KABUL — In a country where music was silenced for five years, the beat is back and even rock shares the airwaves with the romantic strains of traditional Afghan songs.
The Taliban, who banned all music as sinful while they were in power between 1996 and 2001, can’t stop the music.
The Central Asian nation has an ancient tradition of songs built on its rich culture of poetry, ranging from war, heroism and epic tales of life in this harsh land, to delicate love stories.
In a makeshift studio in their apartment in west Kabul, four young men have formed a band called Morcha (Ants), which they describe as Afghanistan’s first rock band.
Vocalist Shekib Musadeq, drummer Shafiq Najafi and two bass players Hassanzada and Behroz Shujahi gather daily for practice, rocking their building — and their neighbors — with Western beats.
“Music has been part of the people’s life ever since history remembers,” says Hassanzada.
He describes their lyrics as “neither about love, nor Taliban hatred” but about current realities in their war-shattered country: a deadly insurgency, corruption, the illicit drugs trade and natural disasters.
“Fifteen died in Helmand, the drought ended in Herat... NATO conducted a rapid air strike on a wedding party,” the band sings against the beat of drum and bass guitar while practising for a big concert in Kabul.
“The Taliban peace plan on the president’s desk, the elders of Paktika endorsed it... The headlines from Afghanistan, thanks to the world are all about these.”
But love songs accompanied by traditional tabla drums and elegant, lute-like rubab strings, remain a staple of the old style:
“I’m a worshipper of flowers, drunk without drinking (because) tonight I’m with a flower,” sings Sarban. And in a country where many women still wear the all-enveloping blue burqa, lyrics are not short of erotic elements.
The Taliban, who shunned modernity while in power, now use video and the Internet to get their message across.
But the rest of the range of musical styles can be heard on dozens of radio and television channels, and drifting though open car windows as drivers negotiate the chaotic streets of the once silent capital, Kabul.
Abdul Satar Qasimi, a professional rubab player and singer who runs a musical instrument shop in Kabul’s “Musician Street”, says Western-style music has pushed many classical performers to the sidelines.
Qasimi, 45, fled to Pakistan when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, and his music store was destroyed. He returned in late 2001.
“Now music has flourished but not for us. More and more people are listening to the new music, rock, pop and all these new forms of music,” he said. — AFP