As I said in an earlier blog, it’s invariably the people that you meet at events such as the World Forum on Music, that make the trip worthwhile, rather than the often too-formal presentations. Two such people were among a number of project leaders who received an inaugural award from the International Music Council for outstanding work. In both cases they show that music education occasionally operates in highly political contexts, requiring dogged persistence, absolute belief in the cause and not a little courage.
FREEMUSE is an independent international organisation which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. It produces excellent reports on music censorship around the world, and campaigns on behalf of musicians who have been affected by the imposition of censorship – many facing jail or even death. Ole Reitov collected the award, and in his speech pointed out that censorship is far more widespread than we imagine. As a timely for instance, I tried to download some YouTube videos for my presentation while here and realised that the Tunisian government has blocked YouTube. However most of Freemuse’s campaigns are more personal and urgent than that – go to their website and sign the petition to support singer Lapiro de Mbanga who was jailed for three years and handed a massive fine by the Cameroon government.
I met Dr Ahmad Sarmast on my first night here, and was immediately impressed by his modesty and wisdom. Ahmad has, almost singlehandedly, established Afghanistan’s first National Institute of Music (ANIM), against all kinds of odds most of us couldn’t imagine. He told me that the BBC had quite erroneously stated that he’d received death threats from the Taliban in a feature they ran making him, in Dr Sarmast’s words, ‘not previously a target, but now I am’. The institute is committed to providing a dynamic, challenging and safe learning environment for all students regardless of gender, ethnicity or social circumstances. They reserve a considerable number of places for orphans and street working kids so that, as their website puts it, they can ‘help them attain a vocation that will allow them to reach their full potential, while contributing to their emotional healing’.If nothing else, meeting people like Ahmad and Ole reminds you that we don’t know we’re born, in the UK music education scene. We’re not exactly putting our lives at risk for the sake of wider access, are we?