M.I.A., Helly Luv’s New Refugee Music Trend Battles The Opposition

Refugees are a hot topic in the news, but refugee music is also fast becoming a trend that will likely carry on into 2016 — especially since there is so much opposition in the headlines surrounding the refugee crisis.

While pop stars like M.I.A. and Helly Luv are refugees making music about refugees — other refugee musicians like Mouataz Arian and Khebez Dawle are gaining popularity.

Sadly, musicians that are refugees may be responding to the anti-refugee messages that continue in America. For example, anti-refugee sentiment was represented on Fox News on December 17, where viewers are encouraged to vote online whether or not they think allowing refugees into America will give ISIS or jihadists a chance to infiltrate.

According to NASBO, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne C. Richard, is attending a House committee hearing on “Terrorist Travel: Vetting for National Security Concerns” taking place on December 17.

Obviously, refugees that have celebrity status in music may feel a need to stick up for their own in the tumultuous Western anti-refugee climate — and it appears to be turning into a trend.

Currently, one of the most prominent refugee musicians making music, M.I.A., has a long history of representing herself as someone that wants to make a mark as a refugee in music. While many may only be hearing about M.I.A. being a refugee in 2015 because of her newest song, “Borders,” M.I.A. has been talking about her refugee experience since her first release.

In particular, a common quote of M.I.A.’s is from September 4, 2005, when she told the Guardian the following.

“I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”

However, the Atlantic says M.I.A. is doing much more than talking about refugees in her song, “Borders,” and instead “[M.I.A. is] highlighting the gaps in liberal-leaning pop culture’s preaching of acceptance, empowerment, and humanism.”

The Washington Post adds to this on November 29 and writes, “In her lyrics, M.I.A. gets to the heart of the distance between Westerners far removed from the crisis and the problems faced by actual migrants.”

M.I.A. has definitely become prominent in refugee news with her video for the song “Borders” that features refugees, but she is not the only one defining the current refugee music trend.

For example, Helly Luv is a refugee musician that chose to speak to the media extensively during the summer of 2015 about her song, “Revolution.” The video for Helly Luv’s song featured people fighting ISIS.

Unlike M.I.A., Helly Luv’s personal safety has been put at risk because of her “Revolution” video. In an NBC report from August 15, they quote Helly Luv stating the following about threats she’s received from ISIS since her May 28 release of “Revolution.”

“I’m going against the most dangerous terrorist group in the whole world but I feel that there are thousands of people risking their lives against them on the battlefield. If my life is at risk but I can get the message to millions of people then that is a privilege.”

Although Helly Luv and M.I.A. are pop stars, there are other refugee musicians struggling to get notoriety — even when the odds are against them.

For instance, Vice reports on November 27 that a former Syrian composer, Mouataz Arian, is now an atheist Kurdish refugee that lives in Turkey. Despite his current circumstances of being an unsettled refugee, Mouataz Arian plays Bach on the streets and makes about $20 per day.

Regardless, Mouataz Arian understands what Helly Luv and M.I.A. (and perhaps all refugees) know all too well: composing music is a way to express something in a language everyone understands.

But will people understand their message?

Whether or not the supporters of Donald Trump and Fox News ever hear the message of refugees singing about their experiences — refugees are likely to keep making attempts over 2016.

For instance, each year Louisville, Kentucky, (a prominent resettlement city), celebrates World Refugee Day with several local bands comprised of refugee musicians from around the world, according to the Sun Times.

The Guardian highlighted a Syrian refugee rock band touring Europe on December 16 called Khebez Dawle. About the purpose behind their music, Khebez Dawle stated “With the band we have a responsibility to speak, to tell Europeans about the other Syrians who are not heard.”

Williams University highlights the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars band as one of the most prestigious bands in the world.

But will refugee music or music about refugees become a trend?

Time points out that the Russian punk band, P***y Riot, have recently taken a stand for refugees with their song, “Refugees In.”

Canada has also been especially prolific about creating music with refugees as a focus. Mohsin Zaman from Edmonton told CBC reporters on December 13 that he created a welcome song for refugees coming to Canada and stated, “Music is the universal language. That’s how I met all my friends in this city. So, I’d like to pass it along.”

An indie rock band comprised partly of refugees in Montreal called Craven Empires has created a fundraiser for the Canadian Council for Refugees’ Syrian Refugee Support Fund. Cult Montreal reports on December 12, “The track was released via Bandcamp today, coinciding with the arrival of 161 Syrian refugees in Montreal.”

CJME reports on December 10 that musicians in Regina, Canada, have also put together a fundraiser for refugees and the organizers stated the following.

“We have been very concerned about the refugee crisis and trying to do our part to help out — to help bring the refugees here, and to help support them once they come to our community.”

Moreover, refugee music may trend in 2016 because there is an appeal to hear refugee-created music by the general public. On November 17, WGXC hosted a radio program featuring refugee music and stated the following on their Facebook event page.

“Who are these people … where do they come from … and what does their music sound like?”

To hear more music by refugees around the world, Refugees-Alive, Refugee Radio Network, and Refugee Radio are resources.

[Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]