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'It was impossible to write about anything else': how musicians have – finally – tackled the refugee crisis

In the 80s, musicians simply released charity singles in response to humanitarian crises. But today’s artists have been relatively quiet about the plight of those in the Mediterranean – until now. From Coldplay to Benjamin Clementine, why has it taken them so long to find their voices?

Two years ago, the British musician Nadine Shah saw a news report with tourists complaining that refugees on the Greek island of Kos were spoiling their holidays. Already familiar with the refugee crisis through the work of her brother, the al-Jazeera film-maker Karim Shah, she was spurred to write a song, . “Every day, there were more harrowing stories and images, and it was impossible to write about anything else,” she remembers. “At the time, there were no whispers that anyone else was writing about the same subject, and that shocked me.”

Around the same time, however, Paul Smith of Maxïmo Park was writing Risk to Exist about the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean. He had been inspired by a Guardian article about Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas), a Malta-based foundation that rescues refugees from the sea. He was also disgusted by the callous reaction of some MPs. “It’s like someone’s dying on your doorstep and you say that you’re not going to open the door,” he says. Like Shah, he thought he was alone.

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