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The Day the Music Died — Again. How Afghan Artists are Facing Taliban Rule

Jawid Shawqi used to make his living as a singer. He would oil his long hair and perform on television and at weddings, playing popular local songs and earning an honest living. Shawqi, 32, has been singing since age 15 and his father was a singer before him.

But in August 2021 his life changed.

Now he ties a handkerchief around his head and sits on the side of the road and polishes boots from early morning until evening.

Shawqi’s music is banned by the Taliban, called “un-Islamic” by the regime, who regained control of the country after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2021.

Under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the use of musical instruments and singing is prohibited, and possessing instruments is considered a crime.

Shawqi, a husband and father of seven struggles to make ends meet, earning about 250 AFN ($4) daily polishing boots, some days less.

“Many times, we don’t have bread to eat for consecutive nights and my children sleep hungry.”

“I sang for the happiness of others for many years, but now my own life has become a source of sadness,” Shawqi told the Star via WhatsApp, speaking in Persian.

“The Taliban are enemies of happiness and music, and life has become hell for the people.”

After August 2021, several videos were shared on social media that show musicians being beaten, their faces made black using coal, with their musical instruments hung around their necks, shown to the public as an edification.

Aryana Sayeed, a well-known Afghan pop singer and a previous judge on “The Voice of Afghanistan,” said she has talked with many artists and musicians since “Afghanistan was abandoned in the hands of the Taliban.”

“Artists and musicians in Afghanistan are dealing with the toughest time of their lives. The family and children of many of them do not even have food to eat and, in some cases, a place to live,” Sayeed said to the Star via WhatsApp from Istanbul.

“While within my own limited capacity, my fiancé and I have been helping as many of them as we possibly could, there are literally hundreds of musicians and artist families who are sleeping hungry on a regular basis as their one and only source of income, which is music, has been banned by the Taliban.”

The fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001 was a new era for the return of Afghan musicians from exile. Afghanistan became the home of dozens of radio and TV channels and it made great progress in the arts. Young people throughout the country began participating in competitive music shows on TV channels.

Radio and television stations reappeared with live performances by young male and female singers. TV shows like “Afghan Star,” an “American Idol”-type music competition, and “The Voice of Afghanistan” were part of the huge change and development of music in a conservative country like Afghanistan.

There was a new platform for Afghan singers too, on YouTube, where songs were viewed by millions of fans.

Ahmad Sarmast, founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), is still working hard to keep Afghanistan’s music alive.

Sarmast conducts Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra — Zohra — and he said some members have left Afghanistan and will soon will start working in Portugal on a new composition.

“The situation of music artists in Afghanistan under Taliban rule is nothing more than breathing. Today, music artists are facing many financial, emotional and psychological problems and they are trying to survive for their families and themselves,” Sarmast said to the Star from Melbourne.

“Some musicians continue their lives in the country through low-income jobs such as carpentry, shoe repair, second-hand sales and day-wage jobs such as painting.”

“Despite all the blackness and darkness, I have hope for the future. I am sure that the young generation of Afghanistan, both men and women, are forming a resistance with different tools and methods against the Taliban’s authoritarian regime,” he said

Jawid Shawqi has hope as well, keeping his musical instruments hidden away from the Taliban, in the hope that one day he’ll be able to play them openly again.

“I endure all hardships; the Taliban will go and the good days will come again.”

Source: The Star