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New Spotify playlist shows solidarity with people affected by Trump’s travel ban

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“Anyone who wants peace and wants to make music can work together no matter what is their color or religion or passport.”

CREDIT: Screengrab

On the heels of the White House rolling out a partial travel restriction banning people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, the music streaming service Spotify has launched an “I’m with the banned” playlist to show solidarity with musicians from those countries.

Released Thursday, the playlist includes documentary clips and six songs featuring collaborations between American artists and musicians from the countries the President Donald Trump has determined to be national security threats: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. According to Spotify’s blog, the playlist is intended to “amplify the voices of people and communities that have been silenced.”

“What politics can’t seem to mend, maybe music can.”

“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. “‘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.”

The Spotify playlist features six talents: Kasra V, an Iranian DJ and record producer; Ahmed Fakroun, a Libyan singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist; Waayaha Cusub, a Somali musical collective; Sufyvn, a Sudanese producer/beatmaker; Moh Flow, a Syrian singer/songwriter who co-produces with his brother, AY; and Methal, a Yemeni singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

All video footage and songs were produced in Toronto, Canada to circumvent Trump’s travel ban, which partially went into effect last week, barring visitors without close ties to people in the United States from entering. That policy would exclude these musicians.

Trump’s executive order is unsettling not for what the administration ostensibly argued for — national security and terrorism concerns — but for what it actually does: Keeping out Muslims. Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, no individual from any of the six banned countries have committed terrorist activities in the United States, according to the think tank New America.

Two of the groups that ThinkProgress corresponded with were excited to take part in the playlist because they believe music could transcend borders and divisive politics.

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

The Yemeni singer collaborated with X Ambassadors on “Cycles,” a guitar-driven song about her relationship with her native Yemen. The lyrics are about how both members “love each other,” but they are “running in cycles.”

In a Spotify profile about herself — the streaming service produced documentary-type videos for each artist included in the playlist — Methal relayed her refugee experience, explaining that she left Yemen on a boat years after the Yemeni Revolution drove her away from constant attacks.

Methal hopes her music could help others, particularly Americans, perhaps be “more accepting” of different life paths, including her own. In the U.S. media and in some political circles, refugees are often portrayed as would-be terrorists who do not undergo enough vetting (they do).

“We are all the same all humans are trying to live a normal life away from wars and destruction.”

“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,” Methal said. “It’s hard to fight the stereotypical media presentation of other countries when the only focus is on the worst things going on there. But how can we judge if we don’t really know who those people are, what’s their culture like, what do we share that’s in common.”

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For the members of Waayaha Cusub (which means “New Era” in Somali), “music is an international language.” The group collaborated with Desiigner on the track “Durbaan Ka Ii Tuma,” grounding its bass-heavy rap song in Somali hip hop and free jamming.

“Anyone who wants peace and wants to make music can work together no matter what is their color or religion or passport,” the group said in an email, adding that the vast majority of Muslims, much like Americans, are peaceful people. “We sing and rap Somali hip hop and tell our stories to promote life, love, family, community, and peace in Somalia, Kenya, America, anywhere. And we criticize the extremists in any country and ask them to stop fighting and to also seek peace.”

“Anyone who wants peace and wants to make music can work together no matter what is their color or religion or passport.”

The Muslim members of Waayaha Cusub know all too well about what it’s like to deal with extremist groups who purport to fight in the name of Islam. Their music was not often well-received, particularly by the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab. One member of the musical collective said in the Spotify video that he received death threats and had been held hostage. He was also shot, but said “after that, I don’t remember anything.”

As a result, Waayaha Cusub’s music aims to promote peace in places like their home country; Kenya, where many Somalis have fled to to escape al-Shabaab; and America. The collaborative track with Desiigner follows in the tradition of other songs like “No to Alshabaab” and “Yaabka Alshabab” whose core messages are about stopping extremism.

The Spotify playlist isn’t the only highly politicized art that has come out against Trump’s policies. Broadway composer and artist Lin Manuel Miranda, who intentionally cast people of color in his hit musical “Hamilton” about America’s founding fathers, recently released a video about immigrants based on one of the most popular lines in the show: “Immigrants (We get the job done).” The video, based on a Hamilton Mixtape song, uses the refrain over and over to feature immigrants in a variety of jobs requiring hard manual labor. Although the president is never directly mentioned, the video can be seen as a refutation against Trump’s immigration policies which seeks to round up undocumented immigrants for deportation and bar refugees from coming into the country. Many jobs in the agricultural and meat industries rely heavily on undocumented labor.

“We hope that Americans can hear in our music that even if there are some bad people that we fear, there are also millions of other Somalis, Sudanis, Yemenis, and other Muslims who are good peaceful people who want an end to this violence,” Waayaha Cusub said.


New Spotify playlist shows solidarity with people affected by Trump’s travel ban was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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