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“I’m with the banned”: Spotify’s newest project slams Trump’s travel ban

A man wearing a white shirt stands behind a glass window with blue lighting.
Kasra V, an Iranian DJ and producer, works in Spotify’s studio.
Spotify

President Donald Trump’s travel ban has a new, surprising critic: Spotify, the music app with more than 140 million active users in 60 countries around the world.

On Thursday, the popular music app launched “I’m with the banned,” a new visual and audio project highlighting artists from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Iran — the six Muslim-majority countries included on Trump’s travel ban, which partially went into effect on June 29.

Filmed and recorded in Toronto, the project highlights the musicians’ personal experiences living in countries tormented by civil war, receiving death threats from extremists, and moving away from their homes.

The goal, according to Spotify’s press release, is to “empower artists and fans from different cultures to come together, and to amplify the voices of people and communities that have been silenced.”

Several American artists were in the studio to work with the international artists. Desiigner, a rapper known for his single “Panda,” worked with Waayaha Cusub, a hip-hop group from Somalia. And rapper Pusha T collaborated with Moh Flow, a Syrian singer-songwriter who grew up listening to American rap.

The other international artists include Kasra V, a DJ from Iran, Sufyvn from Sudan, Ahmed Fakroun from Libya, and Methal from Yemen.

Themes of civil rights, freedom, war, personal grief, and identity flow through each of the six songs produced by the artists.

Methal, an artist from Yemen, said she stopped playing music in 2014 after she received death threats because her music dared to tackle issues like religion and social justice. She packed her passport and guitar and took a boat with refugees.

“I realized that if I want to keep doing something I love, I need to leave,” said Methal in her Spotify video.

Trump’s travel ban is bad for these musicians, but it’s devastating for refugees

But while Spotify’s project highlights just six artists’ stories, the travel ban is affecting thousands of people in the six countries it includes.

The travel ban officially went into effect on June 29, and temporarily bars people from those six countries from getting US visas for 90 days and refugees from entering the US for 120 days, unless they have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or organization in the US.

As Vox’s Dara Lind explained, the Trump administration is interpreting “bona fide relationship” to exclude some relatives like grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, or refugees whose connection to the US is that a refugee resettlement agency has agreed to assist them when they arrive.

That means that the ban could be most devastating for refugees. As Vox’s Tara Golshan reported, there are still huge question marks surrounding the ban, like what happens to refugees who are already involved in the refugee application and resettlement process.

But it’s clear that people are already being affected. Spotify’s latest project is their way of showing solidarity with refugees and other immigrants from the six countries.

Spotify has gotten political before

This isn’t the music app’s first dive into political issues. In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, the company launched a project called “Clarify” with Mic, a millennial-focused news site, and HeadCount, a voter registration organization, to reach young voters and spark conversations around key issues, including student debt, guns, and civil rights.

In January, they published “The Refugee Playlist,” a collection of songs from artists who were born outside of the US and fled their home countries. The playlist received mixed reactions, with some people criticizing the move on Twitter, saying some of the songs included were disrespectful and that making a playlist doesn’t solve anything.

But Spotify said they will continue creating similar content highlighting a variety of issues that are important to their audience. A full-length documentary on the “I’m with the banned” project is expected to be released this fall.

“What politics can't seem to mend, maybe music can,” said Seth Farbman, Spotify’s chief marketing officer, in an emailed statement.