May 16, 2022



The day the songs died: Afghanistan’s all-female orchestra falls silent

  • All-woman orchestra was a image of modify in Afghanistan
  • Associates fled or went into hiding soon after Taliban victory
  • Some broke up devices, burned files
  • Taliban have claimed ladies will have legal rights, no vendettas
  • But movement’s past steps necessarily mean people today remain fearful

Sept 3 (Reuters) – Negin Khpalwak was sitting down at her residence in Kabul when she acquired phrase that the Taliban had attained the outskirts of the funds.

The 24-calendar year previous conductor, when the face of Afghanistan’s renowned all-feminine orchestra, promptly began to panic.

The last time the Islamist militants have been in electrical power, they banned tunes and women ended up not allowed to do the job. In the closing months of their insurgency, they carried out targeted assaults on all those they reported experienced betrayed their eyesight of Islamic rule.

Dashing all around the area, Khpalwak grabbed a gown to go over her bare arms and hid absent a modest established of ornamental drums. Then she collected up photographs and push clippings of her famed musical performances, place them in a pile and burnt them.

“I felt so terrible, it felt like that full memory of my everyday living was turned into ashes,” claimed Khpalwak, who fled to the United States – 1 of tens of thousands who escaped abroad right after the Taliban’s lightning conquest of Afghanistan.

The story of the orchestra in the times subsequent the Taliban’s victory, which Reuters has pieced jointly by way of interviews with associates of Khpalwak’s new music school, encapsulates the feeling of shock felt by youthful Afghans like Khpalwak, notably women.

The orchestra, called Zohra following the Persian goddess of music, was primarily built up of ladies and girls from a Kabul orphanage aged amongst 13 and 20.

Shaped in 2014, it grew to become a world wide image of the freedom a lot of Afghans started to take pleasure in in the 20 a long time since the Taliban final ruled, inspite of the hostility and threats it ongoing to facial area from some in the deeply conservative Muslim place.

Putting on brilliant red hijabs, and playing a mix of classic Afghan tunes and Western classics with nearby devices like the guitar-like rabab, the team entertained audiences from the Sydney Opera House to the Planet Financial Discussion board in Davos.

Currently, armed Taliban guard the shuttered Afghanistan Countrywide Institute of Music (ANIM) where by the group when practised, while in some pieces of the country the movement has ordered radio stations to prevent playing songs.

“We never predicted that Afghanistan will be returning to the stone age,” mentioned ANIM’s founder Ahmad Sarmast, introducing that Zohra orchestra represented liberty and feminine empowerment in Afghanistan and its members served as “cultural diplomats”.

Sarmast, who was speaking from Australia, informed Reuters the Taliban had barred team from entering the institute.

“The women of Zohra orchestra, and other orchestras and ensembles of the faculty, are fearful about their lifestyle and they are in hiding,” he mentioned.

A Taliban spokesman did not immediately react to concerns about the status of the institute.

Considering the fact that returning to electric power as the final Western soldiers withdrew from the region, the Taliban have sought to reassure Afghans and the outdoors world about the rights they would make it possible for.

The team has explained cultural pursuits as properly as jobs and education for gals would be permitted, within the confines of sharia and Afghanistan’s Islamic and cultural tactics.

Devices Still left Behind

Whilst Khpalwak frantically burned her musical recollections on Aug. 15, the working day the Taliban marched into Kabul with out a combat, some of her friends were attending a follow at ANIM, getting ready for a significant intercontinental tour in Oct.

At 10 a.m., the school’s stability guards rushed into the rehearsal home to explain to the musicians that the Taliban were being closing in. In their haste to escape, many left behind instruments far too hefty and conspicuous to have on the streets of the cash, according to Sarmast.

Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 girls, practises through a session, at Afghanistan’s Countrywide Institute of Tunes, in Kabul, Afghanistan April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Sarmast, who was in Australia at the time, said he gained lots of messages from students concerned about their basic safety and inquiring for assist. His workers explained to him not to return to the region for the reason that the Taliban had been searching for him and his residence experienced been raided numerous occasions.

The hazards dealing with performers in Afghanistan have been brutally highlighted in 2014, when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the course of a present at a French-run faculty in Kabul, wounding Sarmast who was in the viewers.

At the time, Taliban insurgents claimed the assault and stated the perform, a condemnation of suicide bombings, was an insult to “Islamic values”.

Even throughout 20 years of a Western-backed government in Kabul, which tolerated better civil liberties than the Taliban, there was resistance to the strategy of an all-feminine orchestra.

Zohra orchestra members have formerly spoken about owning to disguise their new music from conservative family members and becoming verbally abused and threatened with beatings. There ended up even objections amongst youthful Afghans.

Khpalwak recalled one particular incident in Kabul when a group of boys stood attentively looking at 1 of their performances.

As she was packing up, she overheard them speaking among by themselves. “What a disgrace these ladies are enjoying music”, “how have their family members permitted them?”, “women must be at home”, she recalled them stating.


Existence under the Taliban could be a great deal worse than whispered jibes, explained Nazira Wali, a 21-calendar year-previous former Zohra cellist.

Wali, who was learning in the United States when the Taliban retook Kabul, claimed she was in contact with orchestra users back again property who were being so fearful of being located that they experienced smashed their devices and were deleting social media profiles.

“My coronary heart is trembling in dread for them, for the reason that now that the Taliban are there we are unable to forecast what will transpire to them inside the upcoming moment,” she reported.

“If points continue as they are, there will be no tunes in Afghanistan.”

Reuters arrived at out to a number of orchestra members remaining in Kabul for this story. None responded.

Khpalwak managed to escape from Kabul a couple of times following the Taliban arrived, boarding an evacuation flight together with a group of feminine Afghan journalists.

Tens of hundreds of individuals flocked to Kabul’s airport to attempt and flee the region, storming the runway and in some situations clutching on to the outside the house of departing planes. A number of died in the chaos.

Khpalwak is way too youthful to absolutely try to remember existence below the Taliban’s former rule, but arriving in the cash as a young girl to go to university sticks in her memory.

“All I observed was ruins, downed properties, holes in bullet-ridden partitions. That’s what I bear in mind. And that’s the image that arrives to head now when I hear the name of the Taliban,” she explained.

In the music college she discovered solace, and amid her Zohra orchestra bandmates “ladies nearer than spouse and children”.

“There was not a single working day that was a poor day there, due to the fact there was always music, it was comprehensive of color and attractive voices. But now there is silence. Absolutely nothing is going on there.”

Enhancing by Mike Collett-White

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Have confidence in Principles.