Music censorship is shaping the way we perceive society and music. Sometimes, certain songs are simply banned from being broadcasted on the radio. In worse cases however, artists have to flee their country, are imprisoned or, worst, are killed.
It has been 15 years since the first World Conference on Music and Censorship was organised in Copenhagen. Since then, FreeMuse has continued to support censored musicians around the world, by raising awareness about them, providing artists with legal aid and defending artistic freedom of expression.
The news of the recently released members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot has been widely covered by international media; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were released two months before they completed their 2 year prison sentence, under an amnesty which the latter dismissed as a propaganda stunt. Three band members were imprisoned after a protest at Moscow's main Cathedral in February 2012. The freed band members continue to criticise Putin's government and plan to become human rights activists for innocent women in Russian prisons.
FreeMuse also campaigned for the release of Tunesian rapper Weld El 15, who was sentenced to a 4 month term on 5 December. Weld El 15 was briefly detained with fellow rapper Klay BBJ after a performance in which they allegedly insulted the police in August 2013. They were sentenced to a 21 month term without a trial. Klay BBJ was sentenced to six months when he handed himself in a few weeks later, but was freed mid October. Similarly, when Weld El 15 handed himself in last month, he was retried on the same day, sentenced for a 4 month prison term, but acquitted and freed on 19 December.
In August 2012, the MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) banned music in Mali. With many musicians gone underground or fled abroad, the rich oral musical heritage – one which includes griots (musicians, poets, storytellers, historians) as an official class - is severely threatened. After a successful Kickstarter fundraiser, the documentary They Will Have To Kill Us Firstin which awareness on the situation in Mali is raised, will be released later this year.
Although the 14th edition of the Festival au Désert will not take place in Timbuktu due to security reasons, music will be performed 'in exile' in Berlin, where the festival will be guesting 8-10 January.
The British world music scene is not free from political issues either: the UK border agency reduces the accessibility to world music in the UK through an increasingly complicated visa application system or refusal of visas. The result? Shows are cancelled and fewer world music artists are booked or plan to tour in Britain, which is what happened to the Sachal Jazz Ensemble with their show at King's Place late 2013.