Not Keane on the Tories? Never mind, turn up the music .

Oh dear. Using some of Keane’s music at the Conservative manifesto launch was maybe not the best move.

Amnesty-supporting drummer Richard Hughes took an immediate swipe with one of his drumsticks – “Told the Tories played Keane at their manifesto launch. Am horrified. To be clear – we were not asked. I will not vote for them.”

Hmmm. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown is supposed to like Lady Gaga and Cheryl Cole. And wasn’t he also going on about the Arctic Monkeys the other year?

But Keane’s protest at music misappropriation is nothing compared to the hardcore business of using music to challenge a military junta. Check out the Independent’s fascinating account of how Burmese exiles in India are smuggling CDs of music with political content back into the country. In fact the music’s targets are apparently not just Burma’s ruling regime but also the National League for Democracy – a nice reminder, if you like, of how music is not a tame political force. (Take note, UK political parties).

Meanwhile, Somalia’s Hizbul-Islam is having absolutely no truck with music. News that they’ve ordered radio stations to stop playing music altogether – including even as jingles – has clear echoes of Afghanistan’s music-hating Taliban at their height. They reportedly say that radio stations should play birdsong or the sounds of gunfire instead of music as continuity links. As it happens I’ve used both birdsong and gunfire as “links” in my own modest “mixtape” CDs recently – but then again I wasn’t thinking of banning music and making this the law.

One of my own personal music faves – the excellent Country Teasers – have a song called “Please ban music”. As musicians – albeit of the twisted, Mark E Smith variety – I suspect they’re being ironic. I always think it’s a mistake to slap the label “protest music” onto stuff if it has “political” content. Woody Guthrie was – for example – protesting at exploitative working conditions for dustbowl Okies in California during the depression, but his music was richer and more textured than the protest label could ever suggest.

I reckon the deep political significance of music is actually very hard to pin down (were the Sex Pistols a radical revolutionary force – or a slick PR trick based on artificial outrage and reheated garage rock riffs?). Music often “represents” liberation, protest, “youth” or whatever – but has also been co-opted by businesses to sell products since the dawn of recorded music.

But, it’s still a form of expression. Yes, a right! I think politicians would do well to stop meddling in music (was this Pink Floyd’s point!) and should certainly stop pretending to be hip to the latest groove.

They certainly shouldn't seek to control or ban it. My parents have frequently protested at my habit of playing music loudly and I for one support their right to voice this point of view! But when politicians (and parents!) start clamping down on music altogether that’s when freedom of expression and other human rights are clearly at risk. Then we need to start making some noise. 


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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