Not afraid to sing the truth

By Rose Skelton

Posted on April 22, 2011 10:12

A powerful compilation album unites musicians imprisoned or exiled for their music

The incendiary songs from around the world featured on Listen to the Banned are musical dynamite. From the haunting tones of Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat to the soulful melodies of Zimbabwean Chiwoniso Maraire, these are enough to warrant a good listen. But what makes this compilation special is that it features songs from musicians who have confronted political regimes and then suffered censorship, exile, police brutality and imprisonment.

The compilation by Freemuse, an organisation that advocates freedom of expression for musicians, profiles many African artists. Cameroonian singer Lapiro de Mbanga’s song ‘Constitution Constipée’ was used by protesters angered by constitutional changes that would allow the president to stay in power indefinitely. Lapiro was given a prison sentence from which he is yet to be released. “Music is a sort of weapon,” says Lapiro from his jail cell, “and people who are against freedom will be shot down by the lyrics.”?

Tiken Jah Fakoly’s rabble-raising tune ‘Quitte le Pouvoir’ rails against African leaders who overstay their time in power. An Ivorian, Fakoly lives in exile in Mali after he received threats and was the subject of censorship for his overtly critical music. Other featured African artists include Aziza Brahim, who was born in a refugee camp in Algeria to which her mother had fled from the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Through her music she highlights issues of exile and freedom. In Morocco her music is banned because of her support for the Saharawi cause.

While the injustices the artists sing about on the album can shock, the songs are often beautifully melodic, underpinned by passion and a demand for their messages to be heard.

This article was first published in the March 2011 edition of The Africa Report.

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