The Music In Exile Fund playlist

UPDATE: Following the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, including the murder of 89 innocent concertgoers at Le Bataclan theatre, the Eagles of Death Metal have been added to the Music in Exile Fund playlist.


With the release of They Will Have To Kill Us First — Johanna Schwartz’s award-winning new documentary about Malian musicians who stood up to Islamists — comes the launch of the Music In Exile Fund, which will raise money to help musicians facing censorship globally.

Given the treatment of music by governments of all types from the early 20th century until today, it is clear to see it is a medium of real power. It can change minds and spread ideas. Works have been banned and artists imprisoned and sometimes even killed. In some cases, musicians flee their home country or are banned from entering another.

Here is our celebration of music and musicians who have provoked  debate, censorship or worked despite society’s disapproval. Listen to our playlist of some of the best songs and artists from this group of determined musicians.

1) Erwin Schulhoff – String Quartet No. 1

Jewish artists suffered under Hitler’s persecution. Dozens of composers were killed. Fortunately, much of Erwin Schulhoff’s work has survived for later generations. Schulhoff briefly studied piano with Debussy, and was awarded the Mendelssohn Prize in 1913 for his piano achievements and again after World War I for his compositions. He was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1941 and died in the Salzburg concentration camp in 1942.

2) George Formby – When I’m Cleaning Windows

Before Elvis sent shockwaves through the music world with a swivel of his hips, George Formby was going head-to-head with censors for his use of innuendo. Compared to the expletive-laden music that tended to come up against censors later in the century, Formby was relatively mild. The ukulele player from Wigan found himself on the BBC banned list for lyrics like: “Pyjamas lyin’ side by side, Ladies nighties I have spied, I’ve often seen what goes inside, When I’m cleanin’ windows.”

3) Victor Jara – El Lazo

Victor Jara is one of the best-known musicians to have paid the ultimate price for being outspoken and critical of a despotic regime. The a folk singer, theatre director and communist party member was taken prisoner during the coup by General Augusto Pinochet. He was tortured, beaten and made to play Russian roulette before being executed on 16 September 1973. Over 40 years after his murder, 10 of the alleged perpetrators were finally brought to justice.

4) Sir Paul McCartney & Wings – Give Ireland Back To The Irish

In January 1972, Paul McCartney was moved by the events of Bloody Sunday in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers killed 14 civil rights protesters. His anger turned into Give Ireland back To The Irish, released a month later, and was the first single by Wings. Given the political tensions of the time, the song was banned by BBC, both on the radio and television.

5) Crass – Where Next Columbus?

Anarcho-punk ensemble Crass had a penchant for catchy album titles. Penis Envy, their 1980 release is a fairly typical example. Many record stores in the UK wouldn’t sell the album after one store was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act for stocking it.

6) Fela Kuti – Colonial Mentality

Fela Kuti is one of Nigeria’s most influential and outspoken musicians. His political campaigning was so effective that he was arrested 200 times, and once sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for currency smuggling. Amnesty International campaigned for his release, calling him a prisoner of conscience. He served a year and a half of the sentence and always protested his innocence.

7) Stiff Little Fingers – Beirut Moon

Stiff Little Fingers are the band that epitomised punk’s anti-sectarian message in Northern Ireland. But their politics spread much wider than the six counties. The first single from their 1991 Flags and Emblems album was withdrawn from sale on the first day of release because it criticised the British government for not acting to free journalist, writer and broadcaster John McCarthy, who had been held during the in the Lebanon hostage crisis

8) Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax

When BBC DJ Mike Read pulled Relax from the airwaves, criticising it for being overtly sexual and “disgusting” he probably didn’t think he would be making history. The song we all know today became the seventh biggest selling single of all time, and the publicity over the controversy couldn’t have hurt. A really good example of how censorship often backfires. Frankie says relax!

9) Body Count – Cop Killer

During the 1990s, American politicians — while divided on many things — seemed united in their distaste of rap. From Democrat Tipper Gore riffing on it in Congress to Republican President H.W. Bush calling it “sick, Ice T’s Cop Killer was public enemy number one. It was subsequently pulled from his metal band Body Count’s debut album.

10) Lavon Volski – Starszynia

Lavon Volski is an icon, not only of rock music in Belarus but of the country’s opposition movement. It is probably of no surprise then that under the current government in Belarus, the guitarist and singer, along with his group Krambambulya are blacklisted.

