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Asia Mahwash and Ensemble Kaboul  - winners in the Asia/Pacific  category

Mahwash and Ensemble Kaboul (Afghanistan)

Winners in the Asia category

Song : Lalo Lalo
Album : to be released (Accords Croisés, France)

No nation in recent history has suffered as greatly as Afghanistan. And amongst the many tribulations that nation's citizens had to endure was the banning of all music (both making and playing) by The Taliban.

The removal of The Taliban post-September 11 has seen a surge of interest in Afghan arts. And Mahwash & Ensemble Kabul are the best exemplars of Afghanistan's traditional musical aesthetic.

The musicians of Ensemble Kabul are Afghan exiles and are yet to play in Kabul following the collapse of the Taliban.

'Afghanistan has suffered 23 years of war,' explains Ensemble Kabul leader Khaled Arman. 'Most of the musicians have not survived. I don't mean they died in combat. I mean they suffered psychological trauma. They couldn't stand the weight of war and emigration. Now, some of our instruments are disappearing because nobody is able to play them.'

Arman is a master rubab player. The rubab is a short-necked lute regarded as Afghanistan's national instrument. He left Afghanistan in 1981 to study classical music in Europe and, in 1986, placed first as a classical guitarist in the Radio France Competition. Arman seemed destined for a European classical career. But then, he says, he felt a tug in another direction.

'People were always asking me, "could you also play a little Afghan music?"' One of those people was his musician father, Hossein Arman, a pioneer of the Afghan folksong revival of the 1950s and '60s, who sent him a rubab.

In 1990, his father emigrated along with a cousin, Osman Arman, and the three of them founded the Kabul Ensemble five years later in Geneva. In 2001, along with three other members, the group released its first CD, Nastaran (Wild Rose), which demonstrates their classical and religious repertoire. The Ensemble have since invited Ustad Farida Mahwash, a powerhouse singer who was Afghanistan's top radio star in the 1970s, to join them. Mahwash is the only female vocalist awarded the celebrity status of "Ustad" (master musician) by her native country. Mahwash left Afghanistan in 1991 and has since settled in San Francisco.

Arman says he feels a duty to return to Kabul to teach and keep Afghan traditions alive. Yet he will not be rushed into doing this.

'Do the people really have the calm mental conditions needed to come and study music?' he asks. 'First, you must bring peace for the people. It's not easy.'

Garth Cartwright 2002

More Afghani music on Radio 3:
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Harmonium player in Birmingham







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Mahwash and Ensemble Kaboul


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