In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharatanāṭyam. This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality.
The earlier dance repertoire focused on amorous relationships between a nayaki (female devotee) and nayaka (male deity), the latter often identified as the earthy, sensual, and sometimes philandering Krishna or Murugan. For the newer repertoire, a more suitable nayaka was Shiva as Naṭarāja—resonant with spiritual detatchment and masculine power, an ideal model for both revivers of dance and Indian nationalist politicians.
The Western-educated philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.
Each man was curious about the other’s culture, but the situation was unbalanced. The visitor was in a position to gain a fairly objective view of the world of his host, although the situation was far too restrictive to allow in-depth research.
On the other hand, while the shōgun could order his guests to perform for his entertainment—to dance, sing, and so on—he did not know whether or not the information that he gained thereby was reliable. For example, when Kaempfer complied with the order to sing a song and was subsequently asked for a translation of the text, he responded that it expressed his deep wish for the health and prosperity of the shōgun and his family.
This according to “Exoticism and multi-emics: Reflections upon an earliest record of culture contact between Japan and Europe” by Osamu Yamaguchi, an essay included in Music cultures in interaction: Cases between Asia and Europe (Tōkyō: Academia Music, 1994, pp. 243–248; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-35931).
Above, a version of the map that Kaempfer brought back from Japan in 1692 (click to enlarge); below, the opening movement of Manzai raku (Ten thousand years of music), an example of the bugaku genre that was flourishing in Japanese courts at the time.
In Bali, the concept of désa kala patra (place-time-context) anchors the levels of meaning enacted in performances of tembang (vocal music), informs the construction of traditional dance and theater events, and underlies pedagogical methods.
The preservation of this ideological core is fundamental to Balinese identity as modern elements, such as electronic sound technology, are woven into the cultural fabric. The concept of taksu (spiritual energy) illuminates the religious underpinnings of Balinese artistic values.
This according to Voices in Bali: Energies and perceptions in vocal music and dance theater by Edward Herbst (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1997).
“Rukmini Devi and I noticed a girl watching, day after day, from the window, the dance classes we were teaching in the Mirror Cottage in the Theosophical Society where Kalakshetra was then situated. The child did this invariably on her way back home from The Besant Theosophical High School.”
“Rukmini Devi—Athai—called the child inside and asked her: ‘Would you like to dance?’ The child’s joy knew no bounds and she readily tried to repeat the dance she had been viewing. Athai immediately arranged for her, Krishnaveni, to join Kalakshetra as a part-time student.”
Lakshmanan went on to become “a danseuse of exceptional talent, versatility, and genius. Indeed, a very rare combination of stage presence and presentation! Devoted and totally dedicated to her career, which balances both teaching and performing. Krishnaveni is God’s beautiful gift to the magic world of dance.”
Quoted from “Krishnaveni of Kalakshetra” (Sruti 241 [October 2004] 19–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-34001.)
Today would have been Lakshmanan’s 80th birthday! Below, rare footage of her in performance.
The story of jazz in China spans a century, encompassing the introduction of jazz in the early 1920s, its interruption under Mao in 1949, and its rejuvenation in the early 1980s with China’s opening to the world under Deng Xiaoping.
As a highly democratic form of music characterized by improvisation and individual freedom of expression, in the 1920s jazz embodied the antithesis of thousands of years of Chinese cultural history. A hundred years later, Chinese jazz is engaged in a balancing act between consumerism, political ideology, and censorship.
This according to Jazz in China: From dance hall music to individual freedom of expression by Eugene Marlow (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-7991).
Above and below, Li Gaoyang, one of the musicians discussed in the book.
A longstanding tradition among Karṇāṭak composers involves weaving hidden meanings into their song texts; generally known as mudrās, such terms may serve to identify the composer through a pseudonym, or they may indicate aspects of the music itself.
