Lucky we are free to enjoy music

Last updated 12:47 22/01/2013

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I was talking online recently with another band member about a possible song list for an upcoming show.

He emailed me three words: "Loud is good".

The old rocker in me wanted to agree. The veteran musician in me ended up writing back a reply about how "dynamics, creating moments and subtlety of musicianship are more important to me these days".

For me, loud is not good. The idea of playing loud music for the rest of my days is a hell sentence. Tinnitus is not my friend.

It has taken me decades to learn to wear earmuffs when using a chainsaw. I am not sure why I have resisted for so long.

Part of it is macho posturing, but it's a little deeper than that. I actually don't like putting earmuffs on because I can't hear the birds, cicadas or the wind in the trees.

Deprived of the sounds I most enjoy, I can hear only the sound of my own breathing.

We take a lot for granted. Music is on tap and we regard it as a right. Downhill cyclists wear iPod buds, terabytes of downloaded iTunes tracks are played in car stereos and FM stations and televised music reality shows flood our senses.

Music is in the water. For a lot of us - kids and adults alike - the sounds we listen to help define who we are.

Recently, Islamic radicals in Mali forbade music under Sharia. Mali was once part of French Sudan, a country once renowned for its legacy in mathematics, astronomy, literature and art.

An edict issued in August 2011 has been followed by a rampage of trashed radio and television stations, smashed computers and dismembered musical communities.

We have seen this before when Taliban students sought to outlaw music in Afghanistan. I remember a haunting Time magazine picture from a decade ago of a Taliban fighter with a smashed cassette tape embedded on the end of his AK47 - the barrel stuck in the winding spool and the tape unfurling down the barrel of the Kalashnikov like sad ticker tape.

The situation in Mali has directly affected Tinariwen - a band of Tuareg-Berber musicians from the Sahara Desert.

Members of the Grammy Award-winning band have recently had their drums, guitars and amplifiers doused in petrol and burnt and have been threatened with amputation of fingers and exile. Most musicians from northern Mali have fled the country.

At a push, I can understand that the mujahideen might see aspects of Western popular culture as satanic, but to attack the rich musical culture of Mali at its roots is an inexcusable crime of immense proportions.

Despite threats of kidnappings and bombings, U2's Bono courageously supported Tinariwen when they appeared at the Festival in the Desert, at Timbuktu, this month.

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I feel for Tinariwen and the people of Mali. I am no fan of war, but I can sympathise with the French intervention there.

I trust our ears are open, our eyes are watching the sparrow and we never take the freedom to enjoy music for granted.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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