Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Land Without Music

This is what Germans used to call England: "Das Land ohne Musik" which was the title of a book by Oscar Adolf Hermann Schmitz (1873 - 1931). The poet Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856) even wrote:
These people have no ear, neither for the beat nor indeed for music in any form, and their unnatural passion for piano-playing and singing is all the more disgusting. There is verily nothing on earth so terrible as English musical composition, except English painting."
This is not really true, of course. While England did not have a really important native composer between the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 and the appearance on the scene of Edward Elgar in 1899, it was the magnet that attracted a host of brilliant musicians from everywhere in Europe. Nowadays, London is certainly one of the foremost musical capitals. I doubt if you could fire a shotgun down any of the major thoroughfares without at least winging a lutenist!

One does tend to notice that some nations seem to just overflow with music, while others don't. I can recall wandering down a side street in a little village in Spain once and seeing a man and a woman painting the ironwork on a balcony. They were also singing a duet, and quite nicely too. You would probably hear the same thing in Italy. In Latin America, Argentina is famous for the tango, Brazil for bossa nova and samba, Venezuela for the vals, Cuba for the habanera and son. But the music of other places just doesn't seem to 'travel' even though it is enthusiastically practiced locally.

But I can think of at least one instance of a nation that really was a "land without music", a land where music had existed, but was simply banned. Simply banned. Here is a report on the music ban in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Here is a section of an edict put forth in Kabul in 1996:
"To prevent music... In shops, hotels, vehicles and rickshaws cassettes and music are prohibited... If any music cassette found in a shop, the shopkeeper should be imprisoned and the shop locked. If five people guarantee, the shop should be opened, the criminal released later. If cassette found in the vehicle, the vehicle and the driver will be imprisoned. If five people guarantee, the vehicle will be released and the criminal released later.
To prevent music and dances in wedding parties. In the case of violation the head of the family will be arrested and punished.
To prevent the playing of music drum. The prohibition of this should be announced. If anybody does this then the religious elders can decide about it."
 In areas that the Taliban currently control in Afghanistan the policy still seems to be in effect, according to this news article:
Taliban insurgents beheaded 17 Afghan civilians while celebrating in Afghanistan, over the weekend.
The attack happened Sunday in the Taliban-controlled Helmand Province.
Officials said the people had gathered for a celebration where they were playing music and dancing.
Taliban insurgents wanted to stop the music. They opened fire and then chopped off the head of all the victims.
Here is some traditional music from Afghanistan:

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