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The Silence of Afghanistan

Will the Taliban ban music (again)?

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After the reconquest of the capital Kabul on August 15, a few weeks after the start of the withdrawal of US troops from the country - decided by the Trump administration with the Doha Agreements in February 2020, confirmed by the Biden Presidency and definitively concluded on August 30 - and following the President Ashraf Ghani's escape, the fundamentalist organization on August 19 announced, through its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the rebirth of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. On September 7, it established an interim government (whose legitimacy, to date, has been denied by both the EU and Italy).

Mujahid himself, on August 25, was in charge of announcing the intention to ban music in Afghanistan. "Music is banned in Islam, but we hope that we will be able to persuade people to give up on it, without having to exert pressure" - these are the words released in an interview with the New York Times. They seem to anticipate the renewal of the restrictions that were already in force in the country between 1996 and 2001. They did not allow music in public, banned radio broadcasts that contained it and eliminated the acronyms from television programs. In addition to this, there is the probable closure of talent shows, which had been among the first signs of change in the country (such as "Afghanistan's Got Talent", conceived in 2013 by Simon Cowell, the X Factor’s creator).

A report by Bernat Armangue published a month ago in The Associated Press digs deeper into the problem, revealing a much more radical facet than what appears in the national and international press In fact, although Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi stated that “[the ban on music] is currently under consideration; when a final decision will be taken, the Islamic Emirate will announce it ", both the population and the music venues have begun to feel strong pressure in this regard as early as August 15: wedding halls, karaoke and concert halls have not yet been closed , but merely the presence of Taliban fighters in these places makes intimidating the atmosphere, so much so that the musicians themselves refuse to play (many are mobilizing to obtain visas for abroad). Some of them had their instruments destroyed, others had to dismember them into several parts to be able to hide them more easily, still others were forced to bury them in the garden.

The latest - and most eloquent - episode occurred on October 29 in Surk-Rod, in the northern province of Nangarhar, when a group of Taliban broke into a wedding party, opening fire. Government sources reported three deaths and several injuries, but according to local sources (not verifiable) the death toll is at least four times this number. Mujahid said: “Investigations are underway, it is not clear how this could have happened. In the ranks of the Islamic Emirate, no one has the right to alienate anyone from music, but only to try to persuade him. If someone kills, even if he is a Taliban, he will be tried. Two suspects were arrested for the incident, and one escaped and is being prosecuted. The perpetrators of the incident, who used the name of the Islamic Emirate to carry out personal feuds, were handed over to Sharia law ”.

“I have to survive to be the mouthpiece of women in Afghanistan. The Taliban are enemies of Afghanistan: only the enemies would like to destroy our history and our music, "said Aryana Sayeed, pop star and judge of The Voice of Afghanistan, which is currently in Istanbul. She refers to the Afghan musical tradition: a strong tradition, influenced by Iranian and Indian classical music - including a promising pop scene, which through electronic elements and beat dance contaminates traditional rhythms - shaped over the last twenty years, also and above all thanks to the National Institute of Afghan Music (ANIM). The Institute was founded in 2010 by the ethnomusicologist Ahmad Naser Sarmast (accused of "corruption of youth" in 2014, and seriously injured in an attack on his life): it is a Music Academy that during the years has helped to tear out of poverty and favor the integration of a generation of young people, contributing also to the formation of excellences such as the Zhora Orchestra (composed only by women, with a hybrid repertoire between tradition and Western music, and currently taking refuge in Quatar) or Negin Khpalwak, the youngest conductor in Afghanistan (24 years). “We expect the Taliban to turn off the music. They haven't announced anything official, but they've already canceled all entertainment programs from TVs and radios. The only music left is the theme song of the news, "she declared after having succedeed to leave the country.

On August 31, the former Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi also denounced the death of Fawad Andarabi, a farmer and leading exponent of the Afghan folk music, who was executed in front of his family. “He was innocent, he was just a musician who brought people joy. But they shot him in the head on his farm,” says his son Fawad.

There are many stories that deserve to be mentioned: that of Kabul Dreams, alternative rock band in exile since 2014, that of Ramika Khabiri, the only female rapper in the country (now retired from the scene), or that of Ali ATH, a rapper who decided to remain anonymous for security reasons. "I'm at risk - he said in an interview - I earn my money from music and videos on Youtube. That's how I pay the bills. If Talibans found out that I play music they would kill me. I don't even want to think about it. I don't move very far from my neighborhood, I only go to the areas I know."

It is not yet known whether the ban on listening and playing music in Afghanistan will be confirmed by the new Taliban government; what is known is that this eventuality would destroy the "first" and the last twenty years of artistic and cultural awareness of a country that until recently, also thanks to music, was succeeding in its arduous recovery.

Translated by Simona Taravella


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  • L'Autore

    Gemma Bui

    Studentessa di Giurisprudenza, musicista, sedicente scrittrice.
    Operatrice del Terzo Settore, amante dell’Arte e della Cultura.

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