Afghanistan: Bittersweet success of secret girl band

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Afghanistan:
Bittersweet success of secret girl band

The Afghan girl group, ‘Burka Band,’ continues to receive media attention and draw new fans, even though they are no longer active. The names of the three female band members remain secret to ensure their security.

They are labelled “Afghanistan’s first serious pop band since the fall of the Taliban”. Some even know them as the “Spice Girls of Afghanistan”. They play Western rock instruments – electric guitar, drum kit – and wear traditional head-to-toe burkas. Their hit single features them singing about burkas, in English: “…My mother wears blue jeans now, and I am so surprised, the things are changing faster, I don’t know if it’s right…”

The lyrics of the song “Burka Blue” are about burkas and the way you feel when you wear them. Since its release in 2003, the song has become an MP3 cult hit on the internet, particularly in Germany where it was released on CD by the record company Ata Tak. A remix, produced by Barbara Morgenstern, has been played in clubs all across Europe.

The Burka Band experienced their height of media attention in the summer of 2003 where they appeared in the online edition of Spiegel, Charlotte Roche’s ‘Fast Forward’ (on Viva TV) and Yahoo’s opening page. The TV channel SAT 1 broadcasted extensive coverage of the band in its evening news. The BBC and AFP, along with a host of different European daily newspapers, also published articles about the group. In addition, the world’s most distributed US music publication, Spin Magazine, also gave the Burka Band some press.


Secrecy

However, the success of the first Afghan girl band is bittersweet because it remains too dangerous for the musicians and composers to reveal their real identities.

Using a pseudonym, the drummer, 25-year-old “Nargiz,” has given numerous interviews to journalists from all over the world. But only six people in Afghanistan – her mother, a sister and a few close friends – know that she sings this song. One day, after reading about it on the Internet, her cousin said to her, “Have you heard that some Afghan girls in burka have become popular in Germany?” She replied, “No!”

In addition to creating a major family scandal, it would be quite dangerous if the group’s identities were revealed to the public. “If people in Afghanistan knew who the members of the Burka Band were, we could be attacked or killed because there are still a lot of religious fanatics here,” said Nargiz to Danish freelance journalist Michael Lund, who interviewed her in Kabul in 2004.

“It is difficult to go anywhere. If I go alone on the street, people will be looking as if I came from another planet. Neighbours gossip about me. So I stick to going straight to work in the morning, and directly home in the evening. It is not easy to get friends in this way. To be honest, I don’t really have any,” she told journalist Kim Hundevadt in a September 2005 interview with the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

How it began

Nargiz works with an international organisation in Kabul. In 2002, she attended a workshop at the Institute of Learning Music (a state music school) with three German pop musicians who had brought modern music equipment from Germany.

She was given a drum kit to practice on and was quickly able to bang out beats. She felt that drumming came quite naturally for her, so she eagerly learned as much as she could – all the while learning in secret, and not telling anyone. Another woman at the workshop was shown how to play guitar, while a third woman – an Afghan translator – sang in English. The three women were then joined to form the burka-clad girl band – well aware that Afghan women aren’t supposed to play music or sing songs. The band would rehearse behind locked doors, so nobody would find out that the women were playing music.

“When we shot the video we had to do it very discretely because no one could know that we were playing music,” remembers Nargiz. It was shot in what usually serves as the kitchen of the music institute, as well as other safe public places around Kabul. The burka’s helped hide who the band members really were.

No longer active

The Burka Band never performed in Afghanistan, but during a trip to Germany they performed at a big concert in Cologne. Unfortunately, Nargiz couldn’t join the band in Cologne because she had to work, but she followed the events from her home in Kabul.

At the moment the band is no longer active. Nargiz would like to play again, but for the moment it is simply not possible. “It will probably take 10 years before we will have real girl bands here in Afghanistan,” says Nargiz.

The lead singer of the Burka Band has moved to Pakistan because she can’t live as a singer in Afghanistan, and the guitarist has a regular job.

So, the only way you can currently experience the Burka Band is through video. On film, the first and only Afghan girl band lives on, with their headphones over their burka-covered heads and the drumsticks swinging.

 

Download of the songs

“Burka Blue” and “Burka Blue (Barbara Morgenstern Remix)”

A Certain Frank: “No Burka! Remix”

 

More information

Freelance journalist Michael Lund and Signe Daugbjerg, 2004:   ‘Girl band in burka’

The Asian News, 29 August, 2003:
‘Burka band is cult hit’

Click to go to Michael Lund's website

 

‘Burka Band’ member, photographed by Michael Lund


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