I remember having a conversation with my dad at the age of twelve. It was about a month after September 11th happened and I was still wrapping my mind around who the terrorists were and what they stood for. My dad told me that they were with The Taliban, a fundamentalist political movement that had taken over Afghanistan. He described how oppressive they were to the people there. I could believe that a group could ban certain clothing and speech but one thing I found absolutely hard to believe was that they banned music. With the exception of certain religious chanting, all types of music were banned and The Taliban would do everything from smashing CDs and cassettes to hunting down musicians.
Before that moment, I had no idea how much humanity took music for granted. People hear music around them, whether it is at a concert, through headphones or in the background. Everyone likes music even if it’s only specific types. Indeed, music can be catered to any age, personality and occasion; it’s just that flexible. I literally could not imagine a world without it. It begs the question, what would a world without music be like?
Music is an art form that is so old that the date of its invention can only be theorized. Bone flutes have been found in caves across Europe and Asia and even if musical instruments only date back 40,000 years, music itself may be thousands of years older. It may even be as old as other distinctly human concepts and inventions, like speech and fire, and may have directly or indirectly contributed to our development as a species rather than existing as a byproduct of advanced intelligence. It would be easier to imagine a society that had music before but then banned it (which, as I mentioned before, is difficult enough as it is).
So what would that world be like? If we were to get rid of music, not only would we be getting rid of instruments, we would also have to do away with forms of entertainment and stimulation that employ music, such as movies, TV shows and video games. We would also have to censor the vast majority of the internet. Dancing would be close to impossible without rhythmic sound to accompany it. Speech tone would be much more monotonous than it is in our world. Indeed, this world would be dull and eerie.
Any child that grows up in a society during a music ban who hears music for the first time would assume that it was some sort of fantastic audible drug. Hearing it has our minds swim in imagery and make us feel a wide range of emotions. It changes our perception of time. It makes us move our bodies in ways that we normally wouldn’t. It makes people more attractive if they’re the ones making the music. It brings people together and makes them forget any differences or problems that they may have. It makes you want to just keep listening and, when stopped, it makes us want to come back for more later on. It would be positively mind-blowing.
But we must remember why this scenario is quite unrealistic. The first reason would be that people who remember music back when it was legal would still have favorite songs of theirs that would pop into their heads or make their way to their lips as they’re performing mundane tasks. Secondly, music is the audible version of art. If art decorates space, then music decorates time. It would not make much sense if one was banned and the other wasn’t. Also, a person can make anything into an instrument, and I mean anything. Pots and pans, whistles, baby rattles, wood, marbles, metal bars. In fact, a contraption made of just those last three can manage to make quite a catchy tune. And let’s not forget the sounds of nature around us, such as chirping birds and the barrage of raindrops during a storm. If there was no music for several generations, someone – in fact, many people – would end up re-inventing it sooner or later, either on purpose or by accident.
Remember those forms of entertainment and stimulation I mentioned that would have to be abolished in a world without music? Well that was precisely what The Taliban did. They went through all this trouble to ban music but, not surprisingly, they were not entirely successful. According to an article dating back to the time when I had that conversation with my dad, people in Afghanistan (which had a rich musical tradition before The Taliban came through) literally took music underground or away from civilization, music speakeasies, if you will.
So at this time, in this place, be happy for music. No matter how meager your existence, no matter how bad things get in this crazy world, music will always be here as just one of the ways that humans bring others joy through entertaining expression.