Good News Story: Afghan Star

A contestant on Afghan Star

A contestant on Afghan Star

After 30 years of war and Taliban rule pop culture has returned to Afghanistan. Afghan Star-a music TV talent show- is searching the country for the next generation of music stars. Over 2000 people are auditioning and even three women have come forward to try their luck. The organizers, Tolo TV,  believe with this program they can ‘move people from guns to music’.


But in a troubled country like Afghanistan, even music is controversial. Considered sacrilegious by the mujhaideen and outright banned by the Taliban (1996-2001), music has come to symbolize freedom for the youth. While the conflict still ranges many of those taking part are literally risking their lives.


But the old guard warlords and religious elite have more to worry about than music. Millions of people watch the show (11 million watched the final–a third of the country) and vote by SMS for their cell phone for their favourite singers. For many, this is the first time they have encountered democracy: one man or one woman equals one vote.


This is a highly radical idea in a country that is still essentially based on a male dominated tribal elder system. For the first time young people, ethnic minorities and women have an arena in which to shine, and at last, to vote for who they want. (Liner Notes)

The award winning documentary Afghan Star is an unapologetic ‘good news’ story. Just what the West wants and needs to see when they look wearily upon a seeming never ending conflict that has defied every ‘idea’  and peace initiative thrown at it. Which is not to say that the filmmakers are starry-eyed and seeing things that don’t really exist.  Music has a long and deep history in Afghanistan; many Indian instruments were styled upon those brought into the country by Afghans and in more recent times most Afghan singers have received training from Indian ustads.    And so it is indeed worth celebrating a nation’s rediscovery of a part of its soul.

What is really nice about the music that came out of the show and film is that it is not the music of Afghanistan’s diaspora.  In the war torn decades of the 80s, 90s and 00s, almost all of the country’s musical artists fled the country and live in exile in Europe, North America and Iran.  The huge diaspora provides them with a strong and appreciative audience.  Afghan Star turns the spotlight on entirely local artists, Afghanistan born and raised. Perhaps the furthest overseas they’ve been are the refugee camps of Pakistan or the desert cities of Iran.   Coming from all the regions of the country, Herat in the west, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Bamiyan in the center and of course, Kabul,  these young aspiring pop stars are fresh and unpretentious. Their excitement and joy is palpable. And yes, inspiring.

Setara Afghan

The music is high quality too. Afghans seem to sing with an earthy tone, somewhat broad  and open.  The arrangements are a tasteful mix of western and Afghan instruments–trumpets and rubabs; guitars as well as harmoniums.

I’ve not watched the full film yet, but will do so. In the meantime, this soundtrack is making me very happy. I hope it does the same for you.


Track Listing:

01 Chashem Ba Rahat Dil Ba Yadat

02 Amelaket Ba Gardan

03 Police

04 Zim Zim Zim

05 Choon Darakhte Farwardin

06 Baaz Aamady Al Jaane Man

07 Laila

08 Sang Baaraanam Makun

09 I Used To Love You

10 Meeting

11 Yaar Bewafa

12 Homecoming

13 Mata Chal Ne Raze

14 Sabza Ba Naaz Mea Ayad

15 Alah Alah


5 thoughts on “Good News Story: Afghan Star

  1. This is actually bad news for Afghanistan…yet more corporate whore culture destroying the core of a people, playing on their vanity and stupidity. It has ruined every culture it encounters.

    • Clayton, normally I would agree. But one must consider local context. If it is a choice between singing on TV and being a very minor minor outpost in a corporate monster’s world, OR, as has been the case for many recent years, sing and be killed…well, i’ll promote and defend the first one. Sadly Taliban and wars have done far more to destroy the culture of Afghanistan than any silly TV show.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s