by Ole Reitov
The history of musical censorship does not differ from the
history of colonialism , religious fanatism and political suppression.
Christian fundamentalists followed or even guided European colonialists for centuries in
Africa , Latin America and Asia condemning traditional cultures as superstitious,
dangerous and morally corrupt .
And if anyone should think that times have changed
drastically you just have to look at todays fanaticism of the Afghan Talibans who
seem to think that music is corrupting peoples mind so much so that the war-tortured
people of Afghanistan is even deprived of the pleasure of their own music.
In the Algerian slaughterhouse several leading musicians
have had their throats cut and in Sudan the regime and its religious supporters continue
to suppress musicians .It was just four years ago that the government controlled media in
Sudan created an atmosphere of hysteria by giving extensive air-time to a campaign by
Islamic mosque leaders to outlaw secular music altogether.
A teacher at an Islamic primary school responded by going
to the Musicians club and stabbing to death the well known singer Khogali Osman and
injuring several others - including the world renowned oud player Abdell Gadir Salim.
No wonder that the then chairman of musicians union and
master musician Mohammad Wardi left the country and now lives in exile , a destiny he
shares with hundreds of other great musicians from Iran , Afghanistan , Algeria , Zaire
and Latin America.
Is there a link between these extreme attacks on musicians
and the repression of rave parties in France , England and Sweden ?
If so, the link is that the establishment always have feared so-called uncontrolled
It is true that music can excite people .
It is true that certain types of music events have attracted drug-abusers, drunkards and
sex maniacs .
It is true that some people even experience a sort of ecstasy under the influence of music
and that certain types of music are created to influence the human mind in such a way that
the devotion to God , Allah or more traditional gods may look totally obscene to
But is that a reason for censoring records , concerts,
discos and dance.
Doesn´t football stadiums , boarding schools and the army attract drunkards and sex
maniacs ? And do we stop music or boarding schools for that matter ?
When you look into the history of censored music you can
identify several elements or reasons for suppressing musicians :
Fear , xenophobia , intolerance and cultural suppression.
And it is about time that it becomes part of the political agenda that musical censorship
and suppression of musicians are equally unacceptable to the world society as is
suppression of the writers.
In the West Christian fundamentalists and so-called
protectors of public moral have been active for hundreds of years and still succeed in
getting music and musicians banned and censored by record companies , radio stations ,
concert halls , festival venues and retail shops.
There is a long history of banned popular music from Elvis
Presley to Alice Cooper , Jimi Hendrix , The Beatles and Sex Pistols.
Arguments have varied, methods have changed but anyone who
has followed British media since the sixties will certainly have noticed the name of a
certain Mary Whitehouse.
As president of National viewers and listeners association
she was an efficient campaigner for three decades supported by politicians like Enoch
Powell and the then bishop of Hereford , Mr. Mark Hudson.>
The British sociologist Martin Cloonan in his book Banned
- censorship of Popular Music in Britain: 1967-92 has documented the often badly
researched postulations by Mrs. Whitehorse and her supporters leading to censorship of
music and influencing gate keepers BBC Radio 1.
The cause was and still is moral standards more than
political harassment , but mentioning the BBC it may surprise many people that the old
respected lady of broadcasting fame still continues its own political censorship.
During the Gulf War the BBC Radio training Unit submitted
a list of controversial records , a list that became an unofficial list of ban in prime
Looking at the list one can have a good laugh at the
paranoia that seemingly spread through the corridors of the broadcasting house if it
wasn´t that the background was so serious.
There could be a reason for not giving airtime to Cher´s
old hit "Bang Bang , my baby shot me down" or Roberta Flacks "Killing
me softly". But how Eric Claptons version of Bob Marley´s "I shot the
sheriff" or Beatles "Back in the USSR" could be dangerous to British
listeners is a bit difficult to understand.
Classical music is not very controversial in todays
society , but as many of you already know it is a fact that works by Richard Wagner for
various reasons are still censored not only in Israel but in many other countries.
Just last week the State opera orchestra in Denmark
announced that it would not play its usual opening piece by Wagner at a forthcoming
concert at a place of particular national interest in the mainland, Jutland . Holocaust is
obvious the reason and Wagners openly anti-Semitic views the cause , but the
same orchestra has no problem in performing Wagner night after night at state subsidized
performances at the National Theatre in Copenhagen.
But the history of banned classical and contemporary
serious music is long and interesting. Political correctness in the former Soviet Union
censored as you may know several leading composers.
And just last year the German conductor Gerd Albrecht left
his job in Prague after being heavily attacked for promoting the works of the
Theresienstadt Stadt composers . A debate which led to a heavy confrontation between Mr.
Albrecht and President Vaclav Havel.
Unfortunately Jewish composers even get censored in Israel
as is the case of contemporary composers like Arie Shapira .Known for his left-wing and
Palestinian sympathies. Shapira has seen several of his works being censored by amongst
others the national radio.
The US rap artist ICE T doesn´t , if you excuse the
expression , give a fuck , for the first amendment. He has good reasons for that having
been harassed by retailers , media and not least strong lobby groups .
Rap artists in the US are harassed by the so-called moral
majority. Highly influential individuals have succeeded in convincing major multinational
record companies to make use of the sticker man.
The sticker man that pre-censor the productions and put a
warning label on before and if the CDs reach the retail stores. I say if, because many
retail stores refuse to distribute the CDs . Not necessarily because their owners are
racists , moral guardians or hate rap music but because the influential lobbying groups
are threatening them with various forms of repression - financial boycott being one of the
milder sanction methods.
The examples are numerous , but so far we - the media
people - have not put much attention to it. Neither has the research establishment.
We are, however, not blind promoters of absolute freedom
of musical expression.We need to discuss hate music .
Music produced in Sweden by neo nazis and distributed to
neo nazis all over the world.
We need to discuss how musicologists have been
misinterpreted by nationalists in the former Yogoslavia to prove that there are huge
cultural differences between the ethnic groups. And we do need to discuss how violently
and how sexist rap lyrics affect the listeners. But we do not need automatic answers.
We need theories to understand the mechanisms and effects
of censorship.How did censorship during apartheid affect the South African musical
creativity ? How did it affect the people of South Africa in their understanding of
their own culture ?
We know it affected musicians heavily - not only those
that had to leave their country for decades. But we don´t know exactly how it changed
their creativity , their self esteem , their role in society.
What we do know , however , is that when Paul Simon had
the guts to break the politically correct, cultural boycott it made the whole world
realise that not only did the South Africans suffer from the lack of access to the world -
we the rest of the world had been neglected a great contemporary and traditional culture .
And most of us had voluntarily done so . Out of solidarity
or of selfcensorship.The angles are many.
But our first and foremost aim is to focus on the
repression of musicians that are denied their cultural rights. Musicians and composers
that produce music for joy . Music that expresses common peoples strive for beauty .
Music that adds another dimension to people´s life and describes life in a way that
neither books nor paintings can do.
Musicians have stood up for Ethiopia , ANC , Princess Di ,
Farmers and AIDS.
It is about time that others also stand up for musicians
and that well established artists in this relatively secure part of the world help their
colleagues in less protected societies
so that even they can make use of the universally declared
cultural rights that they are deprived of today.
by Ole Reitov
The text was originally a speach at the
Unesco Conference "The Power of Culture" in Stockholm March 1998.
The conference was arranged by the World Association of Newspapers and Index on Censorship.
Censuren lever og har det godt - i
Forbudt i radio
Debat om musikcensur
Søndag Aften 0598
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