In Exile, an Afghan All-Female Orchestra Keeps Music Alive.
Members of Afghanistan’s all-female Zohra orchestra have regrouped in Doha for the first time in months, their music filling the air once more as they confront an uncertain future.
While grateful to be safe in Qatar, the girls’ departure from Taliban rule is bittersweet, as they leave behind orchestra friends and “old pals” — their instruments.
Marzia Anwari, along with other members of the Afghan music community who fled to Qatar, performed live for the first time in three months last week.
The 18-year-old violist told AFP that “most of the girls from the Zohra orchestra are here with me in Qatar, but some of them are still in Afghanistan.”
“I’m hoping they’ll be able to join us here as soon as possible so we can recreate our orchestra together.”
In 2016, Zohra, Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra, was founded.
At the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, a group of 35 young musicians aged 13 to 20, some orphans or from low-income families, performed a culture-crossing performance that defied tradition and death threats in their nation.
After the Islamist hardliners won power in August, the musicians are now exiled and armed with new instruments in the hopes of preserving their artistic heritage.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, music was outlawed, and women’s rights and education have been severely restricted since their return.
“In Afghanistan, anything is considered haram (religiously forbidden) for women, especially music,” Anwari explained.
Even before the takeover, she said, it was difficult to be a working musician because many orthodox Afghans believe that girls stay in the home.
“When we went outdoors, people would label us ‘promiscuous’ and other derogatory terms,” Anwari explained.
The Taliban have been seeking to gain support and funding for their Islamist regime by promising a more flexible rule than the previous administration.
High school girls have been barred from returning to class since they overthrew Afghanistan’s last US-backed government, and many women have been barred from returning to work.
Shogofa Safi, a percussionist and conductor of the Zohra ensemble, expressed her delight at leaving Afghanistan.
Before her evacuation flight, Taliban fighters were stationed at Kabul airport, according to the 18-year-old.
“The situation in Afghanistan was extremely hazardous, and leaving was terrifying,” she explained.
She claimed that the Taliban “didn’t know we were musicians” and that if they had, they would have killed them.
Around 100 students and professors from around the world are currently residing in Qatar. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.