Dying for a Song


In this recently broadcast radio programme, BBC Radio 4 speaks to musicians from across the globe who have been persecuted for their art. Some have risked being banned or exiled from their communities for speaking out against perceived injustices and corruption; others are being tortured, imprisoned and even killed.

It’s an engaging and illuminating listen. Not just because one can better understand the value and power of music as a force that can challenge and change aspects of society, but also becuase it highlights the price and responsibility that comes with having a public platform for one’s art.

From the BBC website:

Rex Bloomstein hears from musicians from around the world about how they have been persecuted for raising their voices against political, cultural or religious repression. He talks to artists whose say their songs have led to their imprisonment, torture and to the continuing threat of violence; artists who have been driven from their homelands, artists who, literally, risk dying for a song.

Freemuse, an international organisation set up to defend freedom of expression for musicians says in one recent year alone it registered 469 cases of censorship and attacks on artists around the world, nearly double the previous year’s figure.

In the wake of horrific murders, such as that of Syrian protest singer Ibrahim Quashoush, found dead with his throat cut, Rex hears stories of tremendous courage and determination not to be intimidated and silenced. Egyptian singer Ramy Essam tells talks of he was brutally tortured after his songs rallied the crowds in Tahir Square during the Arab Spring. Iranian singer Shahin Najafi continues to perform around the world despite a fatwa calling for his death, after his songs upset the religious leaders in his home country. He says: “At night I turn to the wall and slowly close my eyes and wait for someone to slit my throat”.

Lebanese rock band Mashrou’Leila talk of how various Arab countries have tried to suppress their often provocative satirical songs addressing politics, religion and gay love.

Deeyah Kahn tells Rex that she was forced to flee Norway in the face of violent threats from her own Pakistani community aimed at stopping her singing. And he hears from Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat, banned from singing in her own country because she’s a woman.

Listen to Dying For a Song here.

Blood and Echoes: The Story of ‘Come Out’, Steve Reich’s Civil Rights Era Masterpiece

Pitchfork have written an illuminating article about ‘Come Out’, the tape loop experiment by minimalist composer Steve Reich, which debuted in 1965.

I am a massive fan of Steve Reich’s loop-based pieces. I hear his ethos running through much of my music collection, connecting styles/artists as diverse as dub reggae, Maalem Mahmoud Guinia, Orbital and Zimbabwean mbira music. What I didn’t know was that this poignant piece was written in response to the case of the Harlem Six (1964), a tragic episode of systematic police brutality against six black people imprisoned for murder (five of whom were innocent). Even the origins of the song title show the savagery and incredulity of the events that spawned Reich’s powerful 13-minute deconstruction.

Read the article here.


Baldwin, J. (1966). A Report from Occupied Territory. The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/report-occupied-territory/