This week, I came across an NPR piece on Zohra, an all-female orchestra from Afghanistan.
According to Freemuse, an advocacy group for musicians “Zohra… is the first and only all women orchestra in Afghanistan. They are students at the National Institute of Music (ANIM) and the first women in their families, community and country to learn music in over 30 years.”
Afghanistan National Institute of Music or ANIM was the brainchild of Dr. Ahmad Sarmas, a musicology professor and son of a famous conductor who returned to his native Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. ANIM was set up in 2010 with help from World Bank, the US embassy, the German government and various other donors. Afghan children are tested for their musical aptitude for admission into ANIM, and half the spaces are dedicated to female students and homeless or orphaned children.
If you browse the ANIM site, you will learn about Afghanistan’s rich culture of music for centuries. In the 1980s, Afghanistan had a “thriving pop and film music industry, hundreds of ensembles and a unique radio orchestra with Western and Afghan instruments.” The civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s destroyed its musical traditions and between 1996 and 2001 (i.e. during the Taliban rule), music was banned in the country.
In 2014, Dr. Sarmas was injured in a Taliban suicide bombing of a musical performance by his students. He almost lost his hearing – an unimaginably painful prospect for someone whose life revolves around music – but he has been recovering and continues to teach music to his students at ANIM. You can read more about the remarkable Dr. Sarmas here and here.
And you can listen to music by Zohra here. Here’s a sample to get you started.