Singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson speaks about his personal experiences of music censorship.
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“Kris Kristofferson is not only one of America’s most celebrated and finest singer-songwriters. He is also among the most controversial. He keeps provoking and challenging the political establishment, and he has experienced both media and market censorship, especially for his critical albums and comments on US foreign policies in Central America and in Iraq. If he sees injustice, he has to express it. He will not let fear colour his songs.”
Kris Kristofferson was introduced with these words when he performed at the Music Freedom Day concert in Oslo, Norway, on 3 March 2008.
Kris Kristofferson took several trips to Nicaragua in the 1980’s together with peace activist S. Brian Willson, and he wrote songs about what he experienced there. He also opposed the war in Iraq, calling for an end to it as demonstrated in his song ‘In The News’.
The interview was recorded when Kris Kristofferson visited Oslo, Norway, on 2 March 2008. Courtesy to Nobel Peace Center for kind assistance. Interview and editing by Mik Aidt, Freemuse
Duration: 7:39 minutes
‘If you move the heart, the head will follow’ Transciption of the video interview withKris Kristofferson
“The reason that the music didn’t have an effect on the war in Iraq was not that we stopped making the music, but that they stopped playing it.”
“I think that people behind the censorship… and ultimately it may be people in the government… but I think directly it is people who are effected economically by it – who feel that their product won’t sell. I know that was the first excuse that was given to me. They said I had become ‘unmarketable’ because I was writing songs like ‘They killed him’ which was about Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, and they said that I simply was unmarketable in what they perceived as my market, which was a very concervative country market.”
“The censorship that I have experienced started in the early 1980’s when I was talking about what was happening in El Salvador and in Nicaragua, and continued when I went to Russia. While I was performing in my concerts throughout the States, there was, in the early 1980’s, quite vocal opposition to my point of view. I remember Larry King on CNN had me on a programme once, when I came back from Nicaragua, when I was talking to him about the Sandinista’s commitment to free health, free education, land reform, and it was the land reform which put us in the cross hairs of the American foreign policy, as it did in Cuba. There were… I don’t know if they were organised or who they were organised by, but there were picketers around my shows. I know when I did benefits for Leonard Peltier or Mumia Abu-Jamal, that I got the same thing. Not just from citizens but from the Police. In the case of Leonard Peltier, it was FBI. And I felt it was my duty to keep expressing myself and keep communicating the knowledge that I had. I had the oppotunity to see first hand. Because not everybody could go to Nicaragua themselves and see the damage that was done. Not everybody could go to Moscow, you know. But being fortunate enough to get around the world, I felt that it was my duty to convey what I knew.”
“If you move the heart, I think the head will follow. I think that is why it has been so good. I know that the first time I was in Moscow… We had been brought in to do a concert, and the first concert that I was going to do was cancelled for some technical excuse that they had… that we hadn’t filled out some paper or something, and while we were in the bar, drowning our disappointment, some people told us about Arbat Street which is where they have street singers, and we decided we’d go down there and say, “Hell, we’ll do our show there!”. And the people reacted… It was so heartwarming to me to see… they were just pushing us up against this little stairway into a building, and we were playing these songs… And then the police came, and just went through them like a tank, with clubs and everything, and arrested the guy that took us there. We never saw him again. I found that… I think that music is probably the quickest way of moving the emotions that I know of as an art form, and it puts a responsibility on the people who are doing that to communicate the truth they know as they see it.”
About the song in the video
There is a special story behind the song‘The Circle’which Kris Kristofferson is seen performing in this video clip – together with the Zimbabwean singer Chiwoniso Maraire – as they marked the Music Freedom Day at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, on 3 March 2008:
NRK journalist Sigbjørn Nedland contacted Kris Kristofferson and asked if he would consider writing a song for the 100 years anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. Kris said no: he would never write a song on anyones demand, not even for the Nobel Peace Prize. But after a while he called Sigbjørn Nedland and he said: “Maybe I have a song for the occasion after all.”
And as Kris Kristofferson is also a movie star, and at that time was being filmed in Europe, Sigbjørn went down to his filmset in Prague and recorded the song on Kris’ hotel room. Then Sigbjørn Nedland took the song to Dar-es-Salaam where he invited Chiwoniso Maraire to add some verses to Kris Kristofferson’s text.
On Music Freedom Day, 3 March 2008, the two singers stood on a stage together for the first time, performing this song that travels from Asia to Iraq, through Africa and into Central America.