Afghanistan / UK: Film festival celebrates banned music

18 February 2008
A film festival entitled ‘Reel Afghanistan’ celebrates the Afghan art form which was banned by the Taliban: music. A concert featuring two bands, Kharabat and Qawali Sham Sufi, takes place on 24 February in Edinburgh.

When the Taliban ransacked Afghanistan’s national film archives, some canny employees hid reels with 100,000 hours of film under floorboards and behind false walls. 18 of these films will be shown as part of Reel Afghanistan – a film festival which is promoted as ‘UK’s first ever celebration of Afghan culture’. 

The film festival began life after a group from the social action centre Edinburgh University Settlement (EUS) visited Kabul in 2006 with the view to setting up a film festival there. Upon their return, according to Dan Gorman, who is one of the festival co-ordinators, they saw a need to do something similar in Scotland.

“We want to show another side to Afghanistan, as opposed to the image of bombs, depression and despair. So we wanted to give people a wider opinion of Afghanistan and the cultural history there,” Dan Gorman told Sunday Herald’s arts correspondent, Edd McCracken.

Gorman insisted that the festival was not overtly a riposte to the war on terrorism: “It’s a celebration of the resilience of the arts. These films and music were banned but still survived.”

Visa problems for Afghan musicians
As a special event during the festival, an Afghan music ensemble, Kharabat, will perform alongside the Qawali Sham Sufi group. For Khabarat’s four Afghan players, simply getting to Britain was a task “that made Amy Winehouse’s US travel troubles look trivial”, described the local newspaper The Scotsman:

The British Embassy in Kabul doesn’t hand out travel visas, so the musicians had to go to Pakistan to apply. They waited in a hotel nearly three weeks, running the gauntlet of suspicious local police. One, Mohamed Yassin, was arrested and relieved of his wallet. When he asked for the money back, he was simply slapped.

Mohamed Yassin plays the dilruba, a sitar-like traditional instrument. He is described as the only young dilruba player in Afghanistan. The Scotsman journalist Tim Cornwell explains in his article how the Taliban’s religious zealotry aimed at stamping out music, dance and song saw instruments destroyed or burned – if they were not hidden away.

Mohamed Yassin told Tim Cornwell, speaking through a translator, that even after the Taliban’s fall, “it’s very difficult because there are still people left in Afghanistan whose mentality is like before, and they don’t like music. It’s a bit difficult and scary, so we don’t go far from town”. Musicians such as Yassin, who ply their trade in the cities, seldom go into rural areas, it is said. Stories proliferate of religious bans on wedding celebrations, and extremist bomb attacks aimed at music shops.”

The staff of Reel Afghanistan have translated and subtitled the movies themselves. The festival opens on 21 February and runs until 8 March 2008.

‘Reel Afghanistan’ is sponsored by the British Council, Scottish Screen and EUS.





Read more

Official website:

The Scotsman – 20 February 2008:

‘Culture under fire’

The Guardian – 20 February 2008:

‘If I find one reel, I must kill you’

Sunday Herald – 17 February 2008:

‘Festival reveals the hidden Afghanistan’



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