Music You're Not Supposed To Hear The Impossible Music Sessions give musicians who have been banned from performing in their home countries an opportunity to have their music heard. The new concert series pairs censored musicians abroad with bands here in the states, creating a unique, transnational platform for free expression and collaboration.
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Music You're Not Supposed To Hear

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Music You're Not Supposed To Hear

Music You're Not Supposed To Hear

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

You're about to hear music you're not supposed to hear. In many parts of the world, musicians are routinely threatened, abused and imprisoned for what they've played on a piano or sung into a microphone. But there's a new concert series in Brooklyn meant to give such musicians a stage, even if they can't perform in person.

Christopher Livesay reports.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: It's a Wednesday night at the Littlefield Performance Space in Park Slope, Brooklyn. And dozens of New Yorkers have gathered to hear the music of The Plastic Wave, a rock band from Tehran.

Here's one of their songs called "War of the Others."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAR OF THE OTHERS")

LIVESAY: But this isn't The Plastic Wave playing. Brooklyn band Cruel Black Dove is playing the show for the Iranians because their government won't let The Plastic Wave leave Iran. This is the concept behind the Impossible Music Sessions: If your government won't let you play your music, a sympathetic band in the U.S. will step in.

Austin Dacey is the organizer.

AUSTIN DACEY: I had a mental picture of an empty stage, empty but for the instruments that would be played by the artists who could not be there. And from that picture, the sessions grew.

LIVESAY: So the idea of getting American musicians to stand in.

Just before the concert starts, Dacey sits in front of his laptop and calls The Plastic Wave in Tehran using uVu, an Internet phone service. Band members Saeid Nadjafi and Maral are using a webcam to sit in on the show and to meet their New York audience.

DACEY: And we're trying to reach them now.

LIVESAY: The connection is made and the crowd sees The Plastic Wave appear on a large video screen.

DACEY: Maral, can you hear us?

MARAL: Yeah. Yes, I can.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

DACEY: Can you hear them?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MARAL: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIVESAY: At this moment, the band and the audience have defeated the Iranian censors - at least for one evening. The Plastic Wave still faces serious risks at home. They've been arrested twice for performing Western secular music. The Islamic republic considers that an abomination. But even worse, their singer Maral is female, a huge taboo in Iran.

Cruel Black Dove, the band interpreting tonight's music, has a female vocalist named Shirley Ho. She says learning what The Plastic Wave has endured makes her appreciate her own freedoms to perform.

SHIRLEY HO: That's why we're so passionate of this project as well is because we really want to bring their music out in order to, you know, for them to be heard.

LIVESAY: You can hear The Plastic Wave via free download from their website, which the Iranian authorities haven't taken down yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THE PLASTIC WAVE: (Singing in foreign language)

LIVESAY: The Plastic Wave has to record in secret. They would be arrested for trying to sell their music. Impossible Music organizer Austin Dacey.

DACEY: From that perspective, it's people like Saeid and Maral doing electronic rock music in Tehran who are really living the spirit of rock 'n' roll, the spirit of resistance to unjust moral authority.

LIVESAY: Rock 'n' roll isn't the only music that oppressive regimes sometimes can't stomach. The next concert in the Impossible Music Sessions will feature the Baloberos Crew, a hip-hop group from Guinea-Bissau. Its members say that the military arrested them and threatened their lives for this song, called "Seven Minutes of Truth."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEVEN MINUTES OF TRUTH")

BALOBEROS CREW: (Singing in foreign language)

LIVESAY: It's more than just a catchy Dr. Dre-inspired beat. This song is a political screed that boldly impeaches specific military leaders for the corruption and killings that plagued their West African country.

NB SHOW: (Singing in foreign language)

NB Show is a member of the Baloberos Crew. He sings and spoke via Internet phone from Guinea-Bissau.

SHOW: (Through translator) It wouldn't be right to be singing R&B, to be singing about love. We need to be more hardcore. We need to criticize.

LIVESAY: That philosophy speaks to Hasan Salaam, the New Jersey rapper who's stepping in to perform the Baloberos Crew's rhymes at the next Impossible Music Session.

HASAN SALAAM: Yo, they working hard. They struggling, you know? And I respect struggle. So it's kind of like, it's my duty. If I was in that position, I'm pretty sure they would do the same thing for me.

LIVESAY: Salaam has spent weeks reworking the music of the Baloberos Crew in English and even learning some choruses in Portuguese. They've never met in person and it's anyone's guess if they ever will. But thanks to an online phone connection and a webcam, they'll perform together on the same stage in Brooklyn, as long as the authorities in Guinea-Bissau don't find out.

For NPR News, I'm Christopher Livesay in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NORRIS: And you can find links to videos of the Impossible Music performances at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CREW: (Singing in foreign language)

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

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