Norwegian musician Moddi has collated an album of songs from around the world that had been banned, censored or silenced. Unsongs includes cover versions of songs from countries including China, Russia, Mexico and Vietnam, on topics such as drugs, war and religion. Index has put together a playlist of some of these songs to coincide with the release of the 250th issue of Index on Censorship magazine, which includes a feature by Moddi about the inspiration behind the album.
1. Izhar Ashdot – A Matter of Habit
Israeli singer Izhar Ashdot was preparing to sing A Matter of Habit on army radio station Galatz in 2012 when he received a message saying it wasn’t welcome. The station stating “We should avoid celebrating a song that demonises our soldiers.” The song describes the fear and confusion of Israeli soldiers, until “killing is a matter of habit”.
2. Pussy Riot – Punk Prayer
Punk Prayer became internationally known after Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot staged a performance of the song at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The group said it was a protest against the Orthodox church’s support for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Three members of the group were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.
3. Kate Bush – Army Dreamers
Kate Bush’s 1980 hit Army Dreamers tells the story of a mother’s grief after her son is killed in battle, and reflects the brutality and emotional effects of military conflict. During the Gulf War the BBC were wary of playing songs with an anti-war sentiment and told to think carefully before playing them.
4. Victor Jara – Prayer for a Worker
Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was killed in the 1973 military coup that overthrew socialist president Salvador Allende. His songs followed a theme of peace and social justice. A Prayer for a Worker highlights the failed attempts of the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist Party to reconcile before the coup.
5. Los Tucanes di Tijuana – My Three Animals
In their 1990s narco-corrido (drugs ballad) Mis Tres Animals, Mexican group Los Tucanes di Tijuana sing of drug-trafficking but disguise cocaine, marijuana and heroin with the names of animals: a parrot, a goat and a rooster. The song made it on to the radio thanks to this word play, but narco-corridos are often censored as they are blamed for encouraging drug use and trafficking.
6. Richard Burgess – Eli Geva
Eli Geva was an soldier who refused to lead his forces into Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon war. His act caused a great deal of controversy in Israel, and Geva became an icon for the peace movement. This ode to the Israeli commander was written by Richard Burgess and performed by Norwegian singer Birgitte Grimstad, but Grimstad was warned against singing the song during a tour in Israel. The above video is Moddi’s cover version.
7. Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
Strange Fruit, originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, was a protest against the brutality and racism in the United States, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Holiday approached both her record label and producer about recording the song but they turned it down, fearing a negative reaction. Instead a friend, Milt Gabler, helped her to record and distribute the song after her a cappella version of it bought him to tears.
Order your full-colour print copy of our journalism in danger magazine special here, or take out a digital subscription from anywhere in the world via Exact Editions (just £18* for the year). Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship fight for free expression worldwide.
*Will be charged at local exchange rate outside the UK.
Magazines are also on sale in bookshops, including at the BFI and MagCulture in London, Home in Manchester, Carlton Books in Glasgow and News from Nowhere in Liverpool as well as on Amazon and iTunes. MagCulture will ship anywhere in the world.