANG BANG BANG BANG!)
And take your money”

The song is inspired by M.I.A.’s frustration at the American version of UKBA refusing her a Work Visa to record her second album in the US in 2006; because of her known politically charged lyrics.

M.I.A. expressed openly her views after the song was released. She voiced her anger at being asked to show money to come in the country; (not a warm welcome indeed…). She argues: it just shows that the Government is not considering immigrants to bring or add anything to the culture of a country; they don’t value the person but the money. This is where the chorus above is coming from.

… What about the sound of the gunshots?

She says: “If you’re an immigrant you left somewhere and most of the time you fled a war. Gun sounds are a part of our culture as an everyday thing. ”

Lady Gaga – Americano
As usual, our favorite Queer rep’ talking about topics that will create noise, scandal and bring press coverage…
White Stripes – Icky Thumb

“(…) Well, Americans:
What, nothin’ better to do?
Why don’t you kick yourself out?
You’re an immigrant too.”

Too bad the song did not get the same success and popularity than the Seven Army song that made the band so famous though it was elected song of the year in 2006 by Rolling Stones Mag… It is a direct attack to the way immigrants are treated in America. From the quote above and below, you guess it is not *lightly* politically charged.

“Who’s usin’ who?”

I will let you guess for whom the band did not vote at the last U.S. Elections….

Jamie T – British Intelligence

“And a legal lay in the end
Jessie from the west said marry up quick
Get lost in the system
With a BCG and a finger print scan
While were still riding trying to find a place where their not watching
Called her up again identity cards and camera men”

Here comes the song that talks about immigration to the UK, and the feeling of being tracked, constantly under the threat of a UKBA police raid like the one they show on BBC… This is a song for these estimated 170,000 as well as these 4 millions illegal immigrants found in the EU. If it can help deconstruct the myth that they come here, confortable benefitting on social welfare and security.


Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) – Billy Joel

“You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime
Is that all you get for your money? 
And if that’s what you have in mind
yeah if that’s what you’re all about
Good luck movin’ up ’cause I’m movin’ out.”

Billy Joel talks about the New York working-class immigrant work ethic. It is a funny one that tells a bit of truth about the immigrant work ethic and perspective on work a the complete opposite of what negative public opinion is trying to project. In the song, the wage-earners take pride at working long hours to show they ‘made it’. It has been documented by some researcher that the migrants tends to be more self-motivated and entrepreneurial than the resident population. In the US, 40% of the founders of Fortune 500 companies are immigrants… that says something about immigration and economic stimulus…

I like to be in America – West Side Story Musical

One of the most famous Broadway Musical and an entire film dedicated to immigrants that have made it to the new country, West Side story is just this amazing Ode and manifesto for a better welcome and integration of migrants in the host Society. The dialogue between Anita and Rosalia in the song ‘I like to be in America’ shows the struggle inside all immigrant: the love for motherland but the ambition of a better life.

Laugh and Be Happy – Randy Newman

I chose Randy to end on a positive note about immigration. In the song, Randy talks about how locals might look down at immigrants and make their life hard, asking immigrants to work hard to integrate the host country; to prove they are worth the trust in Society. Immigration is a tough process but Randy advices and remembers you:

“You’ve got to laugh and be happy
Smile right in their face 
‘Cause pretty soon 
You’re gonna take their place”

About this last sentence: you can take it in both ways: either that you are going to show them you can make it to their level; or that you are going to become like them a local, not liking to see other immigrants coming here to take… your place!

You have songs to share with us? Please tweet at Migreat (@Migreat) your ideas of better songs to add to the playlist 🙂

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