A trio of young Afghan musicians is set to transform the music scene in the capital, Kabul, while giving their generation a creative and expressive outlet.
Inside the modest Venue restaurant next to the home of one of the country’s most notorious warlords, is its first school of rock.
The school was established by Robin Ryczek, a cellist from Boston who teaches classical music, Humayun Zardan, a former Pakistan refugee who was once forbidden from playing the guitar as a child but was determined to see a bright future for children, and Travis Beard, an Australian punk rock guitarist, dubbed as the godfather of the local rock scene.
About 20 students, both male and female, such as 16-year old Fetrat, have enrolled in the school as a form of escapism from social stigma attached to such genre of music. Rock music knows not of the segregation of the sexes.
“It will take time for people in Afghanistan to accept and allow women to learn music. I always wanted to learn to play rock and tried to learn in other courses but, there were taught by men and had all male students and we would get harassed,” says Farzat.
The Taliban’s militant ideologies led to the ban of cinema, television, and music they claim was not affiliated to Islam. When they came to power in 1996, the Taliban also prohibited women and girls from studying or working.
While the school of rock would have been destroyed before the American war on Afghanistan in 2001, its establishment indicates the definite, albeit slow, return of social and individual freedoms after Taliban rule ended 16 years ago. Young rock musicians still exercise caution and wear masks when performing to dodge attacks from religious conservatives.
The school may focus on rock, but co-founder Ryczek said there are plans to expand genres.
“It is named a rock school right now, but we are diving into blues, if somebody comes and they want to learn classical guitar we will teach them classical, flamingo, so it is different genres. So to facilitate that we have a big group session once a week,” she said.
Saifullah Afzali, a graduate of Afghanistan’s music institute is interested in broadening his musical skills.
“I experience different emotions listening to rock music. I always enjoyed it which is why I decided to come and learn it,” he said.
In a French cultural house in Kabul, “District Unknown” is rocking the audience. Around 300 people, local and foreign, men and women, cheered on the country’s first heavy metal band.
Karima Jan said rock appeals to the youth because of its “special craziness”, while Darwaish Khan said listening to rock music makes him enjoy the friendly atmosphere of it and forget his sorrows.
“Rock in Kabul” festival has increased to six concerts a year with the growing acceptance of Western music in the country.