11) Tyler The Creator – Yonkers

Rapper Tyler, The Creator, was barred from entering the UK in August this year for a period of three to five years due to his controversial lyrics. The Home Office claimed the rapper’s music “fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts” and “encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality.” Tyler will be the first-ever musician to be banned from the UK because of lyrical content — effectively considering an artist on par with a terrorist or hate-preacher.

12) El Haqed – Dawla

Mouad Belghouat is a Moroccan rapper and human rights activist who releases music under the moniker El Haqed. His music has publicised widespread poverty and endemic government corruption in Morocco since he sang Stop the Silence in 2011 and galvanised Moroccans to protest against their government. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges and is banned from performing or releasing music in his home country.

13) Songhoy Blues – Soubour

Songhoy Blues are an energetic band from Mali with inspiring beginnings. They fled their homes as refugee  in the north of the country when Islamists took over. All four musicians met each other for the first time when they reached the safety of Bamako and, having decided they couldn’t remain silent, formed a band. Their music and story feature heavily in the film They Will Have To Kill Us First.

14) Ramy Essam – Foul Caviar

Ramy Essam was the voice of the Egyptian revolution which began in 2011. In just under three weeks at Tahrir Square, he found fame. His song Irhal, in which he urged Hosni Mubarak to step down, gained great popularity among the demonstrators. When the army moved in to clear the square, he was arrested and subsequently tortured. In October 2014, Essam was offered safe residence in Sweden for two years.

15) Ikonoklasta – Revolução

Luaty Beirão, aka Ikonoklasta, is a 33-year-old Angolan revolutionary rapper known for his politicised lyrics and criticism of the government. But since June, he has been in prison on charges of plotting to overthrow President Eduardo dos Santos. Beirão is currently on a hunger strike and, according to his family, in critical condition.

16) Eagles of Death Metal – So Easy

On 13 November 2015, the Eagles of Death Metal were playing a sold-out concert at Le Bataclan theatre in Paris when the venue was attacked by terrorists, who killed 89 concertgoers. The attackers shot randomly into the crowd and detonated explosive vests. All band members survived. However, 36-year-old Nick Alexander, who worked the band’s merchandise table, was among those killed.

You can donate to the Music In Exile Fund here.

Index Awards: El Haqed still has a bad rap with the Moroccan authorities

Arts nominee Mouad ‘El Haqed’ Belghouat

Index on Censorship Arts award winner 2015: Mouad ‘El Haqed’ Belghouat

Generally speaking, Arabic hip hop comes in two categories. There are rappers in the Gulf who like to brag about how great it is to be really, really rich. Then there are artists in places like Palestine and Algeria who use their work to talk about the endemic problems they face in their communities: disenfranchisement, discrimination, destitution and violence.

Index on Censorship Arts award winner Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat falls under the latter category. Hailing from Morocco, where the youth have been keen consumers of hip hop for many years, El Haqed has had a lot of attention since the Arab Spring. Rapping about poverty, police corruption and oppression in the country, the 24-year old has been felt the full force of the law. Arrested for the first time in 2011, he spent two years in prison before being arrested twice more because of his music.

Index spoke with El Haqed in June when he had just returned to Morocco in high spirits following a tour of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and was looking forward to performing for the first time in his hometown of Casablanca. Unfortunately, the Moroccan state went to extraordinary lengths — blocking off roads and ordering an electricity company to shut off power — to ensure the concert didn’t go ahead. He is effectively banned from performing live or appearing on TV or radio.

Asked why the Moroccan government wants to silence him so badly, El Haqed said: “Because I continue to speak out against them and fight for freedom of expression.” On several occasions, the authorities have asked El Haqed to renounce his views. “They want me to say that we live in a democracy and that everything is OK, but I have always refused.”

An all too frequent but often unavoidable fact of life as an artist under siege is that there will be times when keeping a low profile seems necessary. While El Haqed is still writing and recording music, he isn’t currently posting to YouTube as he was before. “Publishing music at the minute would only cause more problems,” he explains. He adds, however, that this is only a temporary setback, and publishing on YouTube and to his tens of thousands of social media followers is very much a part of his future plans.