The highly revered composer Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar typically included his signature pseudonym Guruguha somewhere in his song texts. He also often worked in the name of the rāga in which the composition is set, sometimes ingeniously encasing the reference in two adjacent words that, taken together, reveal the rāga mudrā.
This according to Rāga mudrās in Dīkshitar kritis by K. Omanakutty (Thiruvananthapuram: University of Kerala, 2012; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-50861).
Above, a depiction of Dīkṣitar on a stamp issued by India Post; below, Gayathri Girish sings his Sārasa daḷa nayana, one of the works discussed in the book.
Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.
The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.
This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-6751). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.
Above, the Beethoven monument in Qingdao. Below, Beethoven’s ninth symphony in Chinese.
Reamker (The glory of Rama) is the Khmer version of the epic known as Rāmāyaṇa in India. While it generally hews close to the original tale, Reamker includes episodes not found in the archetypal Sanskrit version; one of these involves the mermaid princess Suvannamaccha.
In this episode, the monkey warrior Hanuman, with his band of Varanas, is trying to build a causeway to the island of Lanka, where Rama’s wife Sita is being held against her will. He discovers that his work is being sabotaged by a group of mischievous mermaids, and he confronts their leader, Suvannamaccha. At first she is defiant; but then she falls in love with him, apologizes, helps him to rebuild the causeway, and eventually gives birth to their son Macchanu.
This according to “Reamker: The Ramayana from Cambodia” by Bharathi Ramasubban (Sruti 357 [June 2014] 48–51; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-4405).
Since taking office in May 2016, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has actively pursued his “war on drugs”. Although the war is framed as benefitting the common good, its objectives extend Duterte’s authoritarian rule over the country. The war on illegal drugs and drug traffickers has been a major issue in the Philippines in recent years, and Duterte’s supporters argue that it has made the Philippines safer by rooting out criminal behavior. Others attest that the name itself is a misnomer, instead calling it a war on the poor since it has largely been the urban poor who have been the targets of extrajudicial killings carried out by the police.
Philippine National Police (PNP) statistics put the total number of people killed in the war on drugs at around 8,000 since July 2016. Others suggest that the actual number is closer to 30,000 killed, and the killings have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic due to unnecessary arrests made under lockdown. Public figures who have openly criticized Duterte and the drug war have been punished and silenced. For instance, it is suspected that a court convicted Maria Ressa, head of the Philippine news website Rappler and 2021 Nobel prize laureate, in June 2020 on politically motivated charges of cyber libel due to Rappler’s consistent coverage of the drug war. It is also strongly suspected that the forced closure of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest television network, in 2020, was due to their coverage of the drug war.
Besides these well-publicized cases, the effects of the drug war have been primarily felt by low-income families who, in many cases, have become poorer due to the loss of a father or brother. In addition to experiencing the psychological distress of losing a loved one, families have had to leave their homes and take children out of school. Further stress has been placed on the remaining parent and on family members who, in many cases, have had to take on additional jobs to support the family. The aftershocks of the killings resonate for years to come.
Musicians and artists have been at the forefront of resistance to Duterte’s drug war. Two Manila rappers, BLKD, whose stylized name derives from the Tagalog word balakid (obstacle, barrier), and Calix have become quite popular in the underground Philippine hip-hop scene through Manila’s FlipTop Battle League, a showcase for some of the country’s best local hip-hop talent. BLKD and Calix have performed at several benefit concerts and have worked together as the group Kolateral to release the concept album, Kolateral (Collateral) in 2019 and an EP, Kolateral: Buelo (Collateral: Buzz) in 2018, which explore the machinery and bureaucracy behind Duterte’s war on drugs. Themes for their music draw directly from government memoranda, executive orders, and “mission orders” to expose the government organizations who have carried out Duterte’s decrees.
