Zhakfar Hussaini was censor in Afghanistan Writers Association in Balkh in 1986-1992. Today he is a poet and a graphic designer. He is also head of Afghanistani PEN’s publication section.
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In this interview Zhakfar Hussaini explains the way song lyrics were censored in the communist period in Afghanistan. Read full transcription below.
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Video interview duration: 6:35 minutes.
The interview was prepared and edited by Samay Hamed in Kabul in Afghanistan in 2006-2008. Post-editing by Mik Aidt/Freemuse. Signature music: Safdar Tawakoli.
Transcription of the video interview
“My name is Zhakfar Hussaini. I am head of the publication section of Afghanistan PEN. What I know about music censorship…
I think it was in 1986 when the Khalq Democratic Party was in power… I mean the Purcham Branch of it was in power… In Balkh Province, in Mazar City, there was an institution named Afghanistan Writers Union which later changed its name to the Afghanistan Writers Association. On the surface it was a trade union for Afghanistan’s writers but in reality I think it was the literary part of the party in power, this Afghanistan’s Writers Association which was active in Balkh as well as all of the country.
At that time, it was common that the provincial committee of the party in power – which was the Purcham Party – was sending the orders in form of circular letters to all writers associations as well as artists associations. Writers had to ‘build’ literature based on their orders in the letters. I intentionally use the verb ‘build’ for literature. For example a letter came from the Provincial Committee of the Party saying that poets should write poems about The Friendship Bridge. The Friendship Bridge is located in Hayratan and connected U.S.S.R with Afghanistan. And they sent a letter just to say that writers have to write lyrics about that bridge!
And sometimes they have sent letters ordering writers to write poems stories and literary works about Badabira. Badabira was a place in the southern part of Afghanistan where a lot of Russian soldiers had been killed.
At this time another writers association named Muslim Writers Association was established in the Mazar-i-sharif City (in Balkh Province). The Muslim Writers Association had secretly taken the rule of Afghanistan Writers Association in Balkh. And they introduced me as head of the Young Writers Section, and they put this responsibility, this job, on my shoulders.
On the surface I was in charge of that position which was supporter of the ruling party but secretly we were working for our own objectives. At that time I was also officially in charge of the music censorship. Based on an order from the ruling party, the Balkh Artists Union had to send all lyrics which were going to be used for songs to me who was officially responsible to censor them. It was my job to censor them. And after my selection and approval they could be used for making songs and be broadcasted from radio and television, and used in concerts.
So, what were the rules for censorship at that time? For example, as a rule of censorship, if the word ‘green’ was used in song lyrics it had to be censored because the word ‘green’ symbolised opposition of the government. This ‘green’ word had to be censored and was never to be used in lyrics. Also the words ‘fresh air’ should be censored. And the same went for words like ‘height’ and ‘mountain’ because the opposition of those in power was mostly located in the mountains.
I remember that the guy who had the same responsibility before me had cencored the poem which said: ‘We hope for tomorrow, patriots’. The person who was responsible for the censorship had told the poet: ‘What do you mean by saying ‘We have a hope for tomorrow, patriots’? Tomorrow is already today – the rule of our regime. Which ‘tomorrow’ is it that you are hoping for?’
Anyway, in those days, only the poems and lyrics were censored, not the melodies.
This was all what I can say about music censorship in that period.”
This interview is a part of the Freemuse Special Report, ‘The cage is singing’