Local musical festival in central Afghanistan banned by Shi’ite religious leaders
The organizers will perform the two-day Dombra festival anyway
It is against Islamic law as per Shi’ite religious leaders
Afghanistan, July 18, 2017: A council of Shi’ite religious leaders in Bamyan province in central Afghanistan banned a local musical festival, calling it “Harram” or against Islamic law, while many other religious leaders hailed it as art and a cultural event.
Local officials say that despite the disagreement with religious leaders, the organizers will go ahead with their schedule to perform the two-day Dombra Music Festival, and the statement of the religious council will not affect their cultural festival. The event was scheduled earlier this month.
The Dombra, a lute-like musical instrument, is distinctive in central regions of Afghanistan, although the instrument has different names in various provinces of Afghanistan among varied traditions.
The Shi’ite religious leaders’ council, in its statement, said, “Propagating music with dance and jubilance and playing Dombra is against Islamic values, and local administration must preclude such events that expand immoralities.”
The local administration of information and culture in Bamyan rejected the allegation of the religious council, emphasizing that the musical festival in Bamyan is holding on to the request of residents and the “Dombra musical festival is representing the culture and art of people in Bamyan.”
Bamyan has experienced less violence and insecurity than some provinces over past 15 years. More than 10 art and cultural festivals have been held on different occasions in Bamyan in recent years. In addition, two years ago, a group of women initiated an effort to learn Dombra and established a local band. (VOA)
The consequences of Afghanistan’s increasingly deadly war are weighing heaviest on the nation’s civilians, with women bearing the brunt of the violence. The Taliban banned music and girls education, and restricted outdoor activities of women when the group was controlling most of Afghanistan.
But violence and social pressures have not deterred members of the country’s nascent orchestra of mostly young girls from using music to “heal wounds” and promote women’s rights in the strictly conservative Muslim society.
The ensemble, known as Zohra, was founded in 2014 as part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, where suicide bombings lately have become routine.
Hope and music
Students and trainers are not losing hope and regularly come to the city’s only institute to rehearse and learn new lessons, says Ahmed Naser Sarmast, the director of ANIM and the founder of the orchestra. Zohra is the name of a music goddess in Persian literature, he explained.
The musicologist spoke to VOA while visiting neighboring Pakistan earlier this month with the young ensemble to perform in Islamabad as part of celebrations marking the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Kabul’s embassy in Islamabad organized and arranged for the orchestra’s first visit to Pakistan.
Despite the many challenges in Afghanistan, Sarmast said, student enrollment has consistently grown and more parents are bringing their children to the institute to study music. Around 300 students are studying not only music at the institute but other subjects, including the Quran, he said.
Advances for women
Negin Khpolwak, the orchestra’s first woman conductor, says Afghanistan has made significant advances in terms of promoting women’s rights in the past 17 years. She says there is a need to sustain the momentum irrespective of rising violence.
“We need to stand up to protect those gains and we need to open the doors for other Afghan girls,” Khpolwak said when asked whether deadly attacks around the country are reversing the gains women have made.
But violence alone is not the only challenge for women and girls, especially those who want to study music, she said.
“When you are going in the street with your instrument to the school and they are saying bad words to you and if you are giving a concert in public they are telling the bad words to you. But we are not caring about it,” Khpolwak said.
Ethnic groups help each other
Sarmast says that girls and boys in the orchestra come from different Afghan ethnic groups and they help each other when needed.
“It’s hope for the future,” he said.
Ethnic rivalries have been a hallmark of hostilities in Afghanistan and continue to pose a challenge to efforts promoting peace and stability.
“I strongly believe without arts and culture there cannot be security and we are using the soft power of music to make a small contribution to bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and at the same time using this beautiful, if I can call it a beautiful weapon, to transform our community,” the director said.
Some of the members of the Afghan orchestra were born and brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan, which still hosts around 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan families displaced by years of war, poverty, persecution and drought.
“We are using the healing power of music to look after the wounds of the Afghan people as well as the Pakistani people. We are here with the message of peace, brotherhood and freedom,” Sarmast said.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border. Bilateral relations are marred by mistrust and suspicion.
The countries blame each other for supporting terrorist attacks. Afghans allege that sanctuaries in Pakistan have enabled Taliban insurgents to sustain and expand their violent acts inside Afghanistan. Pakistan rejects the charges.
The Islamist insurgency controls or is attempting to control nearly half of Afghanistan. (VOA)