Meet Afghanistan’s First All-Female Orchestra – Zohra
An all-female orchestra ‘Zohra’ was formed in Afghanistan only five years ago. Very recently, the musicians from the orchestra visited the UK for the first time. Thirty young Afghan musicians performed at the British Museum on Friday to celebrate women’s history month. According to the British Museum’s website, the group, Zohra, travelled to London to share the harmony of their tunes. The highlight of the evening was the music these Afghan women presented a mixture of traditional Afghan music and western classical.
The all-female musical ensemble was led by conductor 22-year-old Negin Khpalwak, who has also performed in countries like Dubai, US, India, Germany and Switzerland. This was the group’s maiden tour to the UK.
What is Zohra?
Zohra is named after the Persian goddess of music. Their first show was in Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017. They performed in front of 2,000 world leaders.
Zohra’s members became the first women in their communities and country to have studied music in 30 years. Their journey to the path of music was full of threats from those who still cling to the Taliban’s violent ideology. Under the Taliban’s subjugation the idea that girls could study music was unthinkable and under their regime, women were even barred from education.
“But I’m not scared,” Negin Khpalwak told CBS news earlier this year. “I will continue my studies, because if we stay in the home, the new generation will also stay in the home. If we open the door for other generations, it will be good.”
Zohra is led by the country’s first two female conductors — nineteen-year-old Zarifa and Negin.
Evolution of Music in Afghanistan
Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) was founded in 2008 by Dr Ahmad Sarmast, with the help of many international institutions. They endeavour to support the most disadvantaged children in the country. In 2014, a young trumpeter Meena approached the director to assemble an all-female band.
“One of our students told me we needed a group of four or five girls to play pop music,” Dr Sarmast told BBC. “I liked the idea but almost at once it became clear most of the girls at ANIM wanted to join. Suddenly we were talking about a full orchestra,” he added.
“For Afghanistan it was a new world. It wasn’t just that the Taliban had made it impossible to perform or listen to music – the whole position of women in society was one of total repression.”
Dr Sarmast claims, “But above all it sends a message of gender equality to other Afghans. Zohra creates a lovely sound but also it’s a symbol of the freedom of Afghan women. This is the message we take around the world.”
Today, ANIM teaches music skills to 250 young people, both male and female. That figure is about to rise to 320 and there are plans to expand to cities such as Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and Jalalabad.
Hats off to you ladies!
Feature Image Credit: BBC