The metabolism of political songwriting is unpredictable. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released ‘Ohio’ days after the killing of four students at Kent State University in 1970, but it took three years after the death of South African activist Steve Biko for Peter Gabriel to deliver ‘Biko’. In the case of the migrant crisis, musicians took their time finding the right tone. In the 80s, sincere yet gauche songs such as ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and ‘We Are the World’ portrayed Ethiopians as a mute, suffering mass, dependent on western charity. Now, great care is taken to give the subjects of songs a voice. Any artist under 40 has grown up aware of the pitfalls of writing songs about political and humanitarian issues, which can easily come across as sanctimonious, exploitative or crude.
“When you are writing about someone else’s life, you have a responsibility to do it justice,” says (English-born singer-songwriter and musician Nadine) Shah. “The aim was to play a tiny part in humanising the dehumanised. There are over 20 million refugees globally; these figures take away the personal element. In order for people to properly listen, they have to be able to see themselves in other people.”
To that end, she did extensive research, watching documentaries and conducting interviews with refugees and NGOs in the UK, France and Turkey. “It was the most difficult album for me to write because I had to go back and fact-check it. I was very aware of having to make sure that what I was saying was correct.”
— Continue reading Dorian Lynskey’s How musicians have — finally — tackled the refugee crisis in The Guardian UK here.