"Life Is Beautiful! Don't Ruin It!"
What power does music have to promote the development of a society?
Farhad Darya: We all know how powerful music is! But the world doesn't know how important music is to the Afghans. Frankly, music is the only loyal friend that is left to Afghans after such turbulent and critical socio-political times, full of wars led by Afghan and non-Afghan warlords. A variety of elements have failed, but music has been there for the oppressed and depressed people in the past decades.
When the communist regime started to rule Afghanistan, they abused this powerful tool for the sake of their ideology. When the Mujahideen took the power, one of the very first territories they attacked was music. And then when the Taliban arrived, they tried to prove their existence by putting a deadly ban and curse on music before anything else. Why? Because music has always inspired powerful hopes amongst the people of Afghanistan, so dictators have always been afraid of it.
Despite the ethnic and tribal boundaries, the people of Afghanistan could always – and still do – communicate through music better and in a more profound way than all other aspects of life.
You once said that one of the biggest faults of the international community was to underestimate Afghanistan's culture. What role does culture play in your country?
Darya: There are two main streams that control people's lives and behaviour in Afghanistan: religion and culture. Obviously, culture is the crème de la crème of Afghan society. The Taliban use religion to carry out their plans, but they skip culture. Have you ever noticed this and asked yourself why? That is because Afghans share the same religion with billions of other people around the world, but they own a culture that is theirs alone. If you want to understand them, you must get to know their culture. Culture and traditions are the real but invisible leaders of the Afghans. You mess with these morals and principles, you mess with Afghans. (laughs)
How should the international community take culture into account?
Darya: Unfortunately, they define, compare and evaluate Afghan cultural standards and morals through their own cultural standards. They don't accept that, despite being the same human beings, they are different. The international community, at least for their own sake and survival, needs to learn about, respect and somehow experience the Afghan culture. I say experience, because the international community is deeply involved in Afghanistan. They are responsible for their own behaviour and its outcome too.
So, how should culture and politics work together?
Darya: I just mentioned the power of culture in Afghanistan. Even politics works through culture, and is based on cultural norms. The president of Afghanistan needs to be more aware of cultural values and not just the knowledge and tricks of politics (laughs). I don't like this state of affairs. That is the way it is in this part of the planet. Politics and culture should create a method of dealing and cooperating with each other in Afghanistan: a method that is the legitimate child of a marriage of culture and politics, a method that has never existed in Afghanistan before.
You are an internationally known singer and politically engaged. People pay attention to what you do. What is your message?
Darya: My message is simple: Life is beautiful! Don't ruin it!
On the internet one can find your video clips, there are fan sites, you're on Facebook. But do people, especially in the countryside, actually have access to the media?
Darya: In the past, due to insufficient communication tools, spreading music was not exactly a piece of cake. Nowadays, life is much easier due to technology, because media is a growing force in Afghanistan which even controls people's lives. Lots of new TV and radio channels, newspapers, magazines et cetera have lately been launched in Afghanistan.
In the past, people didn't have access to phones in most of the countryside, and now they can listen to the latest music hits from around the globe at the touch of a fingertip via their mobile phones while sitting in a teahouse located in a very remote corner of the country. This is a big achievement for the people – as well as for Afghan artists who want to reach every fellow citizen in the country.
In the 1980s and 1990s, music was suppressed and even forbidden in Afghanistan. You were in exile for many years, and your music was censured for its political contents. You came back to live in Kabul some time ago. Do these problems belong to the past?
Darya: In my opinion, a government has to be strong enough to oppose something! Nowadays, the Afghan government is struggling to survive and to become a real government. We should wait until the foreign troops leave and the government takes over everything. Then it'll make sense to discuss this matter. All I can say now is that, in contrast to the past, there is no real censorship in Afghanistan nowadays.
People in the West tend to think there is no "normality" at all in your country. It is not easy for them to imagine modern life in Afghanistan with its many problems. Do you have the same opportunities there as you had in other countries?
Darya: There are also tons of problems in the USA and Germany where people live modern lives. Having problems doesn't have anything to do with living a modern life. A society without problems would be paradise – which doesn't exist on earth. Whenever I am in Afghanistan, besides enjoying the good side of life there, I miss opportunities I have in the West.
The same thing happens to me whenever I am in the West, enjoying the opportunities there and missing lots of opportunities I have in Afghanistan. This is exactly the point that most of the people from the West don't understand. They think there is only one way to live, and that's the Western way (laughs).
For so many years, I have been trying to showcase the normality and the real face of Afghanistan to the world. In the West, people learn about Afghanistan through business-oriented media. The media wants to sell, and no one buys good news! So they try to create business opportunities, and they don't realise how unfair, bitter and sadly they damage life on the other side of the world through a simple piece of news or a lie.
Is the fact that you came back to live in Afghanistan a kind of a statement to your fellow countrymen: Yes, you can do something in your own country?
Darya: Definitely, yes! And I am sure they can. They just need to believe in their potential.
Interview: Eleonore von Bothmer
© Development and Cooperation 2010
Revival of Afghan Music
Fiddles for Kabul
In Taliban times, musical performances and instruments were officially forbidden. Over the past two years, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, an expatriate musician and musicologist, has been leading an initiative to rebuild formal music education in Afghanistan. Martin Gerner met him in Kabul
Women's Sport in Afghanistan
Training in Secret for Fear of Extremists
Afghanistan's very first fitness and beauty center has recently opened in Kabul. The owner has nonetheless decided to keep its location a secret. Three years after the fall of the Taliban regime, she remains fearful of arousing the fury of those aiming to preserve traditional customs and practices. A report by Ali Matar
Interview with Photojournalist Ursula Meissner
Afghanistan: Hope and Beauty in a War-torn Land
Since the mid-1980s, acclaimed German photojournalist Ursula Meissner has been regularly traveling to Afghanistan. Her photographs go beyond the war to show people's daily lives. Interview conducted by Petra Tabeling