GUEST BLOG: “ROCK CENTRAL ASIA” Blog Part I | Creating Afghanistan’s First Rock Music Festival
By Daniel J. Gerstle on August 1, 2011
Today we are premiering FILTER Magazine’s new “Rock Central Asia” blog. Over the next weeks, we will take you behind the scenes of the evolution of Sound Central: Afghanistan & Central Asia’s first rock music festival , the world’s first “stealth” rock festival taking place in Kabul and New York this fall. Along the way, we’ll harvest new sounds emerging in rock scenes from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan to Iran. Here’s how the festival got started.
When my friend Una Moore came back from Afghanistan last fall, she told me she had roomed with a wise young Australian guitarist named, Travis Beard, who not only played in a rock band in the middle of the conflict zone but who had been motor-crossing throughout Afghanistan, teaching street art in Kabul, starting a school for skateboarding, and mentoring emerging rockers all over Afghanistan and Iran. Now he and his Afghan colleagues were planning a rock festival, in Kabul, at a time when NATO was planning to pull out and the war was dragging on. I said, “How do I sign up?”
This was a country where the Taliban and other extremists had banned not just rock, but any recorded music, for nine years. The rock scene, and that of every genre of music, was rolled back decades. Afghan rockers like Mirwais Sahab left for Germany. Classic Afghan singers like Farhad Darya are rebuilding the pop music scene, often touring overseas where much of the audience now lives. Now young fans are forging the first major rock scene from scratch. The foremost talent to emerge in this new Kabul is the indie rock group, Kabul Dreams, with its first hit, “Sadae Man.”
Meanwhile, White City, the rock band comprised of Beard, singer-bassist-filmmaker Ru, and drummer-aid worker Andronik, had been created by expatriate journalists and aid workers who often had no choice but to make music while the rest of the community was behind barbed wire and walls during Kabul’s many security lock downs. Given charging tunes like “Perfect Ten” and “Roll the Dice,” it was only a matter of time until the foreign press would find them, as well. Here’s where the story makes a sharp turn.
When I finally got on the line with Travis to talk about our shared love of rock and Afghanistan, I found that he had an incredibly unique approach to creating Afghanistan’s first rock music festival. “Mate,” as he tells me, “This fest is not about ‘headliners’ and we don’t want White City taking the press.”
Instead, Sound Central: The Central Asian Modern Music Festival would bring together the greatest rock, punk, metal, and indie talents they could find in the region to Kabul, to help them meet each other, record, and put on a show as equals. Kabul Dreams, the Afghan indie rock band known all over Europe; District Unknown, Kabul’s first metal band; Tears of the Sun, an Uzbek funk band; Red Planet, a three-part female band from Tajikistan; and others, would all share the same guest house and talk about their shared future.
What was most surprising – and this will blow any Western promoters mind – was that as part of our professional security strategy no venue, time, or VIP details would be given about the Kabul workshop or concert stage until after the event. Invitations would be friend-to-friend, rave style.
In June, I joined Sound Central to help them attract global support and to work with postpunk impresario Yula Be’eri in creating a festival kick-off event with global talent in New York. As soon as I got Travis on the phone for our first meeting with brothers Sepp and Sohl of Blurred Vision, one of the first Western bands rallying behind the cause, our brains just overflowed with excitement and ideas. We’re rallying support for freedom of expression at a critical time in Afghanistan and the region. This will not be your ordinary rock fest.
Daniel J Gerstle produces creative humanitarian projects for HELO Media, serves as co-producer of Sound Central, Afghanistan’s first rock music festival, and performs with the postpunk band, YXFM. He can be contacted in Brooklyn at HELObazaar@gmail.com.