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.
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.
01 Chashem Ba Rahat Dil Ba Yadat
02 Amelaket Ba Gardan
04 Zim Zim Zim
05 Choon Darakhte Farwardin
06 Baaz Aamady Al Jaane Man
08 Sang Baaraanam Makun
09 I Used To Love You
11 Yaar Bewafa
13 Mata Chal Ne Raze
14 Sabza Ba Naaz Mea Ayad
15 Alah Alah