Underground music around the world playlist

Acrassicauda concert at The Roxy in Hollywood, 10 June 2010. Credit: Flickr / Bruce Martin

Underground music scenes have begun sprouting up in many countries around the world in the last few years, where previously no such thing existed. These movements have managed, in many cases, to continue despite a continuing trend of censorship in the arts and government repression. Whether it be punks in Indonesia rebelling against Sharia law or hip-hop artists in Mumbai rapping about independence from Britain, people all over the world are fighting for their right to artistic freedom. Here are a few cities around the world where musicians refused to be silenced.

Karachi, Pakistan

Even after social activist and creator of The Second Floor, a cafe that promotes discussion, performance and art, Sabeen Mahmud was murdered by armed motorcyclists in Karachi in April 2015, the experimental and electronic music culture has continued to grow. Refusing to be intimidated into silence, artists like Sheryal Hyatt, who records as Dalt Wisney and founded Pakistan’s first DIY netlabel, Mooshy Moo, and the producing pair of Bilal Nasir Khan and Haamid Rahim, who created the electronic label and collective Forever South, are challenging conventional ideas about the music culture in Karachi.

Aceh, Indonesia

Punk music is one of the ultimate forms of expressing disdain for a system of oppression, so it comes as no surprise that so many youths in Indonesia have embraced the genre with a passion. The punk scene, which grew exponentially following the 2004 tsunami when a great many lost family members and help from the government was less than forthcoming. The hostility and discrimination against the punk subculture came to a head in 2012 when police rounded up 64 youths at a concert, arrested them and took them to a nearby detention centre to have their mohawk hairstyles forcibly shaved. Despite this, bands like Cryptical Death continue to promote their scene and pen songs about resisting repressive government figures.

Yangon, Burma

The vitality of punk music is also present in Burma, where musicians have been advocating for human rights through fast-paced music since around 2007. No U Turn and the Rebel Riot are popular punk groups that routinely rail against a government that they feel is repressive and unjust. No U Turn sounds like a resurrection of Bad Religion-meets-Naked Raygun with a blend of biting lyrics and punishing speed.

Mumbai, India

Indian hip-hop pioneers have been appearing more and more in the last 10 years, with Abhishek Dhusia, aka ACE, forming Mumbai’s Finest, the city’s first rap crew, and Swadesi, another local group whose work they think represents feelings and ideals of many young people in the city. Swadesi, in particular, advocates for social justice within their band’s mission, with working for NGOs and organising events being an important element of their group.

Baghdad, Iraq

Musicians in Iraq have faced a variety of oppressive control, ranging from young people being stoned to death by Shi’ite militants for wearing western-style “emo” clothes and haircuts to Acrassicauda, a popular heavy-metal band from Baghdad, receiving death threats from Islamic militants. Acrassicauda had to flee the country a few years after the USA invaded Iraq, going first to Syria and then to the USA, where they were given refugee status and from where they now continue to make music. They have hopes of touring the Middle East soon but have no idea when they will be able to return to Iraq.

Index on Censorship has teamed up with the producers of an award-winning documentary about Mali’s musicians, They Will Have To Kill Us First,  to create the Music in Exile Fund to support musicians facing censorship globally. You can donate here, or give £10 by texting “BAND61 £10” to 70070.

#UnsilencingPakistan: A tribute to Sabeen Mahmud

Sabeen Mahmud was killed on 24 April 2015. (Image courtesy Qismat Foundation)

Sabeen Mahmud was killed on 24 April 2015. (Image courtesy Qismat Foundation)


Mahenaz Mahmud spoke of her daughter Sabeen’s dedication to Pakistan. (Click for video on Vimeo)

“Tonight, please don’t forget to laugh and dream out loud, that would be the best tribute you could pay to Sabeen”, said Mahenaz Mahmud via video at Unsilencing Pakistan, an event co-hosted by Index on Censorship at London’s Conway Hall on Thursday 23 July.

Three months earlier, Mahenaz’s daughter Sabeen Mahmud was killed by gunmen. On 24 April 2015, travelling home from hosting a panel discussion about the missing people of Balochistan two men on motorbikes surrounded the car and opened fire. Mother survived, daughter didn’t.

Sabeen Mahmud had been a prominent ‘social activist’ and human rights advocate including founding The Second Floor, a cafe dedicated to being a safe space for community discussion. Three months on from her murder, the London event was a tribute to a woman described by so many as an inspiration, a fantastic listener and a champion of free speech and freedom of expression.

Hosted by comedian Aatif Nawaz, the evening was a celebration of Mahmud’s life and Pakistani culture. Multiple speakers, many of whom knew Mahmud well, shared their thoughts on her work and the issues she confronted as she worked to encourage greater openness in Pakistan.

