Afghan children’s orchestra plays again

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Thousands of kilometers from home, a group of music students collect their instruments. The Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) has been silent for months after the Taliban took control of their country and their school in August.

Thanks to Qatari support, the students were airlifted to Doha on five flights, over six weeks, between October and November. ANIM founder Dr Ahmad Sarmast says: “The very first priority was to help the children… and to give them another opportunity to continue their education.

Filling the musical gap in Afghanistan

Musicians have historically been suppressed under the Taliban in Afghanistan. The last time they took power in the 1990s, they banned music, including the national anthem.

After the loss of power from the Taliban, Dr Sarmast set himself the goal of promoting musical talent in this war-torn country, founding ANIM in 2010. He was representative of a new country where boys and girls studied together and performed in front of audiences from all over the world.

“I went to Afghanistan not only to revive the Afghan musical tradition, but also to transform the lives of disadvantaged children through music,” Dr Sarmast told Scenes. He firmly believes that music can be transformative because of his father who had become a well-known artist in Afghanistan despite humble origins, all thanks to the power of music.

ANIM has secured funding from the World Bank and several other charities that have helped the school enroll more than 300 students. Almost 60% of students come from disadvantaged families.

One of them, Marzia, is an 18-year-old violist, left in an orphanage by her parents when she was only nine years old. Marzia was sent there because it was a way to get an education. At the orphanage, Marzia was encouraged to learn music and join ANIM. “At first I didn’t like music because my family always told me that music is haram [forbidden], she recalls.

When he arrived at school, his perception of music changed. Although her family does not support her choice of career, she pursues her dream. “When I play music, I feel free. I love the sound and I see different people, so it just makes me think the world is different, ”she says.

What ANIM offers students

The program covers two elements, traditional Afghan music and Western classical music. The school’s all-female orchestra, Zohra Orchestra, has been recognized as a symbol of a more progressive Afghanistan and has toured around the world.

ANIM focuses on the musicians of the future and many have already noticed the impact this has had on their lives. “If I weren’t in music school, I wouldn’t have so much courage. In fact, I couldn’t have spoken to one person, let alone perform in front of thousands of people in a hall, ”says Rabia, 18, who plays the lute-like instrument known as Rubab.

“When I play music, I can really express my feelings… I feel really proud. Not just for me, for my family and for Afghanistan, for my country, ”adds a classmate, Mortaza.

Although the Taliban government has not imposed an outright ban on music, some restrictions are in place. Playing music in public is now illegal, as is performing live in hotels.

This meant that the musical institution had to close its doors. “I had no idea where my future would take me and whether we would one day be able to continue playing music or not,” says Yusuf, a tabla, a traditional drumming student at ANIM.

To look forward

These young musicians have a task ahead of them. They are the generation supposed to preserve traditional Afghan sounds. “It’s our responsibility to keep the music alive when we’re in a foreign land… we’ll never let anyone stop us,” Mortaza says.

“Music is a powerful force in transforming lives. Music can teach children to live in peace and harmony. They have a responsibility to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to one day be able to help the country again, ”adds Dr Sarmast.

A bright future awaits the Afghan National Institute of Music. With support from Qatar and Portugal, he has now moved to Lisbon, where students have been granted visas. This means that the institute will reopen its doors, not only for children in Afghanistan, but also the rest of the world.


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