The view from Freemuse

Jurriaan Bendien J.Bendien at
Fri Dec 27 14:13:35 MST 2002

Musicians all round the world often find themselves restricted by their
government. Certain types of music can be banned from radio and TV, others
are subjected to fierce public campaigns, while extreme cases also exist
where - as in the case of Taliban controlled - Afghanistan - music was
outlawed altogether.

"Sometimes musicians can find themselves on the wrong side of the political
divide," explains Gerald Seligman, Executive Committee member of Freemuse,
an organization based in Copenhagen which campaigns worldwide for the
freedom of expression for musicians and composers. "For example Kurdish
music in Turkey was completely banned on the radio because the Kurdish
language wasn't allowed to be taught in Turkish schools until their recent
interest in getting into the EU, and it changed because of that. Or the
Algerian musician Lounés Matoub, who was very vocally critical of the
Algerian government. He lived in exile in Paris and was assassinated because
of the political beliefs he expressed through his songs."

"That is an extreme example but the censorship of music is every bit as vast
and common as the discrimination of people for their political beliefs that
Amnesty was created to try to publicise." Freemuse try to raise the issue of
music censorship by building up a community of musicians, academics and
broadcasters who help to publicise the cause. They also hope to be able to
provide legal representation to musicians around the world facing prison or
punishment because of their music. But a large part of Freemuse's work is to
write reports detailing censorship in various countries around the globe.
"The first one we did was about Afghanistan," adds Seligman, "but it was
well before the events that led to the war and the destruction of the
Taliban. Needless to say, the media round the world were suddenly very
interested to trying to provide a clearer portrait of the Taliban and what
more extreme example can you give that would be easy for people to
understand than the fact that music itself was banned."

But Seligman is surprised about the lack of response and support from
well-known musicians in more privileged, less restricted parts of the world.
"What's very disappointing is that there doesn't seem to be a feeling of
brother hood from pop artists in the West. Initially we were anticipating
that we would get a good response from different popular artists from
mainstream cultures in our work but it's proving more difficult than I
thought. And that's actually a surprise and it's certainly a
disappointment.""It was interesting though how, it was very easy to organise
artists and concerts for certain political issues, for example, to support
of the struggle in South Africa or famine - the old USA for Africa song (We
Are The World) and the Amnesty International concert in Paris. So you'd
think musicians getting together would be a natural evolution, and we're
working towards that, but it's not as easy as we had hoped."


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