MEDIUM-RECTANGLE-300One area of extreme difficulty has been finding the right people — including a producer — to work with. El Haqed used to write music with other artists in Morocco, but this has become an inconvenience. “Musicians were told by the authorities to stop working with me, or they would be made to,” he says.

Although in the past El Haqed pushed the authorities to give him permission to perform in Morocco, he is resigned to the fact this may never happen. But there is hope. Visa applications pending, he has been invited to spend a week in Florence, Italy, in October for an exchange with Italian musicians, a debate on the music of the new generation and to perform in concert. A major focus of this visit will be to facilitate artistic collaboration.

He has also been invited to perform in Belgium in October by at the 25th anniversary of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights due to his being a “committed musician and human rights defender”.

Like one in five people his age in Morocco, El Haqed doesn’t currently have a job and relies heavily on family and friends for support. While it may be easier if he left Morocco to pursue a career in music, he has no intention of relocating.

“I love my country, and while I want to perform abroad, I will always come back to Morocco,” he says.

Index on Censorship demands Moroccan authorities end their harassment of El Haqed and allow him, and others like him, to perform in the country.

Nominations for the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards are currently open. Act now.

“I feel strong”: Moroccan rapper El Haqed defiant after concert is shut down by police

Police blocked access to the concert venue by closing down the streets around it. (Photos: Mari Shibata for Index on Censorship)

Police blocked access to the concert venue by closing down the streets around it. (Photos: Mari Shibata for Index on Censorship)

A former Index Youth Advisory Board member travelled to Casablanca to see Moroccan rapper El Haqed’s first concert in the country. This is her account of the police crackdown that silenced the 19 June performance.

I had travelled nine hours for a concert that the Moroccan state did not want its people to see.

“This is going to be the first time I will have concert here, where I am from,” rapper Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat told me ahead of the scuttled 19 June show at The Uzine, a Casablanca concert venue and cultural centre supported by the Touria and Abdelaziz Tazi Foundation.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a week. There have been jam sessions every day to make this the very best show.”

Belghouat, who won the Index on Censorship Award for Arts in March, is known as El Haqed, roughly translated as The Enraged in English. His music, which describes Morocco’s corruption and social injustice, is driven by the Arab Spring that sparked Casablanca’s pro-democracy February 20 movement.

Having been imprisoned several times since 2011 – during which he went on hunger strike for what he calls “appalling conditions” – he has regularly been silenced by officials. El Haqed has been limited to distributing his music on YouTube and sharing updates on Facebook, where he has an avid fan base of over 43,000.

Winning the Index arts award led to opportunities for El Haqed to perform in other European countries. In May he performed in Oslo. Fans back in Morocco were eagerly awaiting the chance to see him live. His planned concert drew people from around the country.

“I have come all the way from the capital city of Rabat to see Mouad’s first concert in Morocco,” said Hamza, a 22-year old LGBT activist, who declined to provide a last name. “I made sure I got here early, and catch up with everyone I know who has been involved in the February 20 movement where Mouad’s songs were our anthems.”

Just moments after his band Oukacha Family began their sound check and testing the stage lights, word came from the front of house that police had gathered outside. Someone had also been arrested as they tried to enter the building to see the concert.

“My friends and fans outside are telling me the police are growing in numbers and are blocking the street,” El Haqed said as his phone continued to ring. “Those who organised this concert are also informing me that the police are threatening me to stop this from happening.”

As the band began its sound check, word came of the police presence outside.

As the band began its sound check, word came of the police presence outside.

The atmosphere suddenly became tense. The 20 or so people already inside the five-storey building were at risk of arrest. Most of them had been inside since the early afternoon to study whilst fasting for Ramadan, and to pursue their creative interests in the practice rooms and artistic spaces.

As the calls kept flooding in with updates, Mouad instructed everyone to wait in the back yard as a way of occupying the building without being identified by the police, who were able to see through the glass windows of the well-lit front entrance.

In the midst of the confusion, it was at times difficult to identify who could be trusted. Local journalists who arrived at the scene were blocked from entering the street and could not get near the building. As the only non-Moroccan inside, I was being asked with suspicion whether I was from media; getting out a visible video camera was now a definite no-go zone.

“When will officials stop interfering in what we want to do?” sighed Hamza. “This space is so special, it is the only place where young people can express themselves, with the support to explore their creative interests. It is the first space of its kind in Casablanca, where artists can host exhibitions and concerts freely.”