“Makinarya” (Machinery) begins with a sound clip from a Duterte speech encouraging police to kill suspected drug dealers openly in the streets. The song’s initial beat is inspired by the sound of police knocking on doors as they search neighborhoods for suspected drug users. The lyrics to “Makinarya” explore how Duterte’s words are weaponized, literally transforming into bullets. The lyrics insist that although Duterte may not be the one personally pulling the trigger, he is responsible for the thousands killed. The song also explores the perspective of government employees who translate the Duterte regime’s ideas about the drug war into actual state policy. They describe how these orders travel through the government bureaucracy, culminating in orders given to police, local government officials, and barangay (neighborhood) leaders to eliminate suspected drug users and sellers.
Searching through the literature related to music and protest in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, we find articles, books, and edited volumes focusing on protest songs across the globe, including some on the Philippines and hip-hop respectively. The following annotated bibliography highlights a few of these works.
Rank-and-file supporters of the Bangsamoro rebellion (the fight for a breakaway state in the Philippines, 1972–77, among indigenous Muslims) articulated their personal sentiments about the war in a genre called rebel songs. The lyrics reveal that fighters’ personal aspirations often diverged from the official aims of separatist leaders. An analysis examines how rebel songs transitioned into Moro songs (a song repertoire of the Moro people) in the post–martial-law era, and why they came to more narrowly reflect the movement’s official goals of Moro unity and Islamic renewal.
La Rosa, Alma de and Anna Leah de Leon. “Protest music: Before, during and after EDSA”, 1789-1989: Musique, histoire, démocratie, ed. by Antoine Hennion. Recherche, musique et danse 6–8 (Paris: Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1992) 803–806. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1992-7501]
Examines songs before, during, and after the successful revolt against Ferdinand Marcos (1986); the revolutionary songs were not Philippine in origin but came from the U.S.
Maxino-Baseleres, Rosario and Zeny Sarabia-Panol. “Bayan ko and other songs: The soundtrack of Philippine political activism”, Music as a platform for political communication, ed. by Uche Onyebadi. Advances in media, entertainment, and the arts (Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2017) 1–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-53133]
Using historical and content analysis, this essay examines the role of music in the political awakening of Filipinos through the years. The researchers are mainly interested in popular music, and anchor the study on concepts of popular culture and the process of meaning-making. This study therefore recognizes the intersection of music as a universal element of popular culture and politics. It argues that politicized music in the Philippines is a contested site where meanings are negotiated and where the music of colonizers or a despotic ruler collides with songs of protest or resistance. While samples of the songs that defined various historical periods are analyzed, focus is on the anthems of the student protest movement of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s that led to the People Power Revolution. Attention is given to the message and why the lyrics resonated and galvanized Filipinos to action.
Bodden, Michael. “Rap in Indonesian youth music of the 1990s: Globalization, outlaw genres, and social protest”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 36/2 (summer–fall 2005) 1–26. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-7366]
In 1995 B.J. Habibie, the Indonesian Minister of Research and Technology, sharply criticized the rising popularity of rap, punk, and hard rock among Indonesian youth. He considered rap a vulgar and inappropriate North American influence on Indonesian culture. Rap artists asserted that their use of rap in Indonesia as a form of protest against oppressive conditions in an authoritarian state distinguishes it from North American rap. A reprint is cited as RILM 2012-15686.
Saavedra Casco, José Arturo. “The language of the young people: Rap, urban culture and protest in Tanzania”, Music and protest, ed. by Ian Peddie. The library of essays on music, politics and society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012) 273–292. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-15681]
Briefly recounts a history of rap in Tanzania, the social and political contents of Tanzanian hip-hop songs, the characteristics of the messages, and their impact on Tanzanian youth. It also describes local elements, besides the use of Swahili language, contained in Tanzanian rap that were inherited from pre-colonial Swahili poetry. Finally, it gives several examples of the social and protest contents in songs of remarkable Tanzanian hip-hop artists, such as Mr. II, Professor Jay, and Wagosi wa Kaya.
