Musicians Commemorate Music Freedom Day 2016 around the World in Defense of Artistic Freedom


Numerous events were held around the world to defend artistic freedom and commemorate this year’s Music Freedom Day celebrated globally on March 3.

Taking off in Peshawar, one of the most dangerous places in the world for musicians, Music Freedom Day was marked with activities in many countries including concerts, seminars, film screenings, radio programmes and newspaper articles on the subject of freedom of expression for musicians.

Artists performed live on Music Freedom Day in Pakistan, Hungary, Senegal, Sweden, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, among others.

The annual Music Freedom Day was established by Freemuse, an independent international membership organisation advocating and defending artistic freedom, in 2007.  This celebration is a powerful, united manifestation supporting persecuted, prosecuted and imprisoned musicians, many of whose only crime has been speaking up against authorities and insisting on the right to express themselves through their music. It was a day for everyone fighting for human rights such as the right to perform and listen to music and to do so without any fear.

The Music Freedom Day is a day to highlight the role and impact of music in our societies. Worldwide, musicians’ and composers’ rights to freedom of expression are being violated. This year, the Music Freedom Day commemorated victims of the attack at the Bataclan Club in Paris in November 2015.

In Germany, the radio broadcaster Funkhaus Europa paid special attention to Music Freedom Day during its programming throughout the day. They conducted interviews with Aehman Ahmad, the pianist from Jarmouk and Turkish-Kurdish Singer/Songwriter Ferhat Tunc which was at the core of Music Freedom Day in Funkhaus Europa’s show Dschungelfieber. Dedicated to humanity and culture on an extraordinary level of exposure and braveness, Aehman Ahmad and Ferhat Tunc represent the value and potential of music in hard times.

In Hungary at the Bakelit Multi Art Center, Budapest, there was an event in support of Music Freedom Day which included concerts, dance improvs and DJ sets. The programme was free, but everyone who wanted to was able to buy supporters’ tickets at the venue.

In 2015, Freemuse documented 309 cases of censorship and attacks on music and musicians. This is one of the many reasons the right to freedom of musical expression is focused on and championed as attacks on music affect entire societies. Musicians and songwriters are being killed, persecuted and imprisoned and audiences who want to experience live music are also at risk.

On February 29, 2016, three Iranian artists were each sentenced to three years in prison, three years of probation and a hefty fine for the production and promotion of underground music.

As part of the celebration, BBC World Wide North America premiered “They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile” on March 4, 2016. The documentary tells the story of the Malian people’s struggle after Islamic Jihadists who took control of Northern Mali in 2012 and imposed strict Sharia law on the region’s people, banning all forms of music. The documentary features a score composed by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s guitarist Nick Zinner. It opened at Village East Cinema in New York City on March 4, and will open at Los Angeles’ Laemmle Santa Monica Theatre on April 1. It is also available at

Also in the US, KCSC Radio in Chico, California which is a Radio Station in association with students at the California State University celebrated the Day with their radio program Bitter Swedes aired on February 29, 2016.

The Rolling Stones have also announced that they will perform a concert in Havana, Cuba on Friday March 25, 2016.  The free concert will take place at the Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana and will be the first open air concert in the country by a British Rock Band.

In Bologna, Italy, a music, poetry and arts festival was organised by Associazione Culturale il Mostro, Associazione Culturale Bo Ground, Hibrido Radio and Laboratorio Sociale Afrobeat on 5 March 2016.

In Rasa Utrecht, Amsterdam, the public broadcast television programme VPRO/Vrije Geluiden advocated for Music Freedom Day through a special item on the Ensemble Qasyon on Sunday, February 21, 2016. The programme mainly comprised of the two sisters Jawa and Shaza Manla from Syria playing ud, vox and qanun respectively. There was also a World Music Forum event at Netherlands’ monthly World Blend Cafe  which is fully dedicated to the Freemuse goals on March 2, 2016, also at Rasa Utrecht This involved a panel discussion between Mrs Laura Hassler, Director of Musicians Without Borders; Mr Roelof Wittink, Director of the Catching Cultures Orchestra and Emiel Barendsen, Former Director of Tropentheater Amsterdam and President of the Advisory Council of the World Music Mr Stan Rijven, a publicist and presenter hosted the event and the showcase of the Syrian sisters Jawa and Shaza Manla was accompanied by the Ornina Ensemble and performed for a live audience.

The Harstad Conference on Freedom of Artistic Expression and the Harstad Music Freedom Night took place in Harstad, Norway on March 2 and 3, 2016. This event is an annual international gathering and networking event which celebrates freedom of artistic expression, inspires safe residencies and placements of persecuted artists and artists at risk and showcases the work of guest artists. The 2016 event focused on art and activism.

