Governments have been censoring music for centuries. In fact, the practice reaches back to ancient Greece when Plato wrote : “Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.” Clearly, the influential philosopher demanded a strong control over an art which stirs emotions and sways populations.
Since 1998, the Copenhagen-based NGO, Freemuse, has been monitoring and denouncing censorship abuses of an artform that the United Nations deems is a basic human right. It has revealed how Afghanistan under the Taliban enforced a blanket ban on instrumental music, while the United States under George Bush pressured media outlets into not playing dozens of songs after 9/11.
These compositions reflect the remarkable diversity of banned songs in the past 50 years, as well as the range of governments abusing their authority to silence musicians. Their motivation is usually political. But an important number have bowed to religious, social and societal pressure to silence these artists. Beware: this list is just the tip of an ever-growing iceberg. For more information and examples, go to freemuse.org. This playlist was compiled by journalist and Freemuse vice-chair Daniel Brown for Songlines. The photo of Bachar Mar-Khalife was taken by Lee Jeffries.