By Aaron Zaretsky
Music is a form of artistic expression. Unfortunately, music cannot be fully expressed and artists cannot fully express themselves as music censorship varies country by country. Below are examples of artists who altered their performance plans due to certain country’s controversial issues that focus on human rights.
In Saudi Arabia there is a gender segregation where women and minorities are treated as second-class citizens. Recently Nicki Minaj, an advocate for women’s rights and minorities, was scheduled to headline a concert in Saudi Arabia on July 18. She quickly received a letter from the Human Rights Foundation, convincing her to cancel her performance using disturbing examples of gender segregation in the country. For example, there is a male guardianship law where women require permission from a man to do almost everything, such as registering for school to checking into a hospital.
Minaj also supports the LGBTQ+ community. In Saudi Arabia, the government executes homosexuals for committing the “crime” of being who they are. After reading the letter, Minaj promptly cancelled her performance. Minaj would have loved to showcase her talent to a new audience but women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ people are poorly treated in Saudi Arabia. Sadly, this is not the only country to do so.
In Malaysia, local law prohibits radio stations from playing songs that are “offensive to public feeling” or “violate good taste and decency.” For example, Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” was censored because it references LGBTQ+ topics. Homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia.
Concerts in Malaysia are also censored to comply with the country’s moral values. For example, Canadian, Avril Lavigne, was instructed to avoid “negative elements” such as revealing clothing, jumping, shouting, hugging and kissing onstage in a 2008 concert in Kuala. Female performers in Malaysia are forbidden from displaying those “negative elements” along with being covered from chest to knees, and the concert cannot show any drug-related images. For Lavigne, her concert got cancelled because the Arts, Culture and Heritage Ministry said it is unsuitable for Malaysian culture, would promote the wrong values, and she is “too sexy”.
Iran is another country that also has strict regulations regarding public concerts, where any performance needs to be approved by the Ministry of Culture. Regardless of how small or marginal, the performer(s) must complete a form stating the event location and attendees, and adhere to a set of guidelines. Failure to comply sadly results in what occurred with British singer, Joss Stone.
Stone began a World Tour five years ago in Morocco with a goal to “bring loveliness in a form of music to every country on our planet”. When she was in Iran, she was deported because she claimed that authorities believed that she would play an unsanctioned concert. Also, there are strict regulations on female musicians performing in public, which has been ongoing for decades. Stone was aware of Iran’s restrictions and was not trying to change their politics, but was deported and blacklisted nonetheless.
A big question is why are these laws and regulations in place if it affects a large portion of a country’s population? Human rights lawyer, Leila Alikarami, who represents female musicians in Iran says “it’s not always religion, sometimes it’s tradition”.
“It’s heartbreaking because these people have passion for music; it’s not about making money it’s about performing in public and being heard.”