Christopher Howse

The deafening rise of ‘background’ music

One of my favourite things on British Muslim TV is Ask the Alim. An alim is a learned expert in the law. He’ll answer anything, live. The 2020 Best Bits highlights programme included a question about divorce. Can a man take back a woman he has divorced? Good question. It depends whether the divorce is revocable or irrevocable, according to the alim.

Boris Johnson has been doing something similar on Facebook recently: Ask the Prime Minister. Instead of expertise on Shariah, he offers an ‘irreversible roadmap to freedom’. But there has been something a bit weird recently about the broadcasts (easily viewed and reviewed to your heart’s content on Twitter, too). It’s the music.

The alim certainly does not speak accompanied by music. Music can be a bit suspect in Islam. That is something to ask the alim about. But the Prime Minister can sometimes hardly be heard for the music. He has barely delivered his habitual greeting of ‘Hi, folks’ (a constitutionally approved mode of address, perhaps, to the several peoples of the United Kingdom) before the tinkling starts or the strings rouse.

The Prime Minister has barely delivered his habitual greeting of ‘Hi, folks’ before the tinkling starts

‘The vulnerable who have not had the first dose,’ says the Prime Minister, explaining who can and can’t do what, before the words are swallowed up in a sandy sizzle on the high-hat cymbals. ‘Outdoors, keep to the rule of six,’ he says to the tinkle of a xylophone as though we were soon to expect a chorus of ‘Shine, Jesus, shine’.

Surely the music must be bought in, by the foot, in easy iron-on sections. Does this musical soundtrack win over viewers? Responses on Twitter are almost universally hostile, even if you count as favourable remarks such as: ‘Oh glorious leader we are humbled by your munificence.’

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