The power of music in Nigeria, Turkey and Pakistan

April 5, 2013

Welcome to AS IT IS, from VOA Learning English.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

Today, we report on the power of music…in Nigeria, Turkey and Pakistan.

Ted Greenfield tells us about a band that is working to keep rock and roll alive in Pakistan as the country grows more conservative.

I will tell you about one of the most popular music groups in Turkey. The group’s members are not popular with the government, however.

But first, we go to the Nigerian capital Abuja -- where a band is playing music its members hope will be good for their country…

Many bands in Nigeria play songs based on traditional tribal music. Members of one band say they want to be more than rich and famous. They hope their songs can help save some ancient values and strengthen the country’s economy.

Marsha James has our story.

Becoming successful in the music business is never easy. But in Nigeria, musicians say it could be their best and only way to escape a life of poverty.

Ifeyinwa Samuel Ndukwu is known as “Ify De Diva” to fans of Heroes Band International, an Afro-Pop group. She is the group’s lead singer. She supports new musicians and singers by letting them perform with her band.

“As they are featuring with my band, maybe they may be engaged on a show. Somebody may see them to engage them for (a) performance. Maybe people will give them something, you know -- reasonable thing. But it’s better than to steal.”

Olawale Akinduro plays bass with Heroes Band International. Like many musicians, he needs a second job to survive. He says many Nigerian parents urge their children not to enter the music business.

“They don’t believe music is something that you can make money with so they can put food on your table.”

These musicians say they make music not just to earn money. They say it is also about the love of music and their love for their country.

I’m Marsha James.

The Turkish folk music group called Grup Yorum has faced political oppression since it was formed in 1984. Members of the group have been repeatedly arrested and put on trial. Police have barred them from performing, and seized their record albums. Yet Grup Yorum has been one of the top-selling groups in the history of Turkey.

The group recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a concert at a sports center in Istanbul. More than 25,000 people attended the performance.

The government has targeted Grup Yorum because of its mixture of music and politics. The group faced especially strong pressure in the 1980s, when Turkey was ruled by the military.

Group member Ibrahum Gokcek says he and other members still face legal action.

“At 4:15 in the morning, the police came and started knocking at our doors, he says. We were in our studio here working on our new album. They took away the computer with our new songs. They pushed us to the floor and tear-gassed us. We were not able to breathe; they stepped on us and handcuffed us and they made us crawl up the street to the police van.”

Last month, Grup Forum’s cultural center was again raided.

Because of Turkey’s anti-terror law, Grup Yorum has often been accused of supporting the banned DHKC. That group was blamed for an attack on the American embassy in Ankara in February.

Under the anti-terror law, even those attending Grup Yorum concerts are at risk of legal action.

Turkish government actions against Grup Yorum have done little to reduce the group’s appeal or success. Grup Yorum broke all Turkish records in 2011, when more than 250,000 people attended an open-air concert in Istanbul. Singer Dilan Balci remembers.

“We were expecting a large crowd, but never that many, she says. It was such an honor to be there. I was happy not for me, but for all our audience, for all of us. To see and hear so many people chanting ‘We want a free Turkey,’ to hear them singing our songs, it was an unforgettable experience. I think this is what disturbs the authorities -- that they saw how strong we are.”

The government defends its efforts against Group Yorum. It says Turkey is facing a terrorist threat. But critics argue such prosecutions of a hugely-successful band show the problems with the country’s anti-terrorism laws.

Pop music and rock bands performed in Pakistan during the 1980s. But few do so now.

VOA’s Sharon Behn found one band still playing and working with other musicians in an effort to keep rock and roll alive in the country.

Ted Greenfield has more.

Rock and roll never really died in Pakistan. But it did fade away.

Aaron Smith plays drums in a rock band called “RockLite.” He says many bands were playing in clubs, discos and at parties across Pakistan 20 years ago. Now, he says, there are only five.

“A lot of people went abroad from Pakistan. And, we have this whole new group of people that have come into Pakistan, I guess, and have changed the idea, and you know -- totally just believe, you know that this music shouldn’t be played, and you know, you shouldn’t have this outfit, you shouldn’t have long hair.”

Pakistan’s increasing conservatism and threats from extremist groups have caused advertisers to stop supporting rock concerts. And television programs rarely talk about rock bands.

Musicians like Aaron Smith say they survive by playing in several bands.

“I keep telling our musicians, I say don’t give up hope. You could never say…it could get better.”

I’m Ted Greenfield.

And that’s “As It Is,” our daily show from VOA Learning English.