Saturday, November 8, 2008

Freemuse's Ole Reitov: The day the music lived!

Kalmar - Sweden. Ole Reitov is nothing short of a force of nature. A quiet force, but an efficient one at that. His towering presence – which has nothing to do with his comfortable height – is imposing by its sheer calmness. The zen and simple attitude he confronts with makes one, not only listen, but want to listen. His humor is sarcastic and biting, but too good-natured to offend. Reitov was the co-editor of 'Smashed Hits – the Book of Banned Music'. He took the initiative to the 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship, and Has lectured worldwide on music censorship, cultural policies and cultural diversity. Reitov has worked as media and music consultant in Mali, India, Gabon, Botswana and Bhutan and as journalist in more than 40 countries for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Reitov was also the former chairman of the EBU World Music Workshop as well as having been the advisor to the Danish Center for Culture and Development. He is now a programme officer at Freemuse. Freemuse – The World Forum On Music And Censorpship is an independent international organisation which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. 

Freemuse is a membership organisation with its secretariat based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Freemuse receives core funding from SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

 Freemuse was born of the 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship held in Copenhagen in November 1998. 
The conference joined together professionals from diverse fields and countries – musicians, journalists, researchers, record industry professionals and human rights activists – to examine, discuss and document a wide variety of abuses from the apparently benign to the overtly extreme. 

The alarmingly widespread nature of censorship in music prompted the conference attendees to initiate the creation of a new organisation, Freemuse. Its guidelines are the principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as they apply specifically to musicians and composers. The Freemuse objectives are to:
Document violations and discuss their effects on music life; Inform media, human rights organisations and the public; Support musicians in need and observe at their trials; Develop a global network in support of threatened musicians and composers. Reitov starts by pointing out the negatives as some sort of ”preemptive strike” – pardon the pun – ”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 outsiders.” Having said that and disarmed the oppnents he continues, ”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?” What is music censorship? Reitov answers that ”there are different kinds of music censorship, it can be imposed by the state or the the powers that be, and in that case it has to do with doing it prior to the publication or perhromance. It is sad to say, but at least this method does not incur any financial burdens on the musicians which makes it relatively safer that the supression of expression which happens when the work is already published or banning a performance at the time when all the production investments have been done.” Het hen goes on describing other forms; ”Another form is when the censorship is done by the artist himself such as in the case of David Byrne and Brian Eno who banned the recitation of Koranic verses from the CD version of their masterpiece ”My life in the bush of ghosts” – even for the newly remastered version to commemorate its 25th anniversary, the track is still nowhere to be found. Byrne had received a letter from the Muslmi Council of London whereby they expressed the view that the recitation was offending to their sensitivites. Naturally, if Byrne and Eno did it out of personal belief many other people do it from external pressure and even fear of their lives.” Other reasons according to Reitov have to do with the corporate world. ”With the increased corporate aspect of today’s world, with CDs holding stickers such as ”paental advisory, explicit lyrics” major selling places like Wal Mart do not lett hese CDs in their premises, what is so ironic is that one can get guns freely at Wal Mart but not these recorndings. Also, record companies force artists to record two virsions of their output, one which would be more palatable by the softcore public and one for the hardcore audiences and fans.” According to Damon Albarn from 90s pop sensation group Blur, the big business of the record industry exerts a covert censorship, which makes it incredibly difficult for musicians across the world to express themselves freely”. ”The omission of airplay is also a major factor, such as the case of the ban on the Dixie Chicks music due to what singer Nathalie Maines said in 2003 in a London concert. Maines has articulated the thought: "Just so you know, we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." The results including also public bonfires of the Dixie Chicks CDs reminiscent of the Taliban music burning of records.” The reasons behind censoring music, according to Reitov, ”could be due to the remote control effect, or the blatant control in itself… Maverick singer Johnny Clegg from South Africa whose hits include ”Scaterlings of Africa” defied the apartheid regime, and said that for him ”censorship is based on fear.” Sometimes it takes the form of linguistics and national chauvinism, or musical and cultural hierarchy, or gender issues.” He reiterates about the South African case and asks ”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.” Butt then in a glimmer of hope he reveals, ”what we do know, however, is that when Paul Simon had the guts to break the politically correct, cultural boycott in his ”Graceland” album for a start, 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.” Censorship, although cruel is most of the time however smart and pragmatic even though it originates from the dark corners. Reitov asserts, ”but the rules of these censorship are often elaborate and pragmatic. Take the case of nazism. Goebbels used the Reichmusikkamer to label anything he did not like as Entratete Music or degenerate. This affected the Jewish composers and musicians, the modernists such as Hindemith, Schonberg, Eisler, Stravinsky and Weil. The Roma or gypsies were also affected. The immediate effects were of exile, prison, unemployment and homogeity of the output and the culture. ” Reitov however, continues on the downhill point that ”it is easy to justify things rationally in such regimes, the Nazis said that the Jewish and the Roma are undersirable, that jazz ha dimmoral and racial elements which were foreign the Aryan race. That the modernists played atonal music against the blood and soul of the German people. Communism or social realism through the key figures of Stalin and Andrei Zhdanov gave also the same ”rational” justifications describing certain music as antidemocratic, perverted, as being alien to the Soviet people, and that it was atonal and even neurotic. The princpal victims were Shostkovitch, Prokoviev and Khatchadurian.” To justify the deeds, the powers use classic arguments. ”Some of the arguments used to censor music is that it is a useless activity, that it is ”haram”, that it is a tool of the devil, and that it is seductive. This applies to certain classical figures opposing music such as Islamic extremists, or even early Swedish missionaries, or other classical figures such as the Taliban or even the early Khomeini. Problem is, even when Khomeini reversed his ban on music, some of the clerics still thought it ought to be banned. As a matter of fact, even Plato, in accordance with his Good City which he described in his Republic, wanted ”bad music” banned.” According to Stephen Moss from The Guardian, ”In music, as in most things, it is safer to follow John Stuart Mill's messy liberalism than Plato's dangerous perfectionism: we may dislike Britney's burblings but we have to uphold her right to hit us one more time.” With Ole Reitov, one can be sure that music will keep on living, and that the muse will forever be free to inspire – and the musicians free to express.
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