Once Mouad and a handful of key activists located a route around the building that avoided the light, we climbed several flights of stairs to the top floor, crawling along the floor towards a dark room where we could finally inspect what was going on outside. The sight was a shock for everyone, we felt trapped inside the building.

To get images without them spotting us meant flash was off, or hands over any light that was coming out of our phones.

Security officials crowded both the building and the street, ensuring the streets were empty by stopping vehicles coming through. This meant it was now easier for them to identify anybody who caught their eye.

Saja, another El Haqued fan, said she was excited to come and support his first concert in Morocco, but was turned away by police. “As I drove towards the venue, I was stopped by the gas station at the corner of the street and was just told to move. We had no chance to explain ourselves or ask questions, everyone was simply told that the street was closed and therefore weren’t allowed to enter.”

Then we saw officials arriving to cut electricity to the centre. We quickly took the lift downstairs, as Mouad figured that there would be no concert tonight. “This is it,” he said, “we can’t do anything without electricity – we have no power for the microphones, the speakers, or the lights on stage.”

Minutes before the electricity was cut, Mouad tried to upload some pictures to Facebook about what was happening, but failed. With the electricity cut, the wifi signal faded.

Despite the confusion, El Haqed tried to get the word out to his fans via Facebook.

Despite the confusion, El Haqed tried to get the word out to his fans via Facebook.

According to Moroccan press reports, police said that the building, which has hosted several concerts since it opened six months ago, was not up to safety codes, an allegation the centre’s management disputes. Contrary to the claims, the building is equipped with solar panels that provided the building with a small amount of light during emergency situations.

Once the police ordered the power to the centre cut, emergency power kept some of the lights on.

Once the police ordered the power to the centre cut, emergency power kept some of the lights on.

While waiting for news on what was going to happen next, Hamza had realised how lucky we were to have just missed the security officials arriving. “Imagine if they had arrived while we were out breaking fast eating!” he said. “That would have been really brutal, as we would also be left hungry and thirsty on top of all this stress.”

The decision was taken to leave the building at the instruction of the venue’s organisers. Once we managed to bypass the security without getting arrested, journalists who were barred from entering the street crowded around El Haqed to ask him what happened.

Once outside, El Haqed spoke to local media.

Once outside, El Haqed spoke to local media.

After we drove away from the area in a friend’s car, El Haqed told me that, “despite everything that happened, I feel strong”.

“I think that the government has a reason to bring police to the scene. Their action means my music is strong and is a threat to them. The incident makes me hurt and disappointed but I know I should keep going.”

And supporters like Saja have his back. “Mouad’s music speaks to the poor, those who are struggling and have nothing,” she says. “The cancellation of his first planned concert in Morocco is only going to fuel the desire to hear more from him.”

This article was posted on June 25 2015 at

Morocco: Police block concert by Index award-winning rapper El Haqed

Moroccan rapper El Haqed, who was named the Index Arts award winner in March 2015, performed in London at The Barbican (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Moroccan rapper El Haqed performed in London at the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in March 2015 (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Moroccan police prevented a planned 19 June 2015 concert by rapper Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, who was named the Index on Censorship Arts award winner in March 2015.

“The continued harassment of Mouad Belghouat, aka El Haqed, by Moroccan authorities must end. This latest silencing of Belghouat is another black mark for Morocco. We call on the government to allow Belghouat and other artists to be allowed to perform freely in the country,” Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said.

On the evening of the concert, security officials blocked streets around The Uzine, a concert venue and cultural centre supported by the Touria and Abdelaziz Tazi Foundation. At the same time, officials cut electricity to the centre. According to Moroccan press reports, police said that the building, which has hosted several concerts since it opened six months ago, was not up to safety codes, an allegation the centre’s management disputes.

Belghouat releases music under the moniker El Haqed, roughly translated as The Enraged. His lyrics describe widespread poverty and endemic government corruption in Morocco. His song Stop the Silence became popular as Moroccans took to the streets in 2011 to protest against their government. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges three times in as many years, most recently for four months in 2014.


El Haqed: I will fight for freedom, equality and human rights for ever
#IndexAwards2015: Arts nominee Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat

This was posted on 22 June 2015 at