Missing Voices gives voice to Muslim women artistes

To be an artist today means facing some age-old restrictions, whether economic or social. Women, however, face specific challenges when it comes to artistic freedom. Add in religious conservative values and that makes things a bit trickier. For female artists who are also Muslims, there can be enormous challenges in bringing their work to the public space, and there have been some projects aimed at amplifying the stories and works of Muslim women. Annette Bellaoui is one such lady.

Annette Bellaoui is a Danish Muslim who is the founder of the “Missing Voices”, an international consortium of Muslim women for the purpose of promoting them in the world of music. Missing Voices were created in response to WOMEX 2007, where she was the only woman present wearing a headscarf.

How did the idea for “Missing Voices” come about? Annette says, “I started Missing Voices, because I realized how hard it is for women to make a professional career in music, and especially for Muslim women and women from a non- European background. I thought about how being a professional performer could be very empowering, both for the performer and for women in the audience.”

Annette Bellaoui was here with the Serenas band at the Sufi Sutra, the international festival of Sufi and traditional music which was held in Kolkata by banglanatak. Com.  Serenas is a band comprising women from Denmark and the United Kingdom. Serenas comprises members, Sarah Yaseen, Anja Mikkelsen (bass clarinet), Renu Hossain (tabla), Nina Norgaard Veng (flute), Pia Nygaard (violin) and Karen Jorgensen (accordion).

What were the most challenging things she faced? Annette says, “We still face many challenges. It is a continuous struggle. But I would say that the main thing is simply to get venue managers, festival managers and such to see the Missing Voices women as competent, talented professionals, and not “just women”. It is occasionally dangerous to do what we do, but mostly it is verbal abuse, and dirty emails. I ignore this, but if anybody physically threatens the Missing Voices artistes, I will report it to the police, and stand in the way of any thug. Nobody is allowed to touch or bother my girls.”

How has her professional career helped shape her views on faith and gender issues? Annette says “In the Missing Voices, we teach them to take charge of their own fate and career. Running an organization like the Missing Voices has mostly taught me not to take nonsense from anyone and to fight for what I believe is right. We believe that only the individual knows and can decide what is right for him or her. That is also part of the message we share with our audience, and the people we come in contact with in our work.”

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