Norton, Barley. “Vietnamese popular song in 1968: War, protest and sentimentalism”, Music and protest in 1968, ed. by Beate Kutschke and Barley Norton. Music since 1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 97–118. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-4247]
Examines how the experience of war influenced musical expression and how musical protest was configured in relation to the fractious politics of war. Although much musical activity in both Vietnams around 1968 was connected in some way to the conflict, this essay is restricted to an examination of Vietnamese popular song, known as ca khúc. Ca khúc was one of the most influential mediums for protest and for the expression of sentiments about war.
Illiano, Roberto, ed. Protest music in the twentieth century. Music, criticism & politics 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-15649]
This collection is about protest music and dissident composers and musicians during the twentieth century, with a particular focus on the forms with which dissent may be expressed in music and the ways in which composers and performers have adopted stances on political and social dissent. In 21 articles, scholars of different nationalities explore the way protest music is articulated in artistic-cultural discourse and political matters, as well as the role it played in situations of mutual benefit. Moreover, the phenomenon of dissent is investigated in the context of musical historiography and criticism, approaching the topic from historical, sociological, and philosophical points.
Onyebadi, Uche, ed. Music as a platform for political communication. Advances in media, entertainment, and the arts (Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-53131]
A comprehensive reference source for the latest scholarly perspectives on delivering political messages to society through musical platforms and venues. Innovative research topics on an international scale, such as election campaigns, social justice, and protests, are highlighted.
Ellison, Mary. Lyrical protest: Black music’s struggle against discrimination. Media and society(London: Oxford University Press, 1989). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1989-5948]
The coupling of Black music and protest happened naturally. Since the first songs by blacks were heard in Africa, black music has expressed resistance to oppression. Black music reflects life in a very balanced way. Music explores the human choices for black people through the words of the songs, supported by the music of the songs.
Lewis, George H. “Storm blowing from paradise: Social protest and oppositional ideology in Hawaiian popular music”, Popular music 10/1 (January 1991) 53–68. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1991-10789]
Hawaiian protest music originated as a reaction to the negatively perceived cultural and ecological impact of the commercialization of Hawaiian culture and music beginning in the early 20th c. The main view was that commercialized music trivialized the Hawaiian people and supported the destruction of their land and past. Lyrics sung in Hawaiian and expressing hostility towards tourists and criticism of their impact on Hawaii became characteristic of Hawaiian Renaissance music.
Samson, Valerie Brooks. “Music as protest strategy: The example of Tiananmen Square, 1989”, Pacific review of ethnomusicology 6 (1991) 35–64. http://ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/prevol6.pdf. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1991-11064]
A first-hand account of the role of singing, chanting, recorded music in uniting the populace during the struggle for control of the square from April to June 1989, from the early demonstrations through the imposition of martial law to the military invasion; the singing of the Internationale assumed particular significance.
Sharp, Chesla. “Coal-mining songs as forms of environmental protest”, Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association 4 (1992) 50–58. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1995-9321]
Many of the Appalachian miners’ protest songs were written during the Harlan County coal strikes of the early 1930s. Over time the nature of these songs changed: Early songs expressed cries of desperation, or the awareness of a problem without commitment to action; later songs urged audiences to connect with a movement or ideology.
Treece, David. “Guns and roses: Bossa nova and Brazil’s music of popular protest, 1958–68”, Popular music 16/1 (January 1997) 1–29. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1997-459]
Traces developments in Brazilian popular music between 1958 and 1968, with close attention to the interaction of politics, economics, and culture. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell, Edu Lobo, Geraldo Vandré, and many other figures are discussed, with analysis of musical examples.
Grossman, Alan and Áine O’Brien. “Kurdish lyrical protest: The terrain of acoustic migration”, Journal of ethnic & migration studies 32/2 (March 2006) 271–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691830500487365. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-50515]
Foregrounds acoustic memory and migration in the production of a performative ethnographic documentary about the exiled Kurdish singer and composer Muhamed Abbas Bahram, one of many accomplished Kurdish musicians residing in Western Europe. The title of the documentary, Silent song, alludes to a poem written in 1976 by a Kurdish radio and television broadcaster commemorating the musician’s refusal to perform in a concert at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad before an audience of Ba’ath party members.
