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A new kind of protest music

An innovative project turns news articles into pop songs to bypass online censorship

The Uncensored Playlist poster. Courtesy: The Uncensored Playlist
The Uncensored Playlist poster. Courtesy: The Uncensored Playlist

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists who dare speak truth to power. According to Reporters Without Borders, the international NGO that publishes the annual World Press Freedom Index, media-phobia in authoritarian countries has grown to such a level that “journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned". Many regimes aggressively censor the internet, blocking access to independent blogs and news sites. But earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders Germany and DDB Berlin, its long-time PR agency, discovered a loophole: music-streaming services.

In many countries, despite censorship of search engines and social media platforms, music-streaming services continue to be unrestricted. This made them the perfect vehicle for the Uncensored Playlist, an initiative that paired journalists with local musicians in China, Egypt, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam to turn 10 previously censored articles into new, uncensored pop songs. These songs—with lyrics both in English and their native languages—were then quietly uploaded to Apple Music, Deezer and Spotify, where they can be streamed from almost anywhere in the world.

The journalists involved included Chang Ping from China, Basma Abdel Aziz from Egypt, Galima Bukharbaeva from Uzbekistan, Vietnamese blogger Bui Thanh Hieu and members of the Thai non-profit online newspaper Prachatai. Their stories address draconian censorship laws, systemic corruption, police brutality and political persecution.

Despite the stylistic restrictions that come with being so tightly linked to actual journalism, the 10 songs are intimate, heartstring-plucking affairs. Over minimal arrangements of acoustic guitar and traditional instrumentation, the vocalists transform news articles into universal anthems for justice and free speech. A particular highlight is the stirring When Did Do Dang Die?, about the death of 17-year-old Đo Đăng Du while in the custody of the Vietnamese police. The track, along with its counterpart Introducing Chaos, became popular enough to register on the Vietnamese streaming charts.

“The Uncensored Playlist shows oppressive leaders all over the world that they can’t silence freedom of information," Bianca Dordea, managing director of DDB Berlin, said in a statement.

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