ONE = A Celebrated Afghan School Fears the Taliban Will Stop the Music
“The Afghanistan National Institute of Music became …”
Item in NY Times [whihc demands payment for access !]
TWO; Ahmad Naser Sarmast, “Will the Taliban Stop the Music in Afghanistan?,”18 August 2021
The world witnessed the Taliban takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021. But we cannot yet imagine what this means for the people and culture of Afghanistan.
Last time the Taliban ruled our land, girls could not go to school. Women could not leave home unless cloaked in burqas. Music, so central to our national identity and our human rights, was made illegal. As a consequence of the Taliban policies outlawing music, there was an exodus of musicians and performers, and total collapse of music education. For five long years, the nation was forced into silence. The rubab, our national instrument, was smashed. Already torn apart by decades of war, Afghans witnessed and experienced, and the world watched, our country’s cultural genocide. Our society faced its darkest days.
After the U.S.-led coalition pushed the Taliban from power, Afghanistan slowly began to rebuild. As a music educator, I returned from Australia to see how I could contribute in my homeland. Based primarily in Kabul, I strove to bring back quality music education. With the support of the national and international community, I founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in 2010.
From its inception, our school set out to celebrate musical and cultural diversity, offering an immersion not only in Afghanistan’s own rich musical heritage, but also in those of India, Central Asia and Europe. While Afghan girls and young women were traditionally excluded from many musical disciplines, ANIM was glad to educate them, confident that their inclusion could only enrich our art. Committed to providing quality education to students of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, we granted scholarships to some of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged young people. ANIM became a place for everyone. One visitor called it the happiest place in Afghanistan.
Looking back, I recall many moments that would come to symbolize our country’s progress since 2001. Before ANIM’s inauguration, I told a documentary filmmaker that I could hear, as clearly as though they actually existed, the sounds of the first Afghan orchestra. At that time the school did not yet have any instruments. But through the generosity and hard work of all involved, my vision was soon to become a reality. In 2013, ANIM’s orchestra embarked on its first U.S. tour, appearing at the Kennedy Center and selling out Carnegie Hall. Members of the orchestra included a girl who not long before had sold chewing gum on the streets of Kabul. Now she performed on the same fabled New York stage as Tchaikovsky and the Beatles.
ANIM went on to play at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a few years later and toured Europe with its all-female orchestra, Zohra, under the batons of two women, then was awarded the prestigious Polar Music Prize. Together, its young students shared the beauty of our nation’s ancient musical traditions with audiences around the world. For me, though, our greatest successes were marked by the smiles of the Afghan girls and boys who came to share their private triumphs with me in my office back at home. I never felt more proud than when a young cellist passed her final exam, or a small boy joyfully played his first song on the rubab.
Now the rubab’s strings have once again fallen silent in Afghanistan. There is speculation that today’s Taliban has changed. They promise respect for diversity and human rights, but we must watch and wait to see if the change is genuine and lasting, as they have not yet announced their policies toward music and other creative endeavors they banned a generation ago.
It is my fervent hope that this time our fears will prove to be unfounded. When circumstances demand it, Afghans show the same unbreakable character as the mighty mountains that dominate our landscape. We can never truly give up our music or our way of life. I cherish the optimistic belief that today’s Taliban leaders will recognize this unquenchable spirit and honor their new promises. I ask the international community to join me in my heartfelt hope that things will be different this time around. I ask for us to work together to ensure that ANIM and other Afghan musicians will have their musical rights respected and the freedom to continue to share their unique cultural heritage with music-lovers around the world. Let the strings of the rubab continue to reverberate in the land of their birth.
—Mr. Sarmast is the founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. He is currently in Australia.