Folk music

Afghan musicians face uncertain future under the Taliban

The Taliban, who banned music when they ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, have yet to announce a formal arts policy, but a spokesperson said The New York Times end of August: “Music is prohibited in Islam. After hearing this, Faisal called his group mates and asked them to leave as well. They were rehearsing in a rented space, and when the Taliban took control, they sealed it and abandoned their instruments.

“Every day we text each other and call each other. All of our members are in a safe place,” Faisal said. Billboard during a WhatsApp call, requesting anonymity and refusing to disclose their location and group name. “But we can’t play. We can’t work. We can’t train. We don’t know what will happen with our instruments. We don’t know whether they found this or not.”

The undemocratic Taliban regime, which regained control of the country last month after the United States ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan and began withdrawing troops from the region, has already had a devastating impact on local music. Over two decades of democracy, Afghan musicians have slowly developed groups and orchestras, from a classical and traditional school called the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) to the reality show. Afghan star to concert festivals and DIY stages for hip-hop, hard rock, black metal and other genres.

But under the Taliban, it’s all gone now. Even weddings stopped hiring live bands and mostly moved indoors, choosing to play the recorded songs softly over home speakers instead. “We lost our homes, our jobs and everything,” said Metal sam, who performed in a band called Rig Veda before fleeing Kabul at the start of the Taliban takeover. “My musical career is over.” Like Faisal, he lives in an undisclosed location, waiting for flights to be approved so he can flee the country.

“We are at high risk,” says Metal Sam. “People often used to make or listen to classical / folk music and sometimes western music like hip-hop. Music was a pretty big part of Afghan culture, somehow. something the Afghans cannot easily give up. Of course, these people are in danger now. “

Another musician who spoke to Billboardby text are part of a hip-hop group that have felt free to express themselves with “critical lyrics” during the last two decades of the Afghan democratic system. “We are in danger,” he said. “We know the Taliban, they are against music, and they take those who are on this path seriously. Our style is rap and their excuse is they say you are spreading Western culture in this religious country.

“This is why we are in a hidden village,” he continues. “We have to lie to save our lives.”

Until the recent Taliban takeover, Afghan music was becoming more sophisticated, evolving into a DIY culture like “the 80s punk scene” in the United States, says Travis Beard, Australian filmmaker, journalist, concert promoter and activist who spent years in Afghanistan.

Developers, recording studios, engineers and producers have broadened their technical expertise over the years, and several radio stations have broadcast all kinds of music.

“It’s all underground and independent,” says Beard, who has spent years importing guitars, amps and production systems from other countries. “He was pretty neat and had his training wheels on and didn’t know how to get there. Unfortunately he stopped a few weeks ago.”

Over the years, rock artists such as Kabul dreams and Blank page emerged in Afghanistan, before settling elsewhere. The production companies had only just started providing professional-quality recordings, although there were no major record companies in the country and the government never established a copyright system or editing to protect songs and other intellectual property, says Ahmad Sarmast, founder of ANIM.

“The music business in Afghanistan is hardly established at all,” he says. “This infrastructure was coming slowly.”

Sarmast adds that he hopes the Taliban, whose leaders have recently spoken vaguely about allowing women to have jobs and education after years of violent repression, won’t ban music or oppress artists like they have done so in the past. “Afghanistan has come a long way in the past 20 years, and today Afghanistan is a whole different place,” he says.

The Taliban now control ANIM, which Sarmast founded in 2010 to teach music to children, especially girls and women. With the help of donors such as the National Association of Music Merchants and the World Bank, ANIM has used music to combat regional oppression, offering classes in which boys and girls study and play together.

Taliban leaders assure him they haven’t damaged the hundreds of musical instruments in his elaborate library, Sarmast says. And he was in contact with the institute community of 400 local musicians, teachers and students and they told him that they were all safe, although many were in hiding.

But Sarmast says he doubts the Taliban’s commitment to human rights and advises musicians to be “very careful” during this time when the government has failed to provide clear rules for music and the arts. He says of the artists: “They are worried about the future of music and the future of their lives.

“Artists generally fall into the category of Afghans at risk,” says Chris purdy, project manager for the human rights group First, “If we look back to the 1990s, it would make sense for the Taliban crackdown to apply to them.

For artists looking to leave the country, Purdy says, the only routes out of Afghanistan involve border crossings to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Iran. Bridges and other passages are “very chaotic” and in some cases surrounded by hostile troops. In addition, neighboring countries are not inclined to accept refugees in most cases, he says.

“They are at high risk right now,” Purdy says. “Their best option is to go to the ground and find a safe home… until we find the assurance of getting them out of the country safely.”

Despite the challenges, some aid groups are trying to get the musicians out.Billboardreached local musicians through Beard, who runs Save Afghan Musicians, an organization that has raised $ 17,500 and helped 20 musicians and their families leave the country in recent weeks. Beard’s Sound Central Festival in 2011 “grew out of the womb of Kabul’s small underground music scene,” according to his Facebook page, and has produced local band battle contests and other events. (He is now at home in Melbourne, Australia.)

Right now, local performers fall into the same category as performers, local politicians, and other Afghans whom the Taliban might see as enemies. US citizens and some at-risk Afghans have been able to leave the country by air, but in recent days the Taliban have reportedly banned planes from taking off.

Faisal, Metal Sam and other musicians are hoping for charter flights but are still awaiting clearance. “The US government is not paying attention,” Metal Sam says. “The media and the people need to put pressure on them to fix this problem.”

Faisal has more immediate concerns in Afghanistan. After the Taliban seized power, “some people” searched his home and attacked his brother, injuring his back. Faisal is not sure if the violence was linked to his background as a musician, but the incident prompted him and his family to flee immediately.

The 11 of his people are safe, although they are starting to run out of food after hiding for a month. “Now we don’t know [how]buy food or move places, ”he says. They are very attentive to the situation of the airport and the border in order to be able to exit as quickly as possible.

Faisal was five or six years old when he started playing music in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He had a keyboard and studied guitar with a teacher, then formed a band in recent years. He was unable to bring his guitar into his current home.

“The Taliban say you can’t work in music. Just surrender your job and do something else,” Faisal says. “I can’t do that. If in Afghanistan it’s impossible, we’ll continue our band elsewhere. I want to work on my music.”