The refugee crisis has disappeared from newspaper front pages over the last year. For those of us keeping up with the story through alternative sources, it is still very much a grim reality that continues today as thousands risk their lives seeking the shores of the EU every day.
Nadine Shah was spurred on by this very situation and firsthand exposure to the crisis in 2014 when her brother filmed a documentary about a refugee camp in the Turkish town of Gaziantep near the Syrian border. Shah composed the documentary’s sound track and now her third album provides her own analysis of the world — then, now and where we are heading.
The opening track, “Place Like This”, sets the tone of what is to follow, as layered instrumentals infused with afro-rhythms clash tentatively. But as the guitars slow, the last 20 seconds of the track fade into a live recording from a demonstration of the chant “Refugees are welcome here”.
Initially the catalyst, the first recorded song and the album’s title track, features the looming atmospherics of bass, saxophone and sinister keys. Shah confronts those that remain passive, bellowing, “How are you going to sleep tonight?” This was the question she would have liked to ask the holidaymakers who she watched on national television saying that the refugees’ presence was sullying their vacation.
Although the album focuses on this topic, Shah looks at a number of other political issues thrown up by the stultifying society we find ourselves in. On the track “Ordinary”, with its solemn undertone of guitar reverb and distortion, she looks at the influence of the media and perfectly emulates their manipulation of truths. She also addresses some of her own personal issues such as her mental health and the impact it has on the people around her.
On “Out the Way” Shah discusses being a second generation immigrant and her dual English-Pakistani heritage. The track was influenced by her interrogation on a recent trip to the US, where she noticed the holding room contained only people of colour. The chorus conjures up thoughts of how right wing populist ideas have become normalised in mainstream political discourse and the racist language attached to them. Shah’s vocals command attention throughout, against the backdrop of steely post-punk vibrations that incorporate progressive sharp hooks and taut rhythms.
Ultimately the album is about borders and the imperialist forces that have created them. It’s not only a call for people to be more empathetic, more clued-up, but most importantly encourages them to get actively involved as the current political climate is too hot to keep ignoring.