Youth orchestra brings Afghan touch to State Department
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Students from Afghanistan's only music academy brought the war-torn country's rhythms to the State Department on Monday as part of their first U.S. tour, with brand-new Secretary John Kerry recalling his rock roots for the musicians.
The tour by the 48 musicians from the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) will include performances on Thursday at Washington's Kennedy Center and next week at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Organizers said the visit by the musicians ages 10 to 22, many of them orphans or street children, was aimed at improving Afghanistan's image after more than a decade of fighting between U.S.-led forces and the Taliban.
"The major objective of the trip is to change the perception of Afghanistan, to show the public the ... positive changes that are most of the time overlooked or (hidden) behind the violence, the roadside bombings," ANIM head Ahmad Sarmast told Reuters.
He said the musicians had been told not to try to stay behind in the United States while on the tour. He said the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had made the warning informally.
"We explained always to them that the life of an illegal immigrant somewhere is not a sweet one," he said.
Eileen O'Connor, a State Department spokeswoman, said the warning was in line with department guidelines for travelers about such issues as visa restrictions.
The austere Taliban banned music outright when they took over Afghanistan in 1996. Sarmast, the first Afghan to earn a doctorate in music, set up the school in 2010. Continued...