Afghanistan

First all-female orchestra group launched in Afghanistan

June 24, 2017 06:37 AM
Zohra Orchestra group

Hassan Karimi 

Following years of civil unrest, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) was opened in 2010 to offer kids of all social backgrounds an opportunity to learn music. Today, the Zohra Orchestra at the ANIM is the first all-female group of its kind to launch in Afghanistan.

Currently ANIM has around 250 students, including 75 girls. From these ranks, these young women have pooled together their respective talents to form the Zohra Orchestra: the first Afghan orchestra made up exclusively of girls. These include lessons in the violin, viola, guitar, piano, trumpet and flute, as well as more traditional instruments like the robab, ghickak, tambour drum, qashqarcha, the three-stringed sarod, and the delroba.

In one of the many practice rooms of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), Zarifa Adeeb is playing the violin with admirable dexterity and concentration amidst a group of students. While this young Afghan girl has long dreamt of becoming a pop singer, her passion for classical music has emerged much more recently.

Zohra

When she was only one year old, Adeeb fled with her family to Pakistan where she stayed until she was 15, before deciding to return to her own country. “I came here at the end of 2014. When I was looking for a music teacher I found this music institute, where you can come and learn music in a professional way.” Currently in her final year, Zarifa Adeeb has been studying the violin for two years. She’s ambitious and hopeful. And yet, only ten years ago, these music lessons would have been completely banned.

ANIM was first opened in 2010 by Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the current director, although its history goes back even further. The institute is rekindling a musical teaching tradition that was severely weakened over the course of recent political upheavals. With the original creation of the music school in 1974, music became a part of the national curriculum in Afghanistan. The school held classes until 1988 when it closed due to the war, and it then stayed shut throughout the rule of the Taliban, since music was made illegal.

The school reopened its classrooms when Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, came to power. In 2008, Ahmad Naser Sarmast began a project called the ‘Reconstruction of Aghan Music,’ which was funded by the World Bank. Two years later, the music school became ANIM and began teaching courses in both classical western and eastern music. These include lessons in the violin, viola, guitar, piano, trumpet and flute, as well as more traditional instruments like the robab, ghickak, tambour drum, qashqarcha, the three-stringed sarod, and the delroba.

Playing instruments

Currently ANIM has around 250 students, including 75 girls. From these ranks, these young women have pooled together their respective talents to form the Zohra Orchestra: the first Afghan orchestra made up exclusively of girls. Started in 2014, this musical group held its first event at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul: not exactly a small-town crowd. Zarifa Adeeb talks about these first days: “When I first joined the school there were only five girls in total. We wanted to organise a group for women since, that same year at the institute, the boys were allowed to create both rock and pop groups. It was like a competition. So we created a choir. As time went on, other girls came to join the group. That’s when, only three weeks later, we changed from a singing group into an orchestra.”

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