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By Daniel Gerstle on August 10, 2011



Whenever we tell new ears in the West how we are producing Sound Central, Afghanistan & Central Asia’s first rock music festival this fall, we are immediately peppered with questions. But, isn’t there a war on? Wasn’t recorded and modern music banned for nine years? What’s the Afghan rock scene like? Here’s our insider snapshot which answers these questions:
After seeing news of the war, people sometimes imagine a Pashtun-speaking, turban-wearing version of Rage Against the Machine running through rubble like a militia, but carrying guitars and amplifiers instead of rifles and rockets. That would be an awesome comic, but no way is that anything like the real rock music scene in Kabul.

We’ve all had to get past assumptions about what life is like in a war zone to truly support these brave souls as they forge an entirely new branch of Afghan culture. Life goes on, you know? Whether this group or that group runs the government, musicians are going to write and perform, and fans want to rock.
You may have already seen CNN coverage about the biggest name in Afghanistan’s new rock scene, Kabul Dreams. These indie rockers, who will be performing on our Kabul stage this fall, offer a great example of the two ways the world has come to define the emergence of Afghan rock.

Check out their video for the song “Sadae Man” to see how they look through the Western lens. Then, for contrast, check out the band setting up their instruments on Labe Sarak Street and playing a free show raw and live in downtown Kabul. Aside from the lack of women, you can see a great example of how life goes on despite politics and war.

New Afghan bands like Kabul Dreams; the country’s first heavy metal band, District Unknown; and local rock band, White Page, may not have the Whiskey Go-Go or Bowery Ballroom to perform in, but they are not confined to private parties and the street.

Mainstream Afghan musicians like Farhad Darya, performing here the song "Atan," have dramatically increased the demand for concert halls and stadiums for performances and music festivals.
Meanwhile, classical musicians, music teachers, as well as expat bands like festival founder Travis Beard’s band, White City, also offer emerging Afghan rockers invitations to perform venues, collaborative concerts, and even raging parties. This spring these core bands and fans finally converged with tremendous excitement to put on this first festival.
Where will festival momentum take the new Afghan rock music scene? First, we’ll see Afghan bands, who sometimes find it frustrating, if not obviously risky, to tour in their own country taking tours through rock clubs all over the former Soviet Central Asian republics and selling their music online.
If and when security improves, we’ll see more of the diaspora returning to be part of the reconstructed music industry and to produce hybrid sounds and styles. From Europe, we’ll see performers like Mirwais Sahab, who has flown the flag of West Asian rock styling in Germany for the last few years, reconnecting more with Afghanistan’s music scene.

From the United States, we’ll see talents like the innovative Afghan-American songwriter and filmmaker Ariana Delawari, who’s also participating in our festival, pioneering global hybrid styles. New sub-genres will range from Ariana’s Afghani-classical-influenced American folk rock, to White Page's Western punk-influenced Afghan alternative.
Considering we’re getting to know a group of people who have risked and survived so much, the possibilities for completely new, exhilarating, and soul-soothing sounds are endless. Welcome to the new Kabul rock scene.

Next week, we'll explore new rock sounds emerging from the Central Asian Republics.


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