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Afghanistan’s all-female orchestra keeps music alive in exile

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Zohra, Afghanistan’s first female orchestra, was established in 2016.

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For the first time in months, members of Afghanistan’s all-female Zohra Orchestra have reunited in Doha, their music filling the air once again as they face an uncertain future.

Despite being grateful to be safe in Qatar, their escape from the Taliban regime is bitter, as the girls leave behind their instruments – friends of the orchestra and their “old companions”.

Last week marked the first time in three months that Marzia Anwari, along with other members of the Afghan music community who had fled Qatar, played live to the audience.

“Most of the girls from the Zohra orchestra are here with me in Qatar, but some of them are still in Afghanistan,” the 18-year-old violinist told AFP.

“I hope they can join us here as soon as possible and we can be together and rebuild our orchestra.”

Zohra, Afghanistan’s first female orchestra, was established in 2016.

A group of 35 young musicians aged 13-20, some from orphaned or impoverished families, gave a cross-culture performance at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, overcoming the dangers of death and tradition in their homeland.

Now in exile, and with new instruments, the musicians are hoping to keep their cultural heritage alive after Islamic fundamentalists seized power in August.

everything is ‘haram’

When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, music was banned, and since their return, women’s freedom and education have again been abruptly curtailed.

“In Afghanistan, they consider everything ‘haraam’ (religiously forbidden) for women, especially music,” Anwari said.

He said that even before the acquisition it was difficult to be a working musician, many conservative Afghans believe that girls belong in the house.

“When we used to go out, people used to call us… ‘uncountable’ and so on,” Anwari said.

The Taliban is trying to garner support and financial support for its Islamic regime, promising a more flexible regime than last time.

But since he overthrew Afghanistan’s former US-backed government, high school girls have been barred from returning to classes, while many women have been banned from returning to work.

Shogofa Safi, a percussionist and conductor of the Zohra Orchestra, said she was happy to be out of Afghanistan.

The 18-year-old told AFP of her tragic escape after Taliban militants attacked Kabul airport before her evacuation flight.

“The situation in Afghanistan was really dangerous and it was scary to leave,” she said.

The Taliban “didn’t know we were musicians”, she said, adding that “if they had known”, they would have killed them.

‘Beyond Boundaries’

Qatar is hosting about 100 students and faculty from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), including the Zohra Orchestra, until they leave for Portugal.

One of them is Mohammad Kambar Naushad, the conductor of the Afghan National Orchestra, who said he was happy to make music again.

“We haven’t played for at least three months since they took Kabul. So it’s a great opportunity not only for me but for the whole community to perform again, make our dreams come true,” he said. Was.” .

Navshad had to leave behind his wife and two children, but is expected to be reunited with them soon in Qatar or Portugal.

“I love Qatar and I love the people of Qatar … but I will never love it as much as I do Kabul,” he said tearfully.

Promising more restraint, the Taliban have made it clear that they will run Afghanistan according to their interpretation of Sharia law.

The movement’s position on the music is inconsistent and no clear orders have yet been issued.

But after the last brutal crackdown on Taliban culture in the 1990s, many musicians are now in hiding and some have given up their instruments. Music schools remain closed.

Anwari said he was happy to be playing the viola again in Qatar, but was “heartbroken” to lose his old instrument.

“Even when I slept, it was right above my head,” she said.

Anwari, Safi and Navshad all said they would continue to fight for their homeland with their music, which ranges from traditional Afghan tunes to western classical music.

“We will keep it alive, Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage – and Afghanistan too, beyond borders,” Navshad said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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