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Norwegian Folk-Pop Artist Moddi Tackles Banned Songs from 12 Countries on 'Unsongs'

From Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer" to Mexican narcocorridos, the Norwegian folk-pop act reinterprets revolution.

Moddi's Pål Moddi Knutsen was an activist before he was a songwriter. As a member of Norway's Socialist Youth and Young Friends of the Earth, he began writing tunes to update the groups' anthems, and eventually came into his own as a folk-pop artist. After canceling a 2014 gig in Tel Aviv in protest of Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian land, he was contacted by Norwegian singer Birgitte Grimstad, who told him about her song, "Eli Geva," that had been banned by Israel for giving a sympathetic view of Israeli army officer-turned-peace iconEli Geva. Knutsen decided to rework the song and play it live for the first time in thirty years; the audience reaction was so intense that he decided to launch a larger project tackling other banned or censored songs from around the world.


His new album, Unsongs, was the result, and features his interpretations of twelve songs from twelve different countries. He tackles well-known anthems of dissent like Billie Holliday's iconic "Strange Fruit," Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer," and Kate Nash's "Army Dreamers," as well as less well-known songs like Chilean leftist martyr Víctor Jara's "Our Worker," and and "Open Letter," Algerian singer Lounès Matoub's satirical parody of the Algerian national anthem. Knutsen also brought the project back home by reworking the text of an old poem from Norway's oppressed indigenous Sami people to create the haunting "The Shaman and the Thief."

Knutsen explained the idea behind the ambitious project, telling Noisey, "I went into this project as a listener rather than a musician. Everywhere I turned, I would find music that was not only sharp and powerful, but also beautiful in one way or another. I think that is what scares the authorities. We live in times when authority—religious, as well as political—depends on fear and alienation. These songs come from the opposite direction: They grapple with delicate subjects in a beautiful way. They sneak into people's minds in ways that cannot be controlled by governments, priests or others. Making Unsongs has restored my faith in the power that a song can have in changing society, for better or worse. They have certainly changed me."

Listen to the whole album below, and do yourself a favor by reading up on the musicians behind them—and why their respective governments found them to be so dangerous. Unsongs is out September 16 via Propeller Recordings.

Kim Kelly is not very big on pop music, but she's extremely down for the revolution. She's on Twitter.