Scioto County, Ohio native MJ Brickey is lending her voice to fight against music censorship imposed by the Taliban and other regimes worldwide. She’s teamed up with a young Afghan musician, who is now trapped in a country where music itself is now illegal.
Brickey has worked as an award-winning journalist, in behind-the-scenes jobs in the film and music industry, an advocate for first responders, and as a therapist – but she says music has always been a constant in her life. “Where I’m from in the foothills of Appalachia, music means everything to us because we had very little of anything else. We couldn’t build skyscrapers, fancy cars, or empires, but we sure could make some beautiful music let me feel like the wealthiest people in the world.”
Over 6,000 miles away in Afghanistan, the same was true for 22-year-old Afghan Ahmad Forest. Despite growing up in a country ravaged by conflict, he found freedom and comfort in writing and performing music. However, when US troops pulled out, and the Taliban took over, music and most other forms of expression were banned.
His recording studio was destroyed into rubble. “It felt like someone took everything I had,” Forest said. “I could not breathe comfortably.” They quickly shut down public music and music-based institutes.
But that hasn’t stopped the young man from creating music at significant risk to his own personal safety.
An American acquaintance helped connect him with MJ Brickey after the new regime beat his friend for wearing jeans. The two decided to collaborate on a song that expresses their solidarity with oppressed people around the world.
It’s a bit of an unusual combination, Brickey usually sings country and more traditional music while Forest creates electronic dance beats, but the two made it work despite working on two different continents.
Forest created the music and then finished the song production with very little equipment and no headphones. “It was painful for me to be working with Ahmad and hear constant rapid gunfire in the background,” Brickey said. “These words are raw from the perspective of a westernized Afghani youth who has lost his expressive liberties to the Taliban.”
She says while Afghanistan is a hot-button political topic, the song is not about that. “This song is not about politics — it is about the feelings of oppressed people.”
‘No Rights to Breathe’ is available on Spotify, YouTube Music, and Amazon Music