Makina, Blandina. “Re-thinking white narratives: Popular songs and protest discourse in post-colonial Zimbabwe”, Muziki: Journal of music research in Africa 6/2 (November 2009) 221–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/18125980903250772. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-11523]
The economic and political meltdown in Zimbabwe over the past decade have given rise to protest songs as artists became the mouthpiece of a population that is enduring economic hardships. One such artist is Samm Monro, popularly known as Comrade Fatso. He is one of the emerging young musicians who, through his protest music, has become an inspiration to ordinary Zimbabweans from all walks of life because his songs are insightful commentaries on what is happening in their country. The protest discourse that his wide audience finds appealing is discussed, focusing on the lyrics from excerpts of four songs on his album Chabvondoka.
Peddie, Ian, ed. Music and protest. The library of essays on music, politics and society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-7257]
Brings together some of the best writing on music and protest from the last thirty years. Encompassing a variety of genres, from classical to many different kinds of popular music, the collection selects articles on a broad range of topics–including revolutions and uprisings, environmentalism, class, identity, struggles for self-determination as well as rights and the historical legacy of protest music–and from at least 15 different countries, confirming the contention that music is one of the primary languages of protest.
Friedman, Jonathan C., ed. The Routledge history of social protest in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-4309]
This collection of essays analyzes the trends, musical formats, and rhetorical devices used in popular music to illuminate the human condition through a history of social protest music.
Mostafa, Dalia Said and Anastasia Valassopoulos. “Popular protest music and the 2011 Egyptian revolution”, Popular music and society 37/5 (December 2014) 638–659. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2014.910905. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-9178]
Music and performance have been at the heart of the ongoing Egyptian revolution since its outbreak on 25 January 2011. Popular protest music in particular has helped to shape and articulate emerging desires and aspirations, as well as participating in criticisms and grievances at the site of political change. We aim to demonstrate, through the analysis of popular protest songs, how the 2011 Egyptian revolution has been imagined, articulated, and defined in popular culture. We trace the links between older revolutionary songs and how they have impacted new ones, while engaging with a number of theoretical issues on the role of popular music during periods of revolutionary struggles, to contextualize the domain of protest songs representing the Egyptian revolution.
Ibarraran, Amaia. “African-American and Mexican-American protest songs in the 20th century: Some examples”, Journal of popular music studies 29/2 (June 2017) 17p. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpms.12211. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-23982]
The construction of the United States as a nation has always been linked to agriculture and the possession and exploitation of the land. The African slaves’ work during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Southern territories and the efforts of Mexican braceros in the Southwest after the annexation of the Northern territories of Mexico are essential to understanding the history of U.S. agriculture. The exploitation of these workers has always been accounted for and justified in historical, literary, and journalistic texts. This essay begins with the premise that popular songs produced by African Americans and Mexicans offer an important corrective to biased ofﬁcial texts, providing key historical and sociocultural information without the distortions arising from the need to justify the subjugation of a people in the name of economy and patriotism. The article aims to understand the relevance of popular song for the denunciation of the difficult working conditions in agricultural ﬁelds, as they were experienced from the colonial era through the 20th century.
Budji Kefen, Ivoline. “Utilizing sounds of mourning as protest and activism: The 2019 northwestern women’s lamentation march within the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon”, Resonance: The journal of sound and culture 1/4 (winter 2020) 443–461. https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.4.443. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54124]
Examines how women of the northwestern Grassfields of Cameroon transpose and deploy lamentation sounds as a means of nonviolently resisting, challenging, counteracting, and controlling the audio-sphere hitherto militarized through the weaponization of the sounds of war. The main argument is that contrary to the popular narrative of African women as passive recipients of sociocultural norms and traditional political powers that propagate female marginalization and oppression, African women can and do consciously draw from these same norms to achieve their sociopolitical aims.
