When Death Was Behind Me

This song was inspired by words of refugees rescued by the Italian charity Mare Nostrum. The charity – charged with rescuing boats of refugees stranded in Italian waters – operated for just one year in 2014 and rescued a total of 100,250 people before it was closed down in January 2015. The words are based on quotes from refugees: Khalid, a journalist from Pakistan, and John, a car mechanic fleeing from Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The song fits with other blues spirituals such as Wade in the Water and Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child. Although many people have learnt these songs aurally I recommend referring to Singing in the Afro-American Tradition: Volume 1 by Ysaye Barnwell (published by Homespun Tapes) for authentic background information, social context and information on putting them together. Ysaye Barnwell is the original published source of this inspired pairing of songs.



Bluesy, powerful, poignant


minor partnersong featuring 2 different texts.

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When death was behind me, when death was a chasing at my heels
When death was all around me, I gave up my life to the sea

I had nothing and they clothed me
Nothing and they gave me water
Nothing and they fed me a long way from home

What’s included?

pdf of background notes and teaching ideas, pdf of score, mp3 recording of whole song, mp3 separate parts


Licence type
Purchase a licence with this download. More information about licensing