Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

Hearts Turned Away from Music: Afghan musicians’ paths to exile

Fabrizio Foschini 2 min

A year and a half after the Taleban takeover, music has completely disappeared from Afghan streets, TV channels, radios, cars and wedding halls. It barely survives in more personal and subdued forms and volumes – inside a house with tightly closed windows or shutters, inside headphones on one’s smartphone. The world, and Afghanistan more so, has graver problems to cope with, so it is not surprising that the silence on the Afghan streets has been matched by a comparative lack of reporting on music censorship. But what of the musicians, those Afghan men and women, made of flesh and blood like all others, who in August 2021 suddenly discovered that there was no more a place for them in Afghan society, nor a living to be earned in their home country? AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini has been hearing from five musicians from different walks of life, and different paths of exile. Here he makes their tales, if not their music, heard.

Students of the Afghan National Institute of Music in exile perform at a mixed musical evening of Portuguese Fado and Afghan songs in Lisbon. Photo by Fabrizio Foschini, 5 April 2023.

2023 is turning out as yet another year without music in Afghanistan. Despite the lack of further clarification from the Taleban authorities about their official legal stance on music or the status of musical performances in the country, the unofficial ban on music is now taken for granted by all those involved – music performers, music lovers and music censors. Instances of Taleban crackdowns on performers and listeners of music across the country have continued to be reported sporadically in the international and Afghan press. The low volume of reporting of such cases does not bear proof of a more relaxed attitude by the Taleban or of a passive acceptance of the ban by the public; rather, such cases rarely make it to the front page because they get pushed back by more dramatic events.

The fates of the many individual musicians, both inside the country and abroad, constitute precious threads of Afghanistan’s music world, which is under threat and at risk of being lost for good. In order to highlight the very diverse situations in which members of this special class of Afghans find themselves, AAN sought to give voice to some of them who are, more or less, now on their own.

AAN interviewed five Afghan musicians of different ages and backgrounds about music, their lives before the Taleban takeover and how their circumstances were altered by the fateful turning point on 15 August 2021.

Edited by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark

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Afghan culture censorship Economy exile Human Rights Music Refugees rights and freedoms Taleban


Fabrizio Foschini

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