The Female Voice of Afghanistan

January 2022

This month, my focus is on music from Afghanistan, a country whose citizens face a precarious and uncertain future. In my search for information about the fate of musicians there, I came across the following clip on You Tube: Freshta Farokhi, a singer from Bamyan province, in central Afghanistan sings in her native Harazi dialect accompanied here by musicians playing traditional instruments.

Three Bamyan folk songs performed by Freshta Farokhi with Nasir Sorosh on dambora, Asif Naveed on harmonium and Salman Hamdad on qaychak.

Freshta Farokhi is one of nine singers who took part in a virtual music festival: ‘The Female Voice of Afghanistan‘ which was broadcast on You Tube in October 2021. In this series of short films, each singer tells her own story and then, joined by musicians online from Europe, they perform together virtually, using green screen technology. I found it heartening to see the immediate connection made between these musicians from different parts of the world and to hear their musical collaboration across cultural genres. Each one of these singers had a desire to be free to perform music and these films gave them a platform to do so.

Freshta Farokhi is featured in the second of the films, talking about her life in Afghanistan, practising music secretly. We then see her online musical collaboration with Mahan Mirarab, an Iranian musician now living in Vienna, who speaks movingly about racial discrimination.

I’m convinced that we need more dialogue. People are disconnected from each other. It applies to music as well. Making music together means communication. The most important thing is listening. Then everything has meaning.

Mahan Mirarab, 2021

From the film ‘The Female Voice of Afghanistan’ part 2, accessed via You Tube, 16/01/22.

This series, devised and directed by ethnomusicologist Yalda Yazdani and Andreas Rochholl (after a similar project exploring Iranian female voices), gives an insight into the lives of these resilient women, who decided to make a career as singers. Their determination to pursue their dreams, in spite of the difficulties they faced, is clear, as is their love of their country and their culture. They may have left their country but their culture is with them wherever they go, to be cherished and shared.

Life in Afghanistan is risky. Especially for girls … A woman has to be strong and needs to fight. I fight with my voice.

Wajiha Rastagar

From the film ‘The Female Voice of Afghanistan’ part 3, accessed via You Tube, 16/01/22.

As we know, life changed course for the people of Afghanistan since filming in July – September 2021. Witness the dramatic turn of events towards the end of the first film, which can be accessed after the trailer. This series of short films makes compelling viewing and not least for the scenes of musicians playing and singing outside in the midst of stunning mountain landscapes. I was moved not just by these Afghan women’s distinctive singing voices but by what they had voiced about their country, their lives and their music. I was left wondering about these remarkable singers and what the future holds for them.

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