Afghanistan’s symphony

January 13, 2012

By Omar Sobhani

Usually when I go to shoot for a story, we are faced with a bomb blast, a suicide attack, or some other type of violence here in Afghanistan. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music. Even though I have lived in Kabul for many years, I had no clue this academy even existed — it is the only of its kind in the whole country.

Foreigners and Afghans teach young Afghans how to play all sorts of instruments, as well as to sing. What struck me most is the opportunity given to women. There are not many opportunities for women in Afghanistan to play or sing music — during the Taliban era (from 1996-2001) music was outright banned and women were basically taken away from public life.

So, being at the school, and seeing young girls learn how to play music, actually gave me some hope about my country and made me think perhaps we can live in peace in the future. This is not the usual feeling I have after an assignment.

(View a slideshow of images from the academy here)

Here’s some background on the Academy, which opened in 2010 (from their website):

The first music school within the Ministry of Education was established in 1973. In the late 1980s, this school merged with the School of Fine Arts and operated until 1992, when civil war consumed Afghanistan. In 2001, the music department within the School of Fine Arts re-opened with a lot of limitations: no rehearsing rooms, trained music teachers, or musical instruments.

In 2006, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, then a Research Fellow at the Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, initiated the Revival of Afghan Music (ROAM) project. ROAM made twelve recommendations, including the establishment of a dedicated vocational music education entity. In 2007, Monash University began discussions with the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan about the establishment of a music institution that would provide general education as well as specialist training in Afghan and Western music. In April 2008, Dr. Sarmast went to Afghanistan to lead and implement this project. With the full support of the Ministry of Education, the World Bank, and our other donors, Dr. Sarmast began rebuilding music education and establishing Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) by converting the music department into an entity independent from the School of Fine Arts. A thorough renovation of the building equipped it with all the resources and facilities of a world-class music school, such as soundproofed rehearsing rooms, a high quality collection of instruments, and an international faculty. The program was expanded from six years to ten years of education.

On June 20, 2010, ANIM was inaugurated before an audience of invited dignitaries who then toured the completely renovated building. ANIM’s orchestra, the Afghan Youth Orchestra, has frequently performed for President Hamid Karzai, members of the Afghan cabinet, ambassadors from many countries including the USA, Finland, and Germany, and many other dignitaries.

In December 2010, ANIM launched the First Annual Afghanistan Winter Music Academy, the country’s first music festival to combine performance and education. The festival attracted eighteen internationally acclaimed guest educators and performers from Afghanistan, Canada, France, Germany, India, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Generously funded by the Embassy of the United States, the Embassy of Finland, and the Goethe Institute, the Winter Academy provided an extraordinary variety of educational opportunities to our students, who were joined by students from Herat and Kabul.

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