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Lady Gaga Will make History when she performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival

Beyonce had been slated to headline the Coachella festival in Indio, California, but backed out because she's pregnant with twins

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Lady Gaga performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 51 in Houston, Feb. 5, 2017, VOA
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New York, April 15, 2017: Lady Gaga will make history when she performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival this weekend, marking a decade since a solo woman has been billed as a headliner on the prestigious musical stage.

Beyonce had been slated to headline the festival in Indio, California, but backed out because she’s pregnant with twins. Bjork was the last solo female to headline Coachella in 2007, so it begs the question: Why has it taken so long?

Women have always performed at Coachella, which began Friday, since it was launched in 1999. In the last few years the number of female performers has grown, including acts that blend alternative and pop, such as Sia and Tegan & Sara, to mega genre-mashers like M.I.A., Janelle Monae and Santigold.

Coachella is known as the festival for cool kids — and musicians. That leaves little to no room for acts that dominate Top 40 radio, where women have a strong presence, from Katy Perry to Rihanna.

Halsey, the Grammy-nominated singer who is readying her second alternative album and had one of last year’s biggest pop hits with “Closer” alongside the Chainsmokers, performed at Coachella last year. The 22-year-old said women who perform alternative music are often billed as pop artists because of their sex.

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“Festivals like Coachella, they pride themselves on being part of the counterculture, being tastemakers, upholding themselves to a certain standard of the artists that they include, and I think one of the problems is that female artists are so often tainted as pop artists even when they don’t necessarily intend to be,” Halsey said. “Female artists can put out the same style of a record as a male artist and when a male artist does it, it has a certain type of dignity, it has a certain type of edge … as soon as a woman puts out a record of the same caliber, it’s immediately filed as a pop record no matter what.”

Halsey said it’s something she’s experienced in her own career with the success of “Closer.”

“It was this giant pop record and immediately I was a pop artist even though I put out an alternative album, I played alternative festivals and I was on alternative radio,” she said. “As soon as [you] do one pop record it’s like the kiss of death for a female artist sometimes.”

Gary Bongiovanni, CEO of concert trade publication Pollstar, said he didn’t think the gap between male and female headliners at Coachella was calculated.

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“I don’t see that there’s any sexism. There’s nothing more than trying to put together a bill of artists that the public wants to see. And we live in a world where a significant majority of the acts are either male or male-fronted bands versus females or female-fronted bands,” he said. “If you look at the level of business all of those artists do and you try to cobble together a lineup that’s going to be appealing, it’s difficult, and there are a lot of the female acts that may not lend themselves to performing in front of 60,000 or 80,000 people in an open field, versus headlining an area or more likely a theater.”

In last year’s Pollstar chart of the 100 top-grossing North America tours, women made up about 15 percent of the list, which was dominated by male acts and male-fronted bands. Only two women cracked the Top 10: Beyonce was No.1 and Adele came in fifth.

Coachella is sold out before the lineup is announced, so the festival has the luxury of picking performers instead of relying on acts to help sell tickets.

Along with Gaga, this year’s headliners include Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar, who released his hotly anticipated new album Friday. Some of the female performers include Lorde, Banks, Tove Lo, Kehlani, Nao, Kiiara and Bishop Briggs. Yukimi Nagano, who fronts Swedish band Little Dragon, is returning to Coachella for a third time.

Nagano said she was surprised that it’s been 10 years since a woman headlined the festival, adding: “I think it’s a really positive thing.”

Jason White, executive vice president of marketing at Beats by Dre, said the company is purposely, and exclusively, giving attention to women at the festival: Their space at Coachella will only feature female performers, including Erykah Badu, DJ Kiss, Ana Calderon, JCK DVY and Jasmine Solano.

“I think it really meshes incredibly well with what’s going on with Coachella because you do have Gaga, we’re excited about seeing Kehlani [and] there’s some really solid performers this year,” he said.

Halsey, who spoke over the phone Thursday as she drove to the desert to watch Coachella as a fan, said she was thrilled to see Gaga take the stage. She said the recent Super Bowl halftime performer is one of those pioneering female acts that haven’t been boxed into a genre, though she knows “the extremes [Gaga] has to go to maintain that counterculture are much greater than that of what a male artist has to do.”

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“Drake is still considered a rap/rhythm artist even though he is essentially a pop artist when you look at the decisions that he makes and the climate that kind of surrounds his projects,” Halsey said.

“And when you have a female artist in the same lane, they get written off as a pop artist simply because they’re female, simply because the conversation with them, it goes to fashion, makeup or whatever, and those are questions and comments that don’t surround the brand and surround the career of a male artist.”
-VOA

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)