Afghanistan report Post Scriptum, 2003

24 September 2003

A lot has happened in Afghanistan since John Baily first wrote the report for Freemuse in 2001. Read about the latest developments in this PS, which is also published in the latest edition of the print report.


When I wrote this report for Freemuse in January 2001 I had, of course, absolutely no idea that the days of the Taliban were already numbered.

Within a few months of its publication, the people of Afghanistan began to celebrate the retreat of the Taliban from one city after another. They celebrated with the sound of music, which was entirely appropriate given the strong connection in the Afghan mind between music and joyous occasions, such as wedding parties. In each area the departure of the repressive Taliban rulers was a joyous occasion; the return of music signalled the return of normality.

As my report makes clear, the Taliban did not initiate the censorship of music; that had been in force to varying degrees since the communist coup d’ etat of 1978, culminating in the complete ban on musical instruments imposed by the Taliban. Fortunately, the zealots were not in power long enough to inflict permanent damage to Afghan music culture. Musicians who were in exile are already returning, and those who remained in the country have brought out the instruments that they had hidden. The process of recovery is already underway, as demonstrated by recent radio and TV broadcasts from within the country.

Music will continue to serve as a sensitive indicator of what is happening in the broader social, cultural, economic and political contexts. In particular, the role of women in music needs to be monitored. In the 1970s women enjoyed some opportunities to make music, whether it was in their homes, or, for the few professionals, on radio and television, in the theatres and at women’s wedding parties. When women are again able to fulfil these musical roles we will have clear evidence that the relatively liberal values of the 1970s have been restored. But that time has not yet arrived.

I thank Freemuse for commissioning this report and for bringing the censorship of music in Afghanistan to the attention of so many people at an especially important time.
The work of Freemuse on Afghanistan continues with a seminar on Afghan music in connection with the 2nd World Conference on Music and Censorship in September 2002. The Afghanistan Music Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, has been established in part to document musical life in the new Afghanistan, and the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA) is involved in helping Afghans to rebuild their traditional music culture.

John Baily
September 24, 2003

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