Friday, May 2, 2008

International Security and Music

In today's world, it is difficult to read a newspaper, watch TV, or surf the Internet without coming across the issue of international security and terrorism. The issue, in fact, is so far-reaching that it has even come to influence the music industry.

The first major instance of this is when singer Cat Stevens (also known as Yusuf Islam) boarded a plane from London to Washington D.C. His name had shown up on a U.S. security watch list, and his plane was redirected hundreds of miles away where he was held for questioning. After all of this, he was sent back to the UK. Islam had been an active participant in the peaceful Muslim movements within Britain, and had made many statements condemning terrorism and the events of September 11th, 2001.

This is not the only time artists have been blocked from entering the U.S. About a week ago, a Swedish band called the Field was prevented from entering the United States border and was forced to cancel their North American tour.

Possibly the most notable instance of Homeland Security's interactions with artists is that of M.I.A., also known as Maya Arulpragasam. The Sri Lanken hip-hop/rap artist had gained quite a bit of sucess and popularity with her debut album, Arular, and was about to record her sophomore record with producer Timbaland when she too was prevented from entering the United States by the Department of Homeland Security. So instead, she toured the world recording her new album in many different regions including India, Trinidad, Liberia, Jamaica, Australia and Japan. The result, titled Kala, became an international success and was deemed the best album of 2007 by Rolling Stone Magazine. In the song "Paper Planes", M.I.A. sings:

"I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make 'em all day
I'll get one done in a second if you wait"

In this song, M.I.A. alludes to not only her personal experience at the US border, but also policy decisions within the United States relating to Homeland Security and immigration issues.

All of these occurrences bring up questions about the way that we control our borders. Clearly, we do not want terrorists to enter the country, but at what level are we detaining too many innocent people? This goes beyond cancelling tours an relocating album recordings. How does our border policy affect relationships with other countries, their citizens and their artists? Because of its wealth, the United States will most likely still be a place that artists want to tour and promote their work, regardless of border policy. Perhaps the growing accessibility to music online will allow artists to broadcast their music from across the globe regardless of US border patrol (but that's another blog).

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