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It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

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Afghanistan's fundamentalist religious Taliban have amassed a list of human rights misdeeds that have overshadowed the destruction of the country's culture.

The most infamous of their cultural atrocities was the destruction of the giant twin Buddha statues, but they have also burned libraries full of books containing now-lost secrets of history, and attempted to wipe out the indigenous music of Afghanistan.

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In the current issue of Songlines magazine, John Bailey has detailed the Taliban's attack on its nation's traditional music in an article "Censorship of Music in Afghanistan."

"At the moment custodianship of the rich Afghan music heritage lies literally in the hands of Afghan musicians living in exile, in what is the largest refugee trans-national community in the world today," Bailey writes. The article tells of instruments being smashed and strung up in mock hangings. Musicians caught performing can be fined and even imprisoned.

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One way to flout these despicable despots is to search out and listen to the music they don't want us to hear, music that expresses the human passions of love and joy, emotions that are a silver bullet to the heart of hate mongers.

Fortunately the very technology that these monsters decry can be used against them. A unique Internet website, XenoMusic.com, makes this music available to anyone with a computer.

XenoMusic.com is streaming a series of free Friday concerts, including music from refugee camps in Hungary. Originally these recording sessions were meant to bring attention to the upheaval taking place in the Balkans, but when XenoMusic.com correspondents visited the camps they found many refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

One of these musicians is Bashir, an Afghan refugee who told of the horrors of the Taliban regime and the hardships of his long journey to safety. He spoke not only of their violent practices and human rights violations, but harsh restrictions on both information sharing, technology and entertainment.

Website visitors can download MP3s from Berlin to the Bering Strait at $1 each. XenoMusic.com has signed digital distribution agreements with more than 60 of the best indie record labels and unsigned artists in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to traditional sounds, the portal serves up jazz, classical, electronica, dance, and hip-hop from the region.

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Ten percent of the downloads are available for free. Then there are the webcasts. In addition to the recordings from refugee camps in Bicske and Debrecen, Hungary, there is Croatian surf rock and Bulgarian ska; and the Istanbul Butcher Sessions of Turkey's best living zurna player, recorded in the basement of a hard-to-find butcher shop outside of Istanbul.

Furulya "Nobu" Nobuyasu is a Japanese ethnomusicologist fascinated by the zurna -- a Turkish oboe-like instrument. Nobu moved to Istanbul to master the instrument.

Nobu brought Doug Hoppe -- founder and CEO of XenoMusic.com -- to the basement of this butcher shop to record an upcoming album with zurna master Hamit Hanay.

"It was a surrealistic scene. Hamit gave these lengthy explanations about his music," says Hoppe. "Then Nobu would translate his answers into rudimentary English for me. saying something like 'He says it is a tune about love.' That's all! And off the street strolled an old guy, uninvited, who just started dancing. It's all on tape!"

XenoMusic is taking interactivity one step further with a new DJ competition. The contest calls for music fans to borrow tracks from the website and re-mix them with other samples and beats. The top ten re-mixes will be placed on the site. The producer of the winning mix will get a digital distribution contract with the site, and the top-three winners will win electronics and DJ equipment.

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