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The Music Falls Silent: Afghanistan’s all women orchestra stares at a dark future ahead

Kabul: ‘The Taliban has reached, make haste, run’. Negin Khpalwak, a 24 year old music conductor and once the face of Afghanistan’s renowned all-female orchestra, began to panic after the hearing the new of Taliban rapidly taking over Afghanistan.

The last time the Islamist terrorists were in power, they banned music and women were not allowed to work. In the final months, they carried out targeted attacks on those they said had betrayed their vision of Islamic rule.

Dashing around the room, Khpalwak grabbed a robe to cover her bare arms and hid away a small set of decorative drums. Then she gathered up photographs and press clippings of her famed musical performances, put them in a pile and burnt them.

“I felt so awful, it felt like that whole memory of my life was turned into ashes,” said Khpalwak, who fled to the United States – one of tens of thousands who escaped abroad after the Taliban’s lightning conquest of Afghanistan.

The all women orchestra of Afghanistan, became a global symbol of freedom as it continued to enjoy their new found name and fame after forming the group in 2014, even after facing some hostilities and threats from some in the deeply conservative Muslim country, in the 20 years since the Taliban last ruled.

Today, armed Taliban guard the shuttered Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) where the group once practised, while in some parts of the country the movement has ordered radio stations to stop playing music.

“We never expected that Afghanistan will be returning to the stone age,” said ANIM’s founder Ahmad Sarmast, adding that Zohra orchestra represented freedom and female empowerment in Afghanistan and its members served as “cultural diplomats”.



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