Nadine Shah, the 31-year-old British Muslim singer and songwriter, has spent most of her adult life campaigning. She’s outspoken when it comes to issues related to gender equality, mental health and tolerance for religious minorities. Her ability to take complex social issues and transform them into a reflective, soulful and arresting indie-rock sound, really comes to the forefront in her critically acclaimed third album Holiday Destination. After the record made the shortlist for the upcoming Mercury Prize, she’s now not only being recognised for her vocal power but for being an increasingly strong political voice.
“I’m an artist, and I’m not well versed in politics, but I’m a member of this society and, surely, I’m allowed to comment on the world we live in,” she told Interview Magazine last year. In Holiday Destination, she touches on some of the most crucial issues of our time – Islamophobia, an uncertain political landscape and the on-going global refugee crisis – through the medium of her brooding, moody and post-punk sounds. She also makes a cultural statement about the xenophobia she witnessed whilst she was on holiday on the Greek island of Kos.
“I think that part of my job is to document the times that we live in,” she recently told NME. “I wanted to speak about the rise in nationalism and a decline in empathy. I wanted to speak about Islamophobia for one: it scares me and it scares my family.”
She covers a lot of ground in the ten songs on this album, but the most prominent theme is Islamophobia. “Where would you have me go? I’m second generation don’t you know,” she asks every racist, who has told her to go back to where she came from, in her fiercely poignant single Out the Way. Her singing voice is lowered to a moody monotone, a spiky sax cuts through the sound and an industrial guitar rattle holds it all together. This is certainly one of the tunes that typifies the sound of this reflective and soulful album.
“How can I compete with an ingrained thought?” she muses in the compassionate single Evil, making references to the challenges that society faces when tackling intolerance and prejudice. Later in the song, she advises hate preachers: “Tell your followers that I’m crazy if it stops them questioning anymore.” The track, sixth on the album, evokes imagery of refugees arriving in Greece only to find resistance and intolerance. “Speakers grinning in their address to the crowd,” she sings, “how capacities are brimming, but empty buildings all around.”
The 2018 Hyundai Mercury Prize awards show will take place on Thursday 20 September at Hammersmith’s Apollo, can you guess who we want to win? Click here to see the full shortlist.
Featured image credit: BBC Radio 6 Music via YouTube