M.I.A. Talks Western Culture's Effect on Refugee Crisis

M.I.A. knows a thing or two about a refugee crisis, and joined NPR this week to discuss the West's effect on and responsibility towards those refugees seeking its borders.

The artist was born in London but spent her childhood in Sri Lanka, where her father fought alongside separatist rebels as tens of thousands of Sri Lankans migrated during a 25 year civil war. In 2013 she spoke with NPR about how her family "attempted to leave about four or five times, and every time we'd get stopped."

"They would stop the bus and take all the men off the bus," she said, "And we never saw them again."

NPR's David Green asked her back to weigh in on today's migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa in light of her new refugee song "Borders," whose video depicts men migrating by land and sea, scaling barbed wire fences as they attempt to reach new borders. 

M.I.A. Shares Self-Directed Video 'Borders': Watch

M.I.A. recounts how, because of her British passport, she was finally able to take her family to safety in the U.K., where she quickly found herself immersed in a new culture that had a profound impact on the artist -- and activist -- she would become.

"One of the reasons I loved being British at the time -- the music scene at the time was really diverse," she explains. "I was exposed to hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall and house music and drum-and-bass -- these kinds of things which were all born out of mixing of different cultures. That's kind of what England represented to me."

Pussy Riot Address European Crisis in 'Refugee In' Video Filmed at Banksy's Dismaland

​She also called out Western countries, who are roiled in debate over whether to accept foreign refugees, as being naive about their part in the matter, particularly when it comes to the role pop culture has played in bringing people to their shores.

"As a musician, I feel like we are part of promoting ideas to people. You know, ultimately we fight to get what we do in the West into the homes and the screens of every single person on the planet. We want to make money off it, and you want to sell 50 million Taylor Swift records to people in Africa. Obviously, some of the kids are gonna say, 'Okay, yeah, I want the dream,' and you've got migrants who believed in the aggressiveness of our sale of democracy. We can't really blame people when they are ready to embrace it."

"You don't put the borders on Apple, you don't put borders on YouTube, and you don't put borders on MTV," she says. "So to make the borders even taller when actually what the creative world is doing, or the business world is doing, is actually the opposite, then you're always going to have this problem."


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.