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'I'm With The Banned': Musicians hit by Travel Ban respond with music

Tuesday July 11, 2017

With the help of Spotify, musicians from the countries on President Donald Trump's travel ban list are trying to bridge borders not with passports, but with music.

The President Donald Trump administration may have succeeded in banning people, but the exchange of art, expression, and thought is a much harder thing to shut out.

Musicians from the six Muslim-majority countries listed on the travel ban collaborated with American musicians and Spotify to create an "I'm with the banned" playlist, a project to show solidarity and to connect these foreign artists to a larger, more Western audience.

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The Spotify playlist was launched Thursday and is as much about cultural exchange as it is about enjoying good music. It features six songs created by artists from the six banned countries in collaboration with American artists, as well as documentary clips of the creative process.

The result is an introduction to a world of music the travel ban has made much more difficult to access. According to Spotify's blog, the playlist is intended to help "amplify the voices of people and communities that have been silenced.”

The six featured artists on the playlist are Iranian DJ and record producer Kasra V; Libyan singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Fakroun; Somali music collective Waayaha Cusub; Sudanese producer Sufyvn; Syrian singer/songwriter Moh Flow, who co-produces with his brother AY; and Yemeni singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Methal. Due to Trump's travel ban, all video footage was shot in Toronto, Canada.

While Trump purports that his ban is intended to keep out extremists, it also keeps out people targeted by extremists. The Muslim members of Waayaha Cusub have had their own close calls with extremism, as their music has faced fierce opposition from militant Islamic group Al-Shabaab, the reason many Somalians have left their country for safer, neighboring lands.

In one Spotify clip, a Waayaha Cusub member reveals that he was held hostage and shot, but that "after that, I don't remember anything." The group's music reflects their dangerous experiences, promoting peace across cultures and different religions in spite of the opposition they face.

“Trump’s ban only made me and other artists speak louder to fight,” Methal Mohammed wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. “If politics will divide us music will unite us."

"I want them to understand that we are all the same all humans are trying to live a normal life away from wars and destruction,” he added.

Art is many things to many different people, but one of its universal powers is its ability to connect individuals from different cultures, races, religions, and beliefs. It provides a way for people to explore outside of their own world without necessarily crossing any physical borders, to engage with others and mingle in new, enlightening ways. Artists like Methal and the others on "I'm with the banned" say they hope that their work can bridge misunderstandings, teaching love and acceptance instead of hate.

“Throughout history, artists have sought to give voices to those who are not being heard,” Seth Farbman, Spotify’s chief marketing officer, said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “‘I’m with the banned’ is an idea that was born from the culture of our times and one we hope will remind us of the power of music to bring people together and ease our pain. What politics can’t seem to mend, maybe music can.”

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