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Do not let our voices be silenced’: the desperate situation facing Afghan musicians

Taliban officials have announced a ban on playing music in public, and events have gone from bad to worse

Centuries of tradition: Afghan women rehearse in Kabul in 2017

An eerie silence has fallen on Afghanistan. This country, which nurtured some of the greatest musicians of Central Asia of the last half-century, is now officially a country without music. Though there is much confusion about what the new reign of the Taliban will bring, one thing at least is certain: public music-making is banned. This is in line with their very hard-line declaration that music is forbidden in Islam ⁠– which is wrong, because the Koran makes no reference to it. But we know the Taliban has no respect for learning, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this.

The musicians who once earned a living from their art are now in fear of their lives, and have gone into hiding. At least one folk singer has already been murdered in a remote province. Last-ditch attempts to airlift the players of the Afghan National Orchestra to safety failed; the aircraft was ready and waiting, but the musicians could not reach it. Members of the all-female orchestra Zohra are so fearful of reprisals they have broken their own instruments and burned all their music.

Life for them and other musicians has become a nightmare. Samira, a popular singer of folk songs, who like so many of the younger generation of musicians became known through “Afghan Star”, the Afghan equivalent of X Factor, doesn’t dare go out. “I just have no words to express how bad I feel,” she tells me during our phone conversation, a risky thing to do now in Afghanistan when one never knows who is listening. 

“I do not feel safe, so I have to change my home every few days staying with different friends. According to the Taliban I’m a criminal, because music is forbidden, especially if you’re a woman. I’m scared because there are so many spies in society, and I’m afraid somebody will reveal my location. Life is very cheap here, people will betray you for 1000 Afghanis [around £9]. So I can’t trust anyone. And also I worry about people I’m staying with. If something happened to them I could not forgive myself, and this is why I move on every few days.”


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