Afghanistan: Musicians unite against censorship
130 Afghans have established a new musician’s organisation, the Afghanistan Music Foundation, with the objective of creating unification among musicians in the country – and to fight against music censorship and oppression of musicians
Text and video by Mik Aidt, journalist & Freemuse’s web editor
It was a day that can very well turn out to be historic for Afghan music. On April 26, 2005, musicians in Afghanistan gathered in Kabul for a one-day conference on music and censorship, entitled “Flying with Singing and Playing – Music and Censorship, Freedom of Speech”, and when the approximately 110 musicians, technicians, writers and researchers left the conference hall in the evening, a new organisation had been created: the Afghanistan Music Foundation.
Among the founding members are renowned Afghan musicians such as Salam Jawid and Naser Pardez – who are both composers, singers and guitar players – singers Ahmad Fanes and Sharif Sahel, and guitar player Qasem.
Putting things on the table
“Authors and journalists have been killed during the last 25 years in Afghanistan, but their death toll doesn’t come close to the amount of musicians who have been murdered in that same period. Musicians suffer and are receiving death threats. This is the first opportunity, the first time such a possibility has been conducted, of putting the things on the table and talk about them in the open,” says poet Dr Abdul Samay Hamed. He was a facilitator and organiser of the conference, together with Malek Mohammed Sitez who is a project manager at the International Department of Danish Institute for Human Rights. Both of them are based in Denmark. Dr Hamed previously held two one-day workshops in Kabul on how to write lyrics.
Topics of the conference
• “Censorship of power” – for instance that Afghanistan has a 30-year-old system within radio and tv broadcasters where a person is employed to check that the lyrics of the new music arriving there is not offensive or against the general government policies. Though the days of censorship are officially over, musicians living in remote areas of Afghanistan are facing heavy pressure and even death threats from religious groups.
• “Economical censorship” – including the technical challenges and obstacles. A lot of good talent is wasted because of lack of infrastructure in the music sector.
• “Self-censorship” – for instance when the singers tell themselves: “I should not sing this”, or when different kinds of tension and struggle erupt between musicians at a private or tribal level.
In workshop groups, the participants discussed how to find solutions to the problems that musicians in Afghanistan are facing
Dr Abdul Samay Hamed was facilitator of the conference.
Watch a three-minutes video interview
Another challenge identified was to make new connections between poets and musicians, in order to enhance the quality of song writing among Afghan musicians.
A role in the rehabilitation
“Musicians could play an important role in the rehabilitation of Afghanistan. But somehow the international community, the Western donors and aid organisations, haven’t yet discovered this. They are focused on assisting building up the physical infrastructure of the country. We need to make them see how music is an excellent way to disperse open-minded information and move a people towards democracy, involving the women, and so on. It is a paradox of our society that on one hand, Afghans love music – you find two music shops and two bands in each street, and you hear it in all the shops and restaurants – but on the other hand, Afghans don’t like musicians because they symbolise something which is very open and free. At the conference, you could really feel that the musicians want to DO something about this situation now,” says the 38-year-old music and human rights activist who apart from being a doctor and a poet is also a journalist, cartoonist and author of more than 15 books. Samay Hamed was born in the province of Badakhshan and has founded 10 newspapers and magazines in Afghanistan, until he was forced to flee the country. On his return to Afghanistan in 2002, shortly after the fall of the Talibans, he was attacked by fundamentalists and stabbed with knives 14 times.
Abdul Samay Hamed on
Read more aboutThe Danish Institute for Human Rights' activities in Afghanistan
The Danish Institute for Human Rights’ theme about Afghanistan (in Danish):
Institut for Menneskerettigheder og Afghanistan
Musik og censur
Dr. Samay Hamed was awarded the International Press Freedom Award in 2003. His biography and an interview can be found at: cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists)
Malek Mohammed Sitez was initator and co-organiser of the conference. He fled to Denmark 11 years ago. The 40-year-old lawyer and author is a guest teacher at University of Kabul, and leader of DIHR's Afghanistan projects