Afghanistan music festival organisers hope for repeat of last year's success

Asian Dub Foundation among bands who will perform at the Sound Central event next month

The usual waves of diplomats, soldiers, aid workers and journalists streaming through Kabul's international airport will be joined next month by an unlikely mix of BMX bikers, break dancers, musicians from UK electronica collective Asian Dub Foundation and rock bands from across Central Asia, arriving to perform at one of the world's most surprising music festivals.

The organisers of Sound Central defied the odds last year to stage the country's first music festival in decades, at the edge of a park laid out by the Mughal emperor Babur around 500 years ago.

Now they are planning an even bigger week of workshops, screenings and concerts in September, as a step towards making the festival an annual event.

And they have persuaded Asian Dub Foundation, whose eclectic credits include a 2006 opera about the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and playful art group Future Cinema, who mix live music and theatre into cinema screenings, to put Afghanistan on their tour calendar.

"We like to go to places that are off the map, places that other people don't go to," said Asian Dub Foundation's Steve Savale, in a phone interview from Slovakia. "We don't discriminate against countries."

"A lot of our music is underpinned by pieces from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan so it makes sense to explore Afghan music as well and what better place to do it than Kabul."

Public concerts are still a rarity in deeply conservative Afghanistan, where the Taliban banned most music when they were in power and musicians can still come under heavy pressure.

Last week popular singer Shafiq Mureed cancelled a planned concert in the western city of Herat after mullahs condemned it as immoral, even though he planned to sing tributes to mothers and children, and patriotic songs, the local Tolo TV channel reported.

But with a very young population – over two-thirds of Afghans are under 25 – there is a huge appetite for music and art.

In the decade since the Taliban's removal from power Kabul has seen the creation of poetry groups, a contemporary art collective, and a string of bands; Afghanistan's first graffiti artists have also been trying to break the monotony of the city's blast walls and high compound enclosures.

"The festival last year was attended by men and women from all areas and ethnic groups of Afghanistan," said Sound Central organiser Travis Beard. "Afghans in Kabul are thirsty for alternative music in any form they can get it: live, online, from friends. We plan to supply that."

Future cinema will screen French film La Haine, the 1995 Mathieu Kassovitz portrayal of urban youth in the bleak suburbs of Paris, as part of the festival, that they believe will resonate with young Afghans despite some yawning cultural differences.

"It is such a powerful film, with I think quite a positive message overall. I hope it just perhaps opens up the idea of what young people can do and how they can actually try and make a change," said Fabien Riggall, the creative director of Future Cinema.


Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul

The GuardianTramp

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