Sweden: What do Swedish music associations do for freedom of speech?
In this commentary, composer and acting chairman of the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance, Alfons Karabuda, writes about artistic creators and freedom of expression. The commentary was published in Swedish in his blog on Kultururskaparna.com on 23 November 2010.
“I shall close my dirty mouth only after death”
Although this blog is normally about copyright issues, I’ve chosen to write a few lines on freedom of expression. It’s not so strange after all – copyright and freedom of expression go together. Some say that they are a mismatched couple; others argue that they complement each other, and even support each other. Asserting that copyright would be an obstacle to freedom of expression is to greatly simplify the matter. As a musician, copyright can even be the tool that allows me to exercise my freedom of expression.
In many ways, those of us who debate copyright and freedom of speech issues in Sweden might find it hard to identify with the plight of musicians from countries with more oppressive regimes. Ask Lapiro de Mbanga, a popular singer from Cameroon. It is Mbanga’s words I quote in the title of this blog entry.
Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo, his real name, has been in prison for almost three years. Why? In his song ‘Constitution Constipée’ he criticized the 2008 constitutional amendment that allowed President Paul Biya to stay in power indefinitely. He is a fighter for democracy in a country where he and his music have no protection at all.
Freemuse is an organisation I work with in my role as chairman of SKAP, The Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers, and in our European network ECSA, the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance. Freemuse operates globally dealing with issues of freedom of expression for musicians and notes that music censorship is alarmingly widespread around the world. In such a scenario neither the copyright nor the freedom of expression of the individual musician is respected.
In my contacts with Freemuse, I have followed the incidents surrounding Lapiro Mbanga’s case. Earlier this year, I had the privilege to introduce the organisation’s executive director Marie Korpe and Freemuse to representatives of the Swedish music industry. This is why I today contacted the Swedish Radio program ‘Mitt i Musiken’ which this week portrayed Lapiro de Mbanga’s situation and the work which Freemuse does for him and other musicians.
The report in ‘Mitt i Musiken’ touched a nerve – what do Swedish music associations do for freedom of speech? Not enough, according to ‘Mitt i Musiken’. And they are right. Even though SKAP already collaborates with Freemuse, we could do more. We need to explore this issue in more depth because we are only as strong as our weakest link. Weaker than lacking freedom of speech is difficult to imagine.
In other words it is important for me at a personal level to get involved in the issue of freedom of expression, since it is one of the prerequisites for my creativity. That is easy to forget when you live in Sweden, a country where democracy and free speech is as taken for granted as the tap water I drink. I am grateful for that when I think of Lapiro the Mbanga.
Alfons Karabuda Composer and Acting Chairman of ECSA, the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance, and Executive Chairman of SKAP, the Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers.