Or­ches­tral ma­noeu­vres in Afghanistan put girls first

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - IMPACTJOURNALISM DAY -

In one of the many prac­tice rooms of the Afghanistan Na­tional In­sti­tute of Mu­sic (ANIM), Zar­ifa Adeeb is play­ing the vi­o­lin with ad­mirable dex­ter­ity and con­cen­tra­tion amid a group of stu­dents. While this Afghan girl has long dreamed of be­com­ing a pop singer, her pas­sion for clas­si­cal mu­sic has emerged more re­cently.

When she was only one year old, Adeeb fled with her fam­ily to Pak­istan where she stayed un­til she was 15, be­fore de­cid­ing to re­turn to her own coun­try. “I came here at the end of 2014. When I was look­ing for a mu­sic teacher I found this mu­sic in­sti­tute, where you can come and learn mu­sic in a pro­fes­sional way.”

Zar­ifa Adeeb, now in her fi­nal year, has been study­ing the vi­o­lin for two years. She is am­bi­tious and hope­ful. How­ever, only 10 years ago, these mu­sic lessons would have been com­pletely banned.

ANIM was opened in 2010 by Ah­mad Naser Sar­mast, the cur­rent di­rec­tor, al­though its his­tory goes back even fur­ther. The in­sti­tute is rekin­dling a mu­si­cal teach­ing tra­di­tion that was se­verely weak­ened over the course of re­cent po­lit­i­cal up­heavals.

With the orig­i­nal cre­ation of the mu­sic school in 1974, mu­sic be­came a part of the na­tional cur­ricu­lum in Afghanistan. The school held classes un­til 1988 when it closed due to war. It stayed shut through­out the rule of the Tal­iban, since mu­sic was made il­le­gal. The school only re­opened af­ter for­mer pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai came to power.

Sar­mast then be­gan the “Re­con­struc­tion of Afghan Mu­sic” project in 2008, which was funded by the World Bank. Two years later, the mu­sic school be­came ANIM and be­gan teach­ing cour­ses in both clas­si­cal western and eastern mu­sic.

These in­clude lessons in the vi­o­lin, viola, gui­tar, pi­ano, trum­pet and flute, as well as more tra­di­tional in­stru­ments such as the robab, ghickak, tam­bour drum, qashqar­cha, the three-stringed sarod and the del­roba.

Ex­clu­sively girls

Cur­rently ANIM has about 250 stu­dents, in­clud­ing 75 girls. From these ranks young women have pooled to­gether their re­spec­tive tal­ents to form the Zohra Orches­tra, the first Afghan orches­tra made up ex­clu­sively of girls. Started in 2014, this mu­si­cal group held its first event at the Cana­dian em­bassy in Kabul – not ex­actly a small-town crowd.

Zar­ifa Adeeb talks about these first days: “When I first joined the school there were only five girls in to­tal. We wanted to or­gan­ise a group for women since, that same year at the in­sti­tute, the boys were al­lowed to cre­ate both rock and pop groups. It was like a com­pe­ti­tion. So we cre­ated a choir. As time went on, other girls came to join the group. That’s when, only three weeks later, we changed from a singing group into an orches­tra.”

A teacher at the in­sti­tute, Mo­ham­mad Mu­rad Sharkhush, says: “The orig­i­nal idea for the Zohra Orches­tra came from a young girl called Mina who was a stu­dent here. The idea was taken up by Dr Naser Sar­mast and, to­day, we’re wit­ness­ing the orches­tra’s suc­cess.”

Un­for­tu­nately, due to fam­ily prob­lems, the girl had to re­turn to her home prov­ince, and then her fam­ily re­fused to let her re­turn to Kabul.

Mu­si­cians in the orches­tra range from 12 to 21 years of age. Re­cently, they had the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional pro­grammes, such as the Davos fo­rum in Switzer­land. “One of our main suc­cesses so far was be­ing able to show to the world a pos­i­tive im­age of Afghanistan and its cul­ture. This orches­tra has been sup­ported by sev­eral coun­tries and is also known as the ‘An­gels of Mu­sic’,” Sharkhush adds.

Ev­ery year, be­tween 300 and 400 ap­pli­cants take the in­sti­tute’s en­trance exam and only 50 of them are of­fered places. About 50 per cent of the can­di­dates are home­less or or­phaned chil­dren and are put for­ward by NGOs work­ing on chil­dren’s rights in Afghanistan. As well as the Zohra Orches­tra, the in­sti­tute has 11 other mu­sic groups.

Sharkhush con­tin­ues: “When a change oc­curs in a coun­try, it’s bet­ter not to worry: you should be pos­i­tive, and I am optimistic. Afghanistan is a coun­try where art oc­cu­pies a prom­i­nent place in peo­ple’s lives.”

At the in­sti­tute, both rich stu­dents and or­phans at­tend mu­sic classes un­der the same roof. They ex­press their emo­tions – whether that means pain, hope, joy or grief – through mu­sic, so that one day they will be able to ful­fil their child­hood dreams. Sar­mas ANIM “is like an island of hope in the dark. This in­sti­tute is the sym­bol of the Afghanistan of to­mor­row.”

Afghanistan Na­tional In­sti­tute of Mu­sic: cur­rently the in­sti­tute has about 250 stu­dents, in­clud­ing 75 girls

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