It was presented by SafeMUSE – Safe Music Havens Initiative in close collaboration with the City of Harstad and Culture Troms, Troms County Council with partners and funders such as Freemuse, Deeyah Khan – Fuuse AS, Harstad Concert Hall, Finnish Musicians Union, HIAP – Nordic Fresh Air Network, Perpetuum Mobile, NOPA – Norwegian Society of Composers and Lyricists, Norwegian Society of Composers, MFO – Norwegian Musicians Union, Samspill International Music Network, Nordic Black Theatre, SKAP – Swedish Society of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, City of Malmö – Culture Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Norway, Nordic Culture Point.

In Oslo, Music Freedom Day 2016 was commemorated at Kulturkirken Jakob in conjunction with the Oslo World Music Festival with the three young Iranian musicians Ooldouz Pouri, Mahsa Azimi and Afarin Nazari, who are invisible in their home country, performing on March 3, 2016 at the Kulturkirken Jakob in Oslo with classical Iranian poetry and music.

The event in Peshawar, Pakistan was jointly organized by the Cultural Journalist Forum (CJF) and Takhleeq Development Foundation (TDF) at Spring Village on March 3, 2016 and used to reach other districts as district coordinators had been directed to invite local singers and artists to perform.

In Dakar, Senegal, the Association Africulturban organised an event on March 5, 2016.

In Spain, the Catalan radio journalist Albert Reguant for the ninth year collaborating on Music Freedom Day focused on Music Freedom Day during the radio program Les Rutes del So (The Routes of Sound) which was broadcasted on Tuesday March 1, 2016 at the radio station Radio Ona Sants Montjüic. The special program featured a selection of musical artists who have been censored or have their works censored, who have been exiled, or who are, or have been, victims of the silence of the media in their respective countries.

At the Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden, a guest lecture with Ole Reitov from Freemuse was held on February 16, 2016 for the students at the Linnaeus University discussing what music censorship is, how Freemuse works, about Music Freedom Day and how people within the music business can work with these questions about freedom of expression and music censorship. A concerts was also held at the Mejeriet in Lund, Sweden and Music Freedom Day was highlighted on social media. Also in Lund, Radio AF, one of the biggest student radios in Sweden dedicated time on the radio to Music Freedom Day on March 3, 2016 during a special radio show where censored music and artists was the focus and interviews and discussions about the subject was held.

Picknickfestivalen, a festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, organised a music café on March 3, 2016 and focused on cultural diversity and community to highlight Music Freedom Day and artistic freedom with the bands Skamvrån and Nathan Aeli playing.

In Stockholm, Re:Orient has during the years been organising concerts, performances, lectures and seminars with a focus on contemporary issues and the relations between East and West, tradition and modernity. For Music Freedom Day 2016, Re:Orient screened two movies ‘Beats of The Antonov” and ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ at Klarabiografen in Stockholm on March 3. Also on March 3, 2016, Scandinavian Soul is organized the Scandinavian Soul Music Awards at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. During this event soul music from Scandinavia was celebrated with special attention given to the importance of music, Music Freedom Day and what it stand and the possibility we have to, through music, reflect on the times we live in.

The Sveriges Radio – the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation – and the program P2 Världen, a radio show focusing on music from everywhere around the world which has been a part of Music Freedom Day for many years celebrated it by highlighting Music Freedom Day on and around March 3, 2016 at the radio show.

The Swedish podcast Tondöv addressed censorship and freedom of expression, sexism and racism as a part of Music Freedom Day. They also interviewed Emelie Draper at Hårdrock Mot Rasism and Victor Berg from the band New Keepers of the Water Towers about the subject.

In the lead-up to Music Freedom Day, Freemuse compiled a playlist of banned songs on Spotify available at and presents a music video ‘From Zombies to Revolutionaries’: which is a unique track with a group of today’s most powerful Arab and Iranian revolutionary artists joining together to cover Fela Kuti’s most powerful political song: ‘Zombie’. Several of the artists featured in the video performed live during Music Freedom Day in Harstad, Norway.

A special audio track featuring Mali’s Songhoy Blues with special guests is available to broadcasters worldwide upon request. Recorded by Mark LeVine, the group has made a new version of one of Fela Kuti’s most famous grooves ‘Shakara’, with new lyrics written by the band riffing off the original’s condemnation of the rich Nigerians who showed off their wealth as so many suffered in grinding poverty. Songhoy Blues’ version of ‘Shakara’ takes Fela’s Afrobeat in a new, Malian-driven direction.

Songhoy Blues is also featured in the documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First – Malian Music in Exile’, which will be released in the USA as part of Music Freedom Day.

For more information on the events, visit