A recent example that’s been widely discussed in the past fortnight is British DJ Dax J playing a track that sampled the Islamic call to prayer at Orbit Festival in majority-Muslim country Tunisia, which caused an outcry that led to him fleeing the country, being sentenced to a year in prison, and officials from the club he played in being arrested with the venue being temporarily shut down.
Much of the talk online about the incident has been deeply sympathetic with Dax J, painting him as a victim and labelling the Tunisian officials' response as an overreaction. But Dax J’s clumsy choice of track and the reaction in the comments section and the timeline is reflective of the cultural insensitivity that exists within dance music. I’m sad to hear he’s been threatened, and I believe he didn’t intend to offend anyone. But I don’t think it’s particularly ambiguous that cutting sacred music into your techno mix at a party is not going to go down well, and at some point actions have to be owned alongside a recognition that mistakes have been made (Dax J has since taken to social media to apologise).
As a person not of Muslim faith I’m not qualified to delve into expressing how this incident should be treated by Tunisian officials. But I do wonder whether the people outraged at the illegality of Dax J “just playing music” would be so forgiving and understanding if a disrespectful offence was committed in their homeland by a foreigner whose own country considered the matter trivial. Calling the sacred Islamic call to prayer “just music” is a fallacy because when cultural meaning is prescribed to something it intrinsically changes it. It’s the same as calling a war memorial statue “just bronze”, or a flag “just fabric”, or a gravestone “just granite”. Once these common materials have been cast as symbols then any act desecrating them is considered scandalous (look at the outcry over Matt LeBlanc performing stunts near the Cenotaph war memorial while filming Top Gear, for instance). The same principle translates into music.
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