The event began with the trailer from forthcoming documentary Silencing Sabeen, a look back on the life and tragic death of a woman loved by so many. All of those who were close to Mahmud showered praise upon her and told anecdotes of a woman dedicated to the cause of free expression. BBC journalist Ziad Zafar, founder of Pakistan for All and a member of the newly launched Sabeen Mahmud Foundation’s board, said: “She was at the forefront of every progressive movement that has taken precedence in Pakistan in the last decade”. Dr Ayesha Siddiqa from the University of Oxford, who had met Sabeen on a number of occasions, said: “Conversation doesn’t weaken Pakistan. Sabeen knew that to free Pakistan, you need to unsilence it.”

Ali Dayan Hasan, a Pakistani human rights activist, knew Mahmud as a child and watched her grow into a beautiful woman. Of Karachi, her beloved birthplace, he said: “Her life, her achievement, her death is all quintessentially about the city that she came from”.

Childhood friend and Index on Censorship magazine contributor Kamila Shamsie described their blossoming friendship from the moment they met at Kindergarten. She had recently asked friends and colleagues of Sabeen to send her written praise of their late friend. One said: “Her passion was contagious,” while another said: “Sabeen would never have kept the spoils of victory, even if she had fought alone.”

The evening’s speakers also explored the state of Pakistan’s democracy and numerous attacks on free speech in recent times. Tehmina Kazi from British Muslims for Secular Democracy warned that “universal human rights have been tossed aside and been replaced by cultural relativism. The very people who need to have their eyes wide open have their eyes wide shut”.

Shaan Taseer of Pakistan For All, whose father Salmaan was murdered for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, spoke forcefully about standing up to nationalist and religious figures like Abdul Aziz.

The New York Times Pakistan Bureau Chief Declan Walsh, who now operates from London after having his visa cancelled by Pakistani authorities, spoke of how, on first arriving in Pakistan in 2004, he was struck by the vibrancy and free speech of the press even though at the time it was under military rule. He called Mahmud’s murder a “very dark watershed in the decline of free speech in Pakistan in the last ten years.”

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said: “It takes bravery to be a dissenter at any time but it takes a special kind of courage to stick your head above the parapet in times of danger.”

Other speakers on the night included Annie Zaman from Bytes For All and Suniya Qureshi of the Qismat Foundation.

Paying tribute to Mahmud’s passion for the Art, and T2F’s ongoing role as a gallery and performance space, Pakistani singers and dancers including Kali Chandrasegaram, Hyder Cheema and Ustad Roshan Abbas Khan were also on the programme. In a fitting nod to Mahmud’s well known support for young people and future generations, three students from City and Islington Sixth Form College were also invited, bringing diversity to the bill.

Co-organisers of the event, Yasmin Whittaker-Khan and Anneqa Malik thanked the audience and Index on Censorship, encouraging action to prevent more tragedies like Mahmud’s.

Malik, a personal friend of Mahmud’s, implored people to take personal responsibility for drawing people’s attention to the plights of those in Pakistan themselves rather than shouldering it on to others. She said: “Please don’t let them silence us. Please don’t let them silence Sabeen.”

This article was posted on 24 July 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

23 July: Unsilencing Pakistan — a tribute to Sabeen Mahmud

In May 2007 Sabeen Mahmud founded The Second Floor (now known as T2F), a coffee house and “community space for open dialogue” in Karachi, Pakistan.

In April 2015, Mahmud was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Travelling home after hosting a panel discussion on the missing people of Balochistan, a poor but resource rich province of Pakistan, armed motorcyclists surrounded her car and opened fire.

Three months after this brutal act, Index on Censorship are working together with Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, Anneqa Malik and the Sabeen Mahmud Foundation to commemorate and celebrate an extraordinary woman.

Featuring prominent speakers alongside live art, music, poetry and Pakistani food.

Hosted by British-Pakistani stand-up comedian and TV presenter Aatif Nawaz. With:

  • Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistani human rights activist
  • Annie Zaman, Bytes for All
  • Declan Walsh, New York Times
  • Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, University of Oxford
  • Jodie Ginsberg, Index on Censorship
  • Kali Chandrasegaram, classical dancer
  • Hyder Cheema, musician
  • Kamila Shamsie, novelist
  • Omer Tariq, DJ
  • Shaan Taseer, Pakistan for All (and son of late Salman Taseer)
  • Sonia Metha, singer
  • Students from City And Islington Sixth Form College
  • Suniya Qureshi, Qismat Foundation
  • Tehmina Kazi, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
  • Ustad Roshan Abbas Khan, musician
  • Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, playwright
  • Ziad Zafar, Sabeen Mahmud Foundation

When: Thursday 23 July, 7:00pm
Where: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (Map/directions)
Tickets: Free, book here

Presented in partnership with Conway Hall Ethical Society and the Sabeen Mahmud Foundation