Afghanistan – special report: The cage is singing

25 February 2008
Farhad DaryaAiab Gul DeishadAziz GhaznawiBaktash KamranFazl-u-Rahman WahdatGhazal AhmadiNairezSafdar TawakoliSahar AfarinZhakfar Hussaini  

In-depth report with ten video interviews about music censorship in Afghanistan – past and present

By Samay Hamed

During the Taliban regime all music was banned in Afghanistan. But even before this dark chapter of Afghan history musicians suffered from censorship.

This special report presents 10 unique video interviews with Afghan musicians – a continuation of the documentation of Afghan music censorship that was initiated with John Baily’s Freemuse report, ‘Can you stop the birds singing?’

Click to see video interview with Ghazal Ahmadi



Farhad Darya is the most famous and best-selling pop singer, music director and composer in the country. He is often called ‘Voice of the Afghan People’. Regarding the history of music censorship in the country, his case is one of the most significant. He gives examples of the long list of his songs which were censored in the period of the communist parties in Afghanistan, starting from 1979.


  Click to see interview

Ghazal Ahmadi is a film actress, and also known for her performing in music videos. In this interview she speaks about her experience as a music student who stopped learning how to play the guitar because it became too problematic for her.


  Click to see interview

Aiab Gul Delshad is the head of the national Music Union, and a famous folk singer. He started working with Radio Afghanistan in 1950. He was arrested once, and imprisoned and tortured another time, because of a few words in two song lyrics. He speaks about his personal experiences with music censorship and self-censorship in King Zahir Shah’s period (1933-1973) and Hafiz-u-Llah Amin’s period (1979).


  Click to see interview

Aziz Ghaznawi is an authority when it comes to music administration. He is a singer, and his songs have been broadcasted on air since 1965. He was employed by Radio Television Afghanistan in 1968. In a period, he was head of music production department there. He talks about music censorship in Afghanistan in different periods, starting from 1969, and about how they censored music in Radio Television Afghanistan.


  Click to see interview

Baktash Kamran is lead singer in his band, Kamran Music Group, famous amongst young Afghans. He speaks about his experiences with music prohibition during the Taliban period, 1996-2001. He was arrested and beaten up by the Taliban’s OPVPV (Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) four times, and eventually emigrated to Pakistan.


  Click to see interview

Fazl-u-Rahman Wahdat is a famous Pashto folk singer, board member of the Music Union, and worked for Radio Television Afghanistan since 1978. He speaks about his personal experiences with music censorship: about the problems which a singer faces when a regime which he has been praising suddenly changes and the singer is blamed. He explainis about a death threat which he received in 1979.


  Click to see interview

Fazl-u-Rahman Nairez was one of the singers who were forced to sing praisal songs for the Taliban regime in 1996-2001. In this interview he speaks about his problems with music censorship during the Taliban period, and up til now. In particular he explains about one song which was the reason he got fired from his job in Radio Television Afghanistan, together with 50 of his colleagues.


  Click to see interview

Safdar Tawakoli is a leading Hazara folk singer and dambura player. He explains about his problems as a musician during the Mujahidin period where power in the capital of Afghanistan was fragmented. It caused not only a lot of fighting in the streets, it also caught musicians in the middle of the cold war.


  Click to see interview

Sahar Afarin is an up-and-coming star. She had her national break-through in 2006 when she recieved the honourary titles ‘Artist of Radio Television Afghanistan’ and ‘Golden Star of National TV’. The 21-year-old singer explains how she was discouraged from music due to pressure from many sides.


  Click to see interview

Zhakfar Hussaini was a censor in Afghanistan Writers Association in Balkh in 1986-1992. In this interview he explains the way song lyrics were censored in the communist periods.


  Click to see interview

About the book: ‘The cage is singing’
The book is a general research about music censorship in Afghanistan in recent 30 years. It is in Dari language, and Freemuse is presently working on an English translation. The Dari version will soon be placed on in pdf-format for free download.

The book focuses on reasons for music censorship and the often paradoxical situation of musicians in Afghanistan:

    • 1. Religious reasons
    • 2. Traditions
    • 3. Social and economic reasons
    • 4. Despotic and ideological governments
    5. Conflict between modernism and tradition



Book cover
These are the headlines of each of the sections in the book:Preface

1. Why religious censorship?

    All religious reasons mentioned in articles – from Mojahedin and Taliban publications

2. Governmental music censorship
Governmental systems for music censorship in Afghanistan
There is also a list of 40 musicians who have been killed by different regimes and missions have been died in car accidents supposed to be killed by parties. This list is from Afghanistan Music Union.

3. Music censorship during Communist regime
4. Music censorship during Mojahedin
5. Music censorship during Taliban
6. Music censorship after September 11
7. Kinds of music censorship in Afghanistan:

Censorship of lyrics and messages
(moral and political censorship)
Censorship of performance
Censorship of videos and environment
Censorship of dancing
Censorship of melodies

All these issues are explained with concrete examples.

8. Combat against music censorship


About the producer and author

These ten video interviews – as well as a 76-pages book in Dari language – were prepared and edited by Dr. Samay Hamed.

He is a renowned poet in Afghanistan who has written the lyrics for many top-selling songs. He was facilitator of the first national conference on music and censorship in Afghanistan, held in the capital Kabul in April 2005. Apart from being a medical doctor, Samay Hamed is also a journalist, cartoonist, and author of more than 15 books.

In March 2008, he organises a major event to mark the Music Freedom Day in Afghanistan.

Video interview with Samay Hamed (from May 2005)

Click to see interview
Samay Hamed
Click to see video interview with Samay HamedFreemuse report from 2001  

A continual state of mourning

“…Music censorship in Afghanistan did not begin with the Taliban. I was shocked when a friend of mine who conducted research on Turkic language-speaking Afghans during the 1980s in Pakistan and Turkey told me that during the 14 years of communist rule in Afghanistan, music was heavily controlled by the Ministry for Information and Culture. As she reminisced about her time there, she described how eerie it was while in the refugee camps in Pakistan, where all music was prohibited in order to maintain a continual state of mourning: The Taliban rulers in the camps banned music…”

‘Three Women of Herat’

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