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Music has always been a controversial topic in Islam. Although the Islamic world has birthed rich and brilliant musical cultures, conservative Muslims nevertheless believe that music (especially instrumental music) tends to lead people astray by indulging in sensual pleasures.
The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist militant group that originated in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, emerged in 1994. After taking power in 1996, the Taliban essentially banned music altogether in Afghanistan, until 2001 when the Taliban regime was overthrown in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Yet with the recent Taliban recapture of most parts of Afghanistan, there are renewed concerns about the situation there. Will music be banned again?
Looking through the literature related to the Taliban and music, we can find that scholars, journalists, and directors have left us valuable information through their articles and films documenting musical life in Afghanistan during and after the Taliban rule. In chronological order of publication, we can outline a brief history of music in Afghanistan in the last two or three decades through these documents.
Yusufzai, Rahimullah. “All quiet in Kabul”, Index on censorship: The global magazine for free expression 27/6:185 (November–December 1998) 135–138. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1998-26068]
Abstract: With the takeover of the Taliban regime in 1996 the cultural policies of Afghanistan changed dramatically, as music and any form of electronic entertainment were forbidden. The consequences of this prohibition are described and an excerpt of the Taliban’s official statement is provided.
Majrooh, Naim. “The Talibans have banned all music in Afghanistan”, 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship, Copenhagen, 20–22 November 1998, ed. by Marie Korpe (Freemuse: København, 2001) 27–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-20196]
Abstract: Afghanistan’s centuries-old art and folk traditions began to decline after the communist coup of 1979 and the repression that followed, but they suffered a far greater blow with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s. In 1992 women and music were banned from Kabul radio and television, and in 1995 all musical life was proscribed. While musical life continues in remote villages, in the cities even weddings and funerals are held without music. A black market in smuggled cassettes, enjoyed discreetly in private homes, shares many similarities with the drug trade in the West.
Baily, John. “Can you stop the birds singing?”: The censorship of music in Afghanistan. Freemuse report (Freemuse: København, 2001). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-20183]
Abstract: The people of Afghanistan under Taliban rule are subjected to an extreme form of music censorship. The only musical activity permitted is the singing of certain religious songs and Taliban chants.
The report traces the gradual imposition of music censorship since 1978, when the communist government of Nur Ahmad Taraki came to power in a violent coup d’etat. During 14 years of communist rule, music in Afghanistan was heavily controlled by the Ministry for Information and Culture, while in the refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran all music was prohibited in order to maintain a continual state of mourning. The roots of the Taliban ban on music lie in the way these camps were run.
In the Rabbani period (1992–1996) music was heavily censored. In the provincial city of Herat, the newly formed Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (religious police) enforced a virtual ban on live public performance, but private music making was permitted. There was a little music on radio and television, and audiocassettes of music were freely available. In Kabul conditions were somewhat more relaxed until Hekmatyar became prime minister; cinemas were then closed and music was banned from radio and television.
When the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996 a number of edicts were published against music. All musical instruments were banned, and when discovered by agents of the Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice were destroyed, sometimes being burnt in public along with confiscated audio and video cassettes, TVs, and VCRs. The only forms of musical expression permitted today are the singing of certain kinds of religious poetry, and so-called Taliban chants, which are panegyrics to Taliban principles and commemorations of those who have died on the field of battle for the Taliban cause.
The effects of censorship of music in Afghanistan are deep and wide-ranging for the Afghan people, both inside and outside the country. The lives of professional musicians have been completely disrupted, and most have had to go into exile for their economic survival. The rich Afghan musical heritage is under severe threat. The report concludes with a number of recommendations intended to counteract the effects of censorship.
