LAST month, The Guardian published an article entitled “how indie music got woke”.

Woke, for those who aren’t up on social media terminology (this journalist included), is a modern slang phrase to describe somebody who is socially and politically aware, tuned into the hot topics and injustices of the day. One of the leading examples in the piece was Nadine Shah, the Tyneside singer-songwriter who has written about mental health, the rise of nationalism, and the “identity crisis” of being a second-generation immigrant.

Shah’s father is from Pakistan and her mother from Norway although, as the singer points out, only her dark-skinned father is considered an immigrant by the society around him. So when Shah was asked to part in Amnesty International’s Give a Home initiative, which sees musicians perform in people’s houses in more than 200 cities, she didn’t think twice. The intimate gigs will be broadcast online with the aim of raising awareness about the refugee crisis. Shah, who will play in a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Brighton, calls Give a Home a “beautiful idea”.

“I think it’s our duty as musicians to talk about these things and support the vulnerable,” says the singer, whose third album Holiday Destination is released in a few weeks. “I still think if Adele had come out and told everyone to vote Remain we’d be living in a very different country. I’m angry that she didn’t, even though I know that sounds ridiculous.”

Shah’s sense of injustice about the way in which refugees are treated in society was stoked partly by a news broadcast she watched which showed migrants turning up on the shores of Kos in Greece in their thousands. Some of the holidaymakers that were interviewed about the situation had a less than sympathetic attitude to the refugees’ plight, focusing more on their own “ruined holiday”.

Shah says: “We’re seeing an increase in nationalism and a decline in empathy. It’s terrifying and so sad to see. I was shocked by how unashamed they were about saying these things on television. It’s unsympathetic rhetoric which is also being voiced by some national newspapers. It’s heartbreaking.”

The episode acted as a catalyst of sorts for Holiday Destination, an album which Shah feared might seem “opportunistic” in its lyrical subject matter. “People have been complaining about the lack of politics in music recently, but then when someone comes along and writes about these things they get accused of jumping on the bandwagon,” she says.

However, she considers herself “very lucky” to have received positive reviews for the record thus far. Not everybody has taken Shah’s political standpoint well, though. Some “faceless keyboard warriors” (as the singer puts it) have attacked her on Twitter.

“In one example I was defending the Muslim community [in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack] and got a lot of abuse for it. People said, ‘why don’t you go back to where you came from’ and I said, ‘Where? Sunderland?’ That’s where I was born. And if I was to go back to Pakistan, I don’t speak Urdu. I’m completely Westernised but at the same time I have a huge Pakistani family here.”

Shah remembers incidents in school when she was the victim of spiteful comments because she was “the closet thing to the foreign kid”. On the other hand, she delighted in taking traditional Pakistani garments to show and tell. “I felt very proud and special to have this other connection,” she says. As for that Guardian article, Shah feels “honoured” to have been included in the piece and says it has proved to be important for a number of reasons.

“When my first album came out a lot of the reviews called me a Pakistani-Norwegian musician. Initially I was irritated by that because I felt it made me sound novel. I hated that. But now I’ve seen the importance of speaking about being a South-Asian woman in this industry. We have to start recognising diversity. I had a lot of South-Asian women getting in touch with me personally after that [Guardian] article came out.”

As she looks forward to Holiday Destination’s release, Shah says she wants to continue writing about the issues faced by minority groups. The Give a Home event is just one small part of her bold quest.

“Wherever possible I support causes I’m passionate about. However we can spread the message. We must do.”

Nadine Shah
Give a Home project, venue TBC, 
Brighton, September 20, for more information on the Give a Home initiative visit