Afghanistan: Singer becomes symbol in the struggle for music freedom

13 March 2008
18-year-old Lima Sahar has placed herself in the middle of Afghanistan’s continous gender and music struggle. She could become the winner of the tv show ‘Afghan Star’ – the war-torn country’s answer to ‘American Idol’ which is drawing millions of viewers despite being condemned as ‘un-Islamic’ by Kabul’s Islamic council of clerics.

She beat out 2,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for the third season of ‘Afghan Star’, wearing a headscarf and glitter in her hair, while she sang Pashtun oldies, though without any dance moves.

Lima Sahar is the first member of the Pashtun ethnic group from southern Afghanistan to reach the finals of the popular ‘Afghan Star’ show. The town she lives in, Kandahar, is considered to be the birthplace of the Taliban, which banned music and tv in Afghanistan until being driven from power in late 2001 – in other words a place where trying out for becoming the winner of ‘Afghan Star’ is seen as an act of defiance, a political statement in song.

The Pashtun traditionally keeps women at home or requires them to wear the all-encompassing burqas. Lima Sahar is not only Pashtun, she is also the first Afghan woman to reach this far in the tv show competition, and as such, the news of her success has reached newspaper, blog and website readers around the world.

‘Rejected by Islam’
Since ‘Afghan Star’ premiered on the private tv-channel Tolo TV, it has quickly grown into one of the most popular shows in the country. For the same reason it is also becoming one of the most controversial tv shows which conservative Islamic clerics speak against during Friday prayers.

Sayed-ur-Rahman Niazi, the cleric at Kabul’s central mosque which attracts 50,000 worshipers during weekly Friday prayers, was quoted by Chicago Tribune as having said this very strong anti-music statement:
“It’s completely rejected by Islam. Someone who goes to listen to music is guilty of adultery. It’s the same thing. And someone who enjoys it should be kicked out of Islam. He’s no longer a Muslim.”

Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a member of the Kabul’s Islamic council of clerics, said:
“In the situation that we have in Afghanistan right now, we don’t need a woman singer. We don’t need ‘Afghan Star.’ We are in need of a good economy, good education.”

Haji Baran Khan, a farmer from Kandahar said a Pashtun girl singing on tv goes against the country’s culture:
“She is also affecting the minds of other good girls. She should stop singing.”

Sediqi, the host of the tv show, told newspapers that he is well aware that .

A sacrifice
The ‘Afghan Star’ show is similar to ‘American Idol’ but with an Afghan twist. The singers perform in front of a studio audience and three judges, and past winners have been given recording deals. A woman finished fifth in the show’s first season, but no female has risen as high as Lima Sahar. The other two finalists are men. The winner this year will take home around 5,000 US dollars – a king’s ransom in Afghanistan.

It is filmed in the Afghan Markopolo Wedding Hall, which resembles a layered peach-and-cream wedding cake with mirrored icing, in front of a live audience of about 300 people.

In one recent show, after a judge said she was surprised Sahar had succeeded because she was the weakest contestant, Lima Sahar confronted the judge and said she had faced many difficulties in her life, and that she was from Kandahar and “survived dangers to come to Kabul and sing”.

Her family was reported to appear aware of the potential trouble Sahar’s tv appearances could cause them, but did not want to discuss it. Lima Sahar said her family would move to Kabul because of the show, but said all of her six brothers supported her.
“If I worry about security, I cannot be a star,” she said, shrugging.

“She’s the sacrifice of our family,” Sahar’s mother said.




Lima Sahar





Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Lima Sahar’

Official home page of the ‘Afghan Star’ tv show:

International Herald Tribune – 13 March 2008:

‘Woman climbs to top of singing contest, irking some conservatives in Afghanistan’


Times Online – 12 March 2008:
‘Teenager wants to be Afghan pop queen’




Pedro, have you ever experienced any kind of music censorship?

Watch interview

Interview is in Spanish! Please find English transcription below


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