Broughton, Simon. Breaking the silence: Music in Afghanistan. VHS (BBC Education & Training, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2002-15784]
Abstract: The Taliban’s prohibition of music was the most severe in history. Apart from unaccompanied chants, all music was banned and instruments were broken and burnt. This film documents the remarkable moment when the country was reconnected with its musical culture. Shot in Kabul and Peshawar (Pakistan) in January 2002, two months after the fall of the Taliban, this film is an introduction to the music of Afghanistan and the way it’s been caught in the crossfire of conflicting regimes over the past 25 years. Most poignantly, it shows the musicians in Kabul who are now rebuilding Afghanistan’s devasted musical life. Directed by Simon Broughton, it won the documentary prize at the Golden Prague Festival in 2002.
Includes: Sarinda-player Mashinai, forced to work as a butcher under the Taliban; Singer Aziz Ghaznawi, who had no option but to sing for them; Female singer Naghma, whose tapes flooded the Kabul bazaar as the Taliban fled; Rare footage of Sufi gatherings where Islam and music fervently meet; Ensemble Kaboul, the best of the traditional Afghan groups in exile, who formed when the very survival of Afghan music seemed under threat.
Seybold, Dietrich. “Kulturkampf und Musikzensur: Über die Hintergründe des Musikverbots der Taliban”, Musik & Ästhetik 9/33 (Januar 2005) 104–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-256]
Abstract: Historically examined, musical censorship is an almost commonplace phenomenon. Less common is a ban as radical as that imposed in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 1996. The reception of the ban in the Western public sphere is analyzed, unifying the insights offered by various disciplines. Embedding this particular phenomenon in a historical examination of the theme of extreme, religiously based opposition to music, patterns of such opposition are revealed; these are also found in the occidental tradition, albeit focusing on a different problem complex: the stance of Islam, including its marginal, sect-like manifestations, in relation to music.
Alagha, Joseph. “Jihad through ‘music’”: The Taliban and Hizbullah”, Performing Islam 1/2 (2012) 263–289. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-13894]
Abstract: Discusses the cultural politics of the Taliban and Hezbollah. While Hezbollah embraces “resistance art” and encourages purposeful music and artistic expressions as pious entertainment, the Taliban censor music and restrict artistic activities, considering them innovations (bida’j) that distract from the practice of “authentic Islam” and “true worship”. To discuss the interplay between the “power of music” and “music in power”, this article uses samples of anashid (alternate spelling anachid or anasheed, meaning songs, hymns, and anthems) of the Taliban and Hezbollah, both of which practice jihad through music.
Most notably, both employ the same Qur’anic concept of “action of excellence under God’s guidance”, either to legitimize and justify certain artistic expressions and practices (Hezbollah) or to ban and prohibit them altogether (the Taliban). Hezbollah’s contextual argument leads to a music theory, whilst the Taliban’s prohibition in the absolute curtails cultural politics all together.
Cara, Gibney. “Dr. Ahmad Sarmast”, fRoots 39/10-12:418-420 (spring 2018) 31. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-1109]
Abstract: A profile and interview. Ahmad Sarmast is founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, which asserts in its mission statement: “We focus especially on supporting the most disadvantaged children in Afghanistan—orphans, street-working vendors and girls”. It’s been long, hard, dangerous work developing a music institute in Kabul focused on these marginalized populations, and the struggle isn’t over.
Ahmad Sarmast left Afghanistan in the 1990s, seeking asylum in Australia away from the relentless Afghan civil war. During his years away from home he pursued a music education that would develop skills and knowledge essential for the years ahead, ultimately becoming the first Afghan national to obtain a PhD in music. He returned to Afghanistan in 2008 after the defeat of the Taliban, a land where music was banned for many years.
ANIM opened its doors in 2010, and now offers a core academic syllabus including math, languages, and social sciences. It offers studies in Afghan music, Western music, and various ensembles including Zohra—”the first-ever all-female ensemble in the history of Afghanistan”.
The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →