It is rare that a CD stops me in my tracks, forces me to turn up the volume, and feel a need to understand all languages of the world. Such was the case with ‘Listen to the Banned.’
I’d been checking my mailbox every day; earlier that week, its producer, a young musician named Deeyah had contacted me. Whilst gentle in nature, our initial call turned into a fountain of shared experiences, and a passion for not only bringing awareness to injustices, but to find ways to steadily defray them.
Deeyah had a unique perspective; she herself was a young singer, born to a Muslim family in Norway. During her career, she had to endure constant intimidation, physical threats; once even being attacked at one of her own concerts, as well as a failed abduction attempt from her school grounds. Deeyah left Norway in 1996 for the UK. When the symptoms of the same problem she had fled from in Norway resurfaced in the UK in early 2005, Deeyah once again packed her bags and left for the safety of the United States.
From her home in the US, we talked about her experiences; at one point she had been threatened for showing part of her back in an outfit she wore onstage. My head was spinning throughout our conversation – as I thought of the tank tops I frequently wear about the streets of New York, even the more conservative outfits I wear when working in India.
Deeyah shared the story of a small group in Denmark with me. FreeMuse was born of the 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship held in Copenhagen in November 1998; they are the only NGO dedicated to musicians who are persecuted for their music. The group works tirelessly to raise awareness for imprisoned musicians, bears witness at their trials, and lobbies for their release. They have documented cases of music censorship in more than 100 countries. Deeyah has a first hand understanding of the importance of their work; she herself was assisted by them.
“Music to me is a deeply profound art form and an emotional language which is consistently in danger of being sanitized and compromised for the political, social and so called religious agendas of some. This is where the work of FreeMuse advocating freedom of expression and highlighting the cases of censorship affecting artists, musicians and composers worldwide is so preciously valuable to us all. I first became aware of the work of them in 2005/2006. I have spent half of my life either being directly affected by externally imposed restrictions and censorship or the most creatively paralyzing being required to constantly have to exercise self-censorship in fear of violent reactions or cultural excommunication.”
Deeyah said that learning about the existence of an organization like FreeMuse was a great source of comfort and inspiration.
“They have given me the support and sense of community that I was especially desperate for through some of my darker moments in life and the harsher experiences in my career. Not only is the independent voice of FreeMuse essential for artists like me but the platform they have provided to address the situation of music censorship is vital in the fight for the freedom of artistic expression.”
In 2010, Deeyah worked with FreeMuse’s Ole Reitov to release the CD ‘Listen to the Banned’. The CD features 14 musicians from around the globe: Iran, Uighurstan, Turkey, Israel, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cote D’Ivoire, Palestine, Israel and Sudan. The album topped European world music charts, and rightfully so. I’m amazed by the production quality, and the work it took bring together these songs that international governments want silenced.
March 3rd is ‘Music Freedom Day’, and FreeMuse is spearheading a global community effort. Concerts and conversations with journalists are just some of the events planned. We cannot forget that freedom of expression includes freedom of musical expression; the world needs to sing, dance, and share, not fade into the sound of silence.
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Photo credit: Deeyah & FreeMuse