Afghan academy seeks to ease pain of war with music

Fri Jan 13, 2012 2:27am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Sayed Hassib

KABUL (Reuters) - A cacophony ranging from Asian string instruments to the delicate cadences of classical piano pours out of a two-storey building in central Kabul.

Here, at Afghanistan's sole music academy, students are taught music with the hope it will bring comfort in the face of war and poverty, bringing back cellos and violins to revive a rich musical legacy disrupted by decades of violence and suppression.

"We are committed to build ruined lives through music, given its healing power," Ahmad Sarmast, head of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, told Reuters.

The trumpet player turned musicologist set up the school two years ago on the site of the School of Fine Arts' music department, which was forced to shut in the early 1990s as civil war engulfed the country following a decade-long Soviet occupation.

The austere Taliban, who took over in 1996, then banned music outright, something unthinkable in today's Afghanistan, where cafes and cars blast Indian love songs and the tunes of 1970s Afghan crooner Ahmad Zahir.

But while the institute's 140 full-time pupils have little recollection of that time, they still face hardships in their musical pursuits.

Half the students are orphans or street children, with the rest selected after a music exam.

All are passionate about music, said voice and flute teacher Mashal Arman, daughter of famed Afghan musician Hossein, whose black-and-white photographs grace the school's hall.   Continued...

<p>A teacher watches a female student playing the violin at the Kabul Music Academy January 7, 2012. In Afghanistan's sole music academy, students learn how to play traditional and western instruments as part of a government initiative to relieve the pains of decades of war through music. Despite a rich musical legacy, Afghanistan's melodic development has been severely disrupted by years of war and outright banned during the austere rule of the Taliban. At the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, orphans learn how to sing and play instruments alongside talented promising musicians who are selected on merit. Picture taken January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani</p>