Mu­sic On the Right Note

Un­der­neath the rub­ble of in­sta­bil­ity, lies a vi­brant move­ment of young Afghan mu­si­cians.

Southasia - - Contents - By Amna E Khaishgi

In­cor­rectly por­trayed in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia, Afghanistan is of­ten de­picted as a bar­ren, sav­age land, de­ify­ing young Afghans lost in guns and gore. But not all the streets of Kabul paint the same pic­ture. Boys and girls in ur­ban cen­ters are in­creas­ingly pur­chas­ing and show­ing in­ter­est in mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. For them, mu­sic has served as a life­line in a war-torn coun­try.

To­day, Afghan singers and bands are in­tro­duc­ing the coun­try’s mu­sic to the world. Afghanistan’s heavy metal band, District Un­known is one such ex­am­ple. While the me­dia con­tin­ues to por­tray Afghanistan as an un­sta­ble and in­se­cure coun­try, civil so­ci­ety ar­gues oth­er­wise. Syed Mu­dasir Ali Shah, a renowned jour­nal­ist from Kabul, as­serts, “Yes in­deed, mu­sic is now chang­ing the lives of many Afghan youth.”

With a strong his­tory of art and cre­ativ­ity, mu­sic has al­ways had a spe­cial sta­tus in Afghan cul­ture but due to con­tin­u­ous con­flicts and war, span­ning over two gen­er­a­tions, the art gave way to gun­shots and ex­plo­sions. When the Tal­iban came to power, many mu­si­cians, singers and com­posers fled and took asy­lum in dif­fer­ent west­ern coun­tries such as Ger­many, Aus­tralia, and the US. Now with Afghanistan fi­nally gear­ing up to en­ter what could be its golden years, many young peo­ple have re­turned and oth­ers are ready to pack their bags and come home

soon. How­ever, love for mu­sic to­day seems to have be­come an ur­ban phe­nom­e­non. For Shah, in a coun­try where peo­ple are strug­gling against hunger and shel­ter, mu­sic is a lux­ury few can af­ford, re­stricted only to the cap­i­tal. “Peo­ple of Afghanistan are still fight­ing for ed­u­ca­tion, food and de­cent job op­por­tu­ni­ties to feed their fam­i­lies. In this sit­u­a­tion, mu­sic can­not be their pri­or­ity es­pe­cially in the ru­ral sec­tions of the coun­try. But the way in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions are com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing mu­sic in Afghanistan, it seems like things will im­prove soon,” he says.

Over the years, re­ports of young mu­si­cians tar­geted and per­se­cuted by a ruth­less Tal­iban regime have also made rounds but on the is­sue of ex­trem­ists forc­ing mu­si­cians to leave the coun­try, Shah adds an­other di­men­sion. “As of­ten por­trayed by the world out­side, Tal­iban are not al­ways en­e­mies of mu­sic. Mu­sic has never been their main tar­get and their op­po­si­tion to art and cul­ture is melt­ing down,” he em­pha­sizes. In ad­di­tion, many girls have en­rolled at the Afghanistan Na­tional In­sti­tute of Mu­sic where they are learn­ing mu­sic and the per­form­ing arts. More im­por­tantly, the num­bers are ris­ing though the coun­try re­mains a tra­di­tional and pa­tri­ar­chal tribal so­ci­ety and girls have un­for­tu­nately never dom­i­nated the mu­sic scene in the coun­try.

The es­tab­lish­ment of the Afghanistan Na­tional In­sti­tute of Mu­sic, a few years ago emerged as a bea­con of hope, serv­ing as a nour­ish­ing ground for Afghan mu­sic. The in­sti­tute helps and pro­motes in­spir­ing singers and mu­si­cians and also of­fers mu­sic classes to im­pov­er­ished chil­dren.

Mu­sic is not the only thing that is

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