'Listen to the Banned' is a unique collection of contemporary songs by artists who have been censored, persecuted, taken to court, imprisoned and even tortured for no other reason than their music.
Compiled by singer and composer Deeyah for the international organisation Freemuse, its purpose is to raise awareness of the lack of free expression experienced by many musicians and composers around the world - a freedom that many of us take for granted in a democratic and mainly uncensored society.
Singer, composer and filmmaker, Deeyah is a versatile artist and a passionate human rights activist. Born to Pakistani immigrant parents, Deeyah has released three critically acclaimed albums and worked with renowned musicians such as her teacher Ustad Fatah Ali Khan, Jan Garbarek (ECM: Ragas & Sagas) and Andy Summers. Having endured constant intimidation and physicals threats throughout her career, Deeyah stopped performing and now devotes the majority of her time promoting human rights and freedom of expression through a range of self-initiated projects.
Freemuse is an international organisation dedicated to protecting musicians and composers' rights to freedom of expression. Born out of the first World Conference on Music & Censorship in 1998, a core group of musicians, journalists, researchers and human rights activists decided to document, analyze and disseminate knowledge about global music censorship. Their work is spotlighted on 3rd March each year as Music Freedom Day.
You need to hear this record - as much for the quality of the music as for what it represents. Compiled by Pakistani-Norwegian musician Deeyah for Freemuse (an organisation that campaigns for freedom of musical expression), it is hard to believe you are listening to banned artists. There's no death metal or gangsta rap here.
What is most noticeable is one relatively consistent factor - that of the Islamic world. Given the lack of democratic government across much of the Islamic world, this is perhaps unsurprising. And the sounds are often sublime, from the delicate rhythms of Lebanese oud player Marcel Khalife to Iran's Mahsa Vahdat, who opens the album with a voice so beautiful it shames the Ayatollahs. Also featured is the Kurdish songwriter and activist Ferhat Tunç, who shared this year's Freemuse Award with Vahdat, and Ivory Coast's giant of reggae Tiken Jah Fakoly - winner in 2008. Other musicians from across Africa - imprisoned Lapiro de Mbanga from Cameroon and Chiwoniso from Zimbabwe - remind us of the fear corrupt governments hold them in.
Latin America is absent, and although no country in Latin America officially has political censorship, there are still plenty of instances of censorship on other pretences, such as among Mexican narcocorrido balladeers like Lupillo Rivera. China would no doubt baulk at the name of the late Kurash Sultan's listed home nation - Uyghuristan - and it is worth noting that even nations viewed in the West as liberal democracies - most notably Israel - are often guilty of censoring song, that most dangerous of weapons. This is vital, uplifting and arresting music.
© Nathaniel Handy -- Songlines magazine #70 - Top of the World album review