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The great departure from iTunes ME.

Summary: The shadow of censorship loomed over The Great Departed in recent days, as it emerged that iTunes Middle East had cut five songs from the Lebanese band's album "La Bombe" from its online platform.

BEIRUT: The shadow of censorship loomed over The Great Departed in recent days, as it emerged that iTunes Middle East had cut five songs from the Lebanese band's album "La Bombe" from its online platform.

In response, the band removed the entire record from iTunes ME Friday, then launched an online petition calling for a halt to artistic censorship.

"La Bombe" has been available on the iTunes international shop since its 2016 release but red tape greeted a recent attempt to bring their music to the media app's Middle East platform.

"In the past few days, we [were informed] iTunes Middle East will not broadcast some songs because they are 'political,' 'religious' or because they are 'sarcastic songs,'" TGD frontman Khaled Soubeih told The Daily Star, "and that these songs are 'inappropriate for the Middle East.'"

The 13-track album was produced by Metro al-Madina, who recently started collaborating with online distribution company Mostakell. Mostakell began negotiations with iTunes ME through Dubai-based company Qanawat, then acting as iTunes' middleman.

The five censured titles are "Saint Baghdadi's Celebration," "The People Went Crazy," "Don't Mix," "Important Speech," and "Marched With The People."

"The songs deal with topics we are living in Lebanon and the region," Soubeih said, "from religious extremism to political and military tyranny, murder, demands for freedom and other subjects. It seems that these topics do not appeal to some quarters in the region."

Soubeih said Sunday that TGD received a call from an iTunes official asking them to halt their media campaign, as iTunes claimed the "intermediary company" was to blame and that the issue would be resolved. iTunes ME declined to comment when contacted by The Daily Star. An announcement on the band's Facebook says that, in an email to the band, iTunes ME described the banning as "unacceptable and intolerable."

An anonymous source close to the matter told The Daily Star that Qanawat had justified rejecting the tracks for reasons of local sensitivities, without notifying iTunes ME of its actions. They added that the content would be available later this week through another distributor -- possibly Sony or Universal.

By Monday evening the band had announced on Facebook that the censorship had been lifted, with iTunes ME expressing its regret and promising to return the full album to the platform.

Founded in 2013 by Soubeih, TGD (Al-Rahel al-Kabir in Arabic) is an indie fusion band known for its satirical Arabic lyrics. The group quickly attracted audience and media attention and has enjoyed success among listeners in Lebanon and abroad. Having recently completed a European tour that took the band to Switzerland, France, Holland and Norway, TGD is hoping to release fresh material in the coming months.

Soubeih said the band had never experienced censorship issues before.

"Two years ago, we released the song 'Kellon Ya3ni Kellon,' which was broadcast by television stations in Lebanon," he recalled. "We also issued the song 'For This and That,' where we criticized the security crackdown, Lebanese politicians and local parties. Everyone attends our concerts and laughs with us.

"We feel now that there is a tightening of censorship in the region. It is true that we have not been exposed to it as a group in Lebanon yet, but we feel it in the work of our theater and film colleagues," Soubeih said. "We feel that we must raise our voice to stop artistic censorship ... and should not be silent about the censorship of an electronic platform."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:May 16, 2018
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