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Radio review: Muslim Pride, The Sound Odyssey, and Heart and Soul

11 October 2019


Baroness Warsi, speaking at the Greenbelt Festival in 2017, presented Muslim Pride (Radio 4, Monday of last week).

Baroness Warsi, speaking at the Greenbelt Festival in 2017, presented Muslim Pride (Radio 4, Monday of last week).

“THE LGBTQ community is very racist.” There are few more explicit examples of competing liberalisms than that articulated by Suriya and Fehran in Muslim Pride (Radio 4, Monday of last week). Presented by the former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi, the programme explored what it was like to be gay and Muslim. Acceptance as a Muslim in the complex network of self-identification which is the LGBTQ world reveals, Warsi’s witnesses say, what some argue to be a form of “neo-colonial” repression latent in that world.

Suriya is determined not to be the token lesbian, the “universal gay” who plays a part in the gay community’s play of self-representation. The backdrop to this play, she argues, is a set of assumptions about the moral superiority of the liberal West, which she terms “homo-nationalism”.

Fehran, a reality TV celebrity, is more jocular. “I’m tokenised left, right, and centre.” Gay white men regularly tell him that he should not be a Muslim. To him and others in his situation, the plethora of new gender categories has done little to enable acceptance beyond strictly delimited boundaries.

The Sound Odyssey (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) invited the singer-songwriter Roxanne Tataei to try jamming with a choir of psalm-singers from the Isle of Lewis. Tataei is a half-Jamaican half-Iranian from south London, who grew up in a gospel tradition; the psalm-singers of Stornaway maintain a centuries-old, Presbyterian tradition of chanting.

On paper, it must have seemed like a good idea; but the project foundered on Tataei’s insistence on harmonisation and pulse, a practice that the Stornaway musicians understandably regarded as an exercise in lily-gilding.

Nobody talked about the words: the meaning of the psalms in themselves and as an expression of communal faith was ignored as Tataei mined the repertoire for exotic raw materials. The final “fusion” consisted of a traditional psalm, in which Tataei provided a prelude in which she wordlessly vocalised to generic harmonies. We were thus transported not to the bracing shores of Lewis, but to an airless metropolitan studio.

Tataei signed off with a statement that might have been scripted for a villainous record producer in a Hollywood movie: “Change is inevitable. . . [The tradition] needs to evolve.”

The conflicting priorities of global values and local practice formed the background to last week’s Heart and Soul (World Service, Friday); and, in particular, the request by Roman Catholic bishops in the Amazon to be allowed to ordain married men in areas where the ratio of priest to people is low. The star of the show was a Greek Catholic, Fr Augustin, whose wife and four children have spent much of his ministry living in one room. The joy in his quiver-full is evident, but celibacy has its obvious practical advantages.

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