Update 10/2011 Just saw this 2009 film on Netflix - No One Knows about the Persian Cats: Cannes winner and many other awards: modern indie rock bands in Iran. Here's the Wiki on it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_One_Knows_About_Persian_Cats
Includes women musicians. They continue to be banned from singing under extremist religious rule there, apparently.
Update 6/2/10. This post started as a short report on two women musicians (and referencing an earlier post on a woman writer) persecuted under extremist religious governments, but over the months it's been morphing into a kind of survey course of cultural diversity as I've added more interesting stories that I've come across. Here are the two latest, thanks to the wonderful blogger Sepia Mutiny, who covers the politics and pop of the South Asian scene.
Post 911 Blues was banned I guess. A must-see! He's Riz MC from the UK. Here's Sepia Mutiny's great retrospective of his work complete with videos and links. He's an actor, musician, satirist, and now a filmmaker (Four Lions).
Update 4/6/10. Here's another prominent musician weighing in on the issue. From short but sweet article on brilliant composer AR Rahman, who composes worldwide but is probably most deservedly known for Bollywood scores such as my personal favorites Dil Se and Swades. He converted from Hinduism to Islam early on, and is embarking on a world tour (bolded phrases are my emphasis added):
Allah Rakha (AR) Rahman, who was earlier called Dileep Kumar, expressed that Islam had a rich musical tradition. He reveals that Islam appealed to him because it was a religion based on unconditional love and a belief in one God and one love. He admits to being specifically drawn to Sufism.
The 44-year-old musician clarified that Islam doesn’t forbid music, as contrary to what fundamentalists popularize. He states that he never skips prayers as it is his reprieve from tension and it gives him hope that God is with him. He wants to work to create music that will bring people together.
My favorite musician never fails to come across in interviews as just a lovely guy, spiritual and gentle, and his music is amazing, ranging over all genres and nationalities. Sometimes his score is the only thing that makes a movie worth seeing, and most of his music stands on its own quite apart from the film it was written for.
Earlier I posted a piece about Taslima Nasrin, the writer from Bangladesh whose voice extremists strive to silence. Lately I've been finding singers who are also struggling to do their art. This is an old, old struggle between freedom and tyranny on the most basic cultural level. I supposed there have always been the Miriam Makebas and the Almanac Singers, the Paul Robesons and even, of all people, the Dixie Chicks... sadly, the international list of politically targeted and silenced musicians could go on indefinitely.
At the most fundamental (I use the word deliberately, yes) level it is a life-and-death struggle; all religions have extremists who keep their power by denying humans our most basic right to create culture. And it seems to me that in the corporate-owned and controlled West, corporations are increasingly playing that power game too, as they relentlessly work to fence the cultural commons.
But back to Taslima - here are some musical sisters and brothers of hers who are also heroes of the modern Islamic world (and a disclaimer: I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in any of this, it's just a thread of the world's tapestry that caught my attention lately because I kept stumbling across it. I'm scarcely qualified to judge the validity of these websites or even the information I quote here, so if you have corrections, I'd welcome them!):
"My name is Mahshar, daughter of the sun and the earth and sister of water and air," says D.J. Maryam, at this website: http://www.persianhub.org/must-see-video-clips/186556-tehran-rocks-forbidden-beat-d-j-maryam.html Here, and on YouTube, you can view several videos. This is her recent "Song of Freedom": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E92uc_QXljE
The text continues, "She says that D.J. Maryam is not her real name. Whatever her identity, this young singer has become a pop idol in a nation where 50 percent of the population is under 25 years old. The forbidden voice of a woman singing to a techno-beat embodies both their frustration with the repressive regime and their desire for change. The lone voice of a woman, having been banned, has become a powerful weapon of opposition and resistance. Tehran rocks to the forbidden beat of D.J. Maryam.
Stories (surely some of them apocryphal, I hope!) abound about DJ Maryam's suffering and she's a hero to many Iranians at home and expatriate. As far as I know she remains in hiding, but persists in her art -- and, thanks to the internet, has a global following. See http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=9b46b5e344323639102066f2f2dd83e0