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MUSIC AND SILENCE
‘Music is so powerful because it is a physical expression of the human soul,’ says Daniel Barenboim in an exclusive interview for Index. ‘It attacks, I would say, all the functions of the human being – the brain, the heart, the stomach, the temperament. That’s what makes it so dangerous. Music is much more powerful than words.’ Barenboim famously made a stand when he defied Israel’s ban on performing Wagner; his celebrated West-Eastern Divan orchestra transcends the political separation that divides the Middle East.
All the musicians who have written and given interviews for this special issue on music and censorship are remarkable for their courage and commitment. Some live in countries where artistic expression can be interpreted as an act of protest. As a collective art form that brings people together in its execution and performance, musicians and their audience can be especially vulnerable. In Burma, Tibet and Iran, musicians and their fans are forced underground: Ayatollah Khamenei recently reinforced the censorship of musicians in Iran when he announced this summer that music was ‘not compatible’ with the values of the Islamic Republic. In this issue, Negar Shaghaghi gives a vivid account of smuggling rock music home as a schoolgirl in Tehran; Femi Kuti, one of world music’s most celebrated stars, has to endure repeated intimidation from the government in Nigeria; Kurdish singer Ferhat Tunç is currently facing prosecution in Turkey for making a political statement at a concert; Lapiro de Mbanga is serving a prison sentence in Cameroon, in harsh conditions, charged with inciting violence.
But censorship of music and musicians doesn’t necessarily take such extreme forms. As Peter Jenner, veteran manager of Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Clash and other legendary bands, points out, the whole music industry is predicated on censorship. There is a subtle process of selection that filters out music that challenges the norm, in which the media and the music business collude. Khyam Allami’s investigation of the independent music scene in the Middle East highlights this trend. The
Music CDs destroyed during a demonstration, Mumbai, India, December 2008 Credit: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters