In 2017, Freemuse began its Let Women Sing campaign, shining a spotlight on female artists, who face some very violent and direct censorship restrictions globally.
The right to perform at a festival isn’t the same for everyone. In some countries, female musicians are censored, attacked, threatened or even killed, simply for performing.
Freemuse at Roskilde Festival
In collaboration with Roskilde Festival for 2017’s theme of “Cultural Equality”, Freemuse is focusing on women’s and musicians’ rights and access to cultural equality under the banner #LetWomenSing.
Freemuse wishes to create awareness and have a conversation about the inequality female musicians are experiencing in many places around the world, in terms of artistic expression, as well as the discrimination women face as being part of audiences experiencing art.
Freemuse focused on the very violent and direct restrictions women musicians face in countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, as well as the censorship female musicians are affected by in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Somalia and Tanzania – especially when it comes to requirements of attire and body movements when they perform and record music videos.
Freemuse not only focused on the world outside the so-called “West”, but also provided information and talked about the inequality seen in the music industry in Denmark, and the rest of the Western world. Some might think such cultural inequality only exists outside of the Western world, but female musicians remain underrepresented at festivals, including at Roskilde Festival, even in 2017.
In the days leading up to the main music programme at Roskilde Festival (25-27 June), Freemuse had a Sound Station called “Forbidden Voices” at Flokkr tent in the RISING area.
At the Sound Station, guests were able to listen to music from women artists who have been censored and watch video interviews with women artists talking about their reality as women in an unequal world and industry, as well as learn about artists whose artistic freedom is being violated and how to help support artistic freedom of expression globally.
During the main music programme at Roskilde Festival – 28 June to 1 July from 11:00-15:00 and 16:00-20:00 – Freemuse sent out flash mobs all over the grounds to raise awareness about the global inequality that female artists face.
Together with Roskilde Festival, Freemuse will work towards a more culturally and gender equal world where no musician has to work in fear or be prevented from performing; where all people can be part of an audience together, enjoying art in safety.
By interacting and engaging in dialogue with festival guests, Freemuse gathered direct suggestions for a more culturally diverse lineup for Roskilde Festival’s 2018 line-up, which was delivered to the festival’s booking team.
The first part of Freemuse’s partnership with Roskilde Festival took place on 18 May 2017 as part of the Talk Town series of panels and discussions at Copenhagen’s main public library.
The Freemuse and Roskilde Festival sponsored talks and presentations focused on diversity in the music industry, gender inequality at music festivals and a new approach to including diversity in the music sector.
The series included presentations from Dansk LiveGramex, Dansk Musiker Forbund – DMF, Dansk Artist Forbund, JazzDanmark and Statens Kunstfond Projektstøtteudvalg for Musik; and discussion panels with music organisations, artists, journalists, festivals and experts, such as Fallulah, Musikverket, female:pressure, Roskilde Festival, Pluralisterne and more.
Freemuse focus on women
As part of its annual Art Under Threat report on artistic freedom violations in 2016, Freemuse focused a chapter on how female artists are censored globally:
When women artists are targeted it is often specifically related to their gender. In several countries, women artists are prohibited from performing solo or for mixed audiences. Iran and Saudi Arabia are leading the league of religiously motivated states that ban and censor women artists from performing in public space.
Such bans have had devastating effects on the diversity of cultural expressions. Though many brave women artists are challenging these hardline bans, they face serious consequences.
Later in the year, Freemuse will be publishing a report focusing on women artists and the restrictive reality they face in many places across the world.
Music Freedom Day
Music Freedom Day once again took place globally on 3 March with the participation and mobilising of artists, broadcasters, cultural managers, journalists, activists, creative hubs, organisations and music lovers worldwide. Around the world, Music Freedom Day events took place in 23 countries.
The focus for Music Freedom Day 2017 were women’s voices and the need to protect and celebrate the rights of women musicians globally.
Women artists from Afghanistan to USA sent their statement of support for Music Freedom Day and solidarity with women who are banned from singing or performing, threatened, attacked or even killed, simply for signing or performing. The video statements include words from Marjan (Zohra orchestra, the first all-women’s orchestra in the world) and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for artistic freedom and creativity, Deeyah Khan.
A Spotify playlist was created leading up to Music Freedom Day, featured global women’s voices that have been silenced.
Further, a special podcast was produced in collaboration with Saudi FM’s first Hip Hop radio host ‘Big Hass’, giving a rare insight into the conditions for creative women in Saudi Arabia.
Zohra, the winner of the Freemuse Award 2017, is the first and only all women orchestra in Afghanistan. They are students at the National Institute of Music (ANIM) and the first women in their families, community and country to learn music in over 30 years.
“With exceptional courage and dedication these young women are breaking new ground and have become important role models for any Afghan welcoming the return of music and the rights to exercise and take part in cultural life.” – Freemuse Award Motivation
Afghanistan’s musical scene suffered enormously in the last decades of the 20th century due to war, exile of musicians, and the draconian policies of the Taliban banning music entirely. Additionally, the extremist policies of the Taliban in regards to women’s rights dealt a huge blow to the education, employment and social rights of Afghan girls and women.
Moved by the critical state of music, musicians, music education and women in his native country, Dr Ahmad Sarmast, a visionary and the first Afghan to obtain a doctorate in music, initiated a groundbreaking project to revive and promote musical education in Afghanistan, which led to the establishing of ANIM in 2010.