Does Music Have a Future in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan?

The unexpectedly rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s military forces and subsequent fall of that country’s government to the Taliban do not bode well for Afghanistan’s future. Many aspects of life that we in the “west” take for granted – such as the freedoms of expression and religion, and women’s rights for just a few examples – are now in serious jeopardy. One such seemingly “normal” characteristic of life, not just in the “west” but in most places around the world – music – is also imperiled under the rule of the extremist Taliban.

On Aug. 23, the Associated Press published an outstanding article on the potential fate of music in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Following is’s summary of said article.

AP writer Zeina Karam noted that during the Taliban’s previous regime in Afghanistan, from 1996 through 2001, all non-religious music was banned, and musical cassette tapes were destroyed throughout the country. After U.S. and coalition forces removed the fanatical Taliban from power, Ahmad Sarmast – son of a famous Afghan conductor and composer – returned from exile in Australia and eventually founded the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM).

Outside donors stepped up to restore Afghanistan’s musical traditions including, Karam reported, a shipment of five tons of musical gear – pianos, guitars, violins, oboes – from the German government and the German Society of Music Merchants. Students were once again able to study traditional Afghan instruments like the sarod, rubab, sitar, and tabla drum.

A student at ANIM, pianist Elham Fanous, told the AP that attending the school “changed my life. It was such an amazing school, everything was perfect.”

Graduates of the ANIM traveled the world, including Fanous and its youth orchestra, which sold out Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2013.

But the future does not look bright for Afghanistan’s musicians. The AP said: “In a sign of what the future holds, radio and TV stations stopped broadcasting music, except for Islamic songs — though it was not clear if the change in programming was a result of Taliban edicts or an effort by the stations to avoid potential problems with the insurgents.”

Sarmast, however, remains optimistic. He told the AP: “I’m still hopeful that my kids will be allowed to go back to the school and continue and to enjoy from learning and playing music.”


The AP article is available here:

Photo credits: Afghanistan flag/country graphic courtesy Rubab (top) and sarod (bottom) photos both in the public domain, courtesy Cicrane (Genest) and Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively.

Tom is the Managing Editor here at He has worked as an editor/writer for more than two decades and plays several musical instruments with varying degrees of proficiency.

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