What You Need to Know about the Afghanistan Music Unit

Not that long ago, traditional Afghan music was almost non-existent in Afghanistan. Civil conflict and poverty had caused many musicians to flee the country, while those who remained were generally unable to play as music was widely banned. In recent years, however, Afghanistan has rediscovered its rich musical heritage and revived traditional instruments, musical styles, and songs.

While Afghanistan’s musical renaissance has been largely spearheaded by local artists and organizations—including the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the country’s leading institute for music education founded by the dynamic musicologist Dr. Ahmad Sarmast—a number of institutions outside the country have also played an important role in helping preserve Afghan musical traditions during the last few tumultuous decades. Perhaps the best-known of these is the Afghanistan Music Unit, housed in the music department at Goldsmiths, University of London. This research center was founded by ethnomusicology professor and Afghan music specialist Dr. John Baily.

 

What is the Afghanistan Music Unit?

Founded in 2002, the Afghanistan Music Unit (AMU) is dedicated to the study of music in contemporary, post-conflict Afghanistan, and to supporting the revival of traditional Afghan music. Under the direction of its founder, Professor John Baily, AMU conducts extensive research into Afghan music and music history, supports musicians returning to Afghanistan after years of exile, and offers concerts, workshops, and other educational resources about Afghan music to diverse audiences in its home city of London and around the world.

 

 

About the founder of the Afghanistan Music Unit

One of the world’s leading experts on traditional Afghan music, Dr. John Baily has been researching, promoting, and performing Afghan music for more than 30 years. Baily’s strong commitment to the music of Afghanistan began in 1973, when he and his wife, Veronica Doubleday—an accomplished Dari folk singer and expert on women’s music in Afghanistan—spent two years in the western Afghan city of Herat conducting ethnomusicological research. Since that time, Baily’s research has taken him around the world: he has conducted musical investigations in Afghan communities in countries such as Iran and the United States, worked with Afghan musicians worldwide, and helped establish a traditional music school in Kabul. An accomplished rabab player as well as a dedicated researcher, Baily also gives concerts and workshops on traditional Afghan music, organizes Afghan music festivals, and is a co-founder of Ensemble Bakhtar, a UK-based Afghan music collective. Baily’s contributions to the preservation of Afghanistan’s traditional music have been officially recognized by the Afghan Ministry of Culture, and have earned widespread praise from Afghan citizens.

 

The history of the Afghanistan Music Unit and its work

2002—The Afghanistan Music Unit was founded by Dr. John Baily to research and document the state of music during a new era for Afghanistan, and to provide assistance in helping the practice of traditional music recover from an extended period of extreme censorship. To launch AMU, Baily made a month-long investigative visit to Kabul; video footage of this research trip was made into the documentary film A Kabul Music Diary.

2003—Through a commission from the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), Baily helped establish a Culture Bearers’ Programme in support of traditional Kabuli art music. The program saw four master musicians teaching this musical style to 35 students. The initiative proved so successful that a second AKMICA school was later established in Herat; the Kabul school continues to operate under the leadership of director Mirwaiss Sidiqi.

2004—Supported by the British Institute of Persian Studies, Baily and Doubleday made a research trip to eastern Iran, at the time home to many exiled musicians from Herat. In addition, the area supported a strong traditional music culture very similar to that of Herat. Baily and Doubleday also lectured on Herati music at Tehran University as part of their trip.

2006—Baily and AMU began a period of research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Diasporas, Migration & Identities Programme, into the presence of Afghan music in London and the role this music plays in connecting London with Kabul and the Afghan diaspora. Key outputs from this research period include a chapter in the book Understanding Afghans, the documentary feature Scenes of Afghan Music: London, Kabul, Hamburg, Dublin, and a concert of Afghan music performed at Goldsmiths.

2008—Baily retired from teaching and administrative duties at Goldsmiths with the goal of focusing full-time on AMU. Funded by a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship, Baily began conducting extensive research on music in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora during the years 1985 to 2009. Afghan music in Australia was a particular focus area for this project.

 

 

What’s next for the Afghanistan Music Unit?

As part of their mission to make Afghan music more accessible to a wider audience, Baily and Doubleday have plans to digitize their archive—a remarkable collection of audio recordings, super 8 films, still photos, and comprehensive field notes assembled during their early research years in Herat and their many subsequent travels throughout the Afghan diaspora. Baily also hopes to create an online learning module for the study of his primary instrument, the Afghan rabab.

5 Things You Need to Know about the Miraculous Love Kids

Although the situation has improved in recent years, the sight of kids on the street is still all too common in Afghanistan’s major cities. Some of these street children are orphans, living on the street because they have no other home, while others have taken to the streets to beg or sell food or trinkets in order to help support their families. Unfortunately, living on the street makes these children particularly vulnerable: according to UN figures, 923 Afghan children were killed in attacks in 2016. In addition, when children are working on the street, they are not attending school, which means they will face even greater barriers to a better future.

This is where charities like the Miraculous Love Kids come in. Perhaps the most hopefully-named charity in Afghanistan, the Miraculous Love Kids is one of a growing number of organizations dedicated to helping the nation’s street children. The Miraculous Love Kids is a music school founded by guitarist Lanny Cordola that offers guitar classes to street kids in Kabul, and for many of the young students, the experience has been life-changing. Here are five things you need to know about this special organization:

  1. The school was inspired by a tragic event.

Lanny Cordola, the Miraculous Love Kids’ founder, got his first taste of music’s power to help and heal people in need in 2010, when he was invited by a friend to collaborate with Central Asian musicians as part of a relief campaign for catastrophic flooding that was affecting the area. In his travels to visit various flood camps, Cordola witnessed the joy that these displaced people undergoing tremendous hardship experienced when they had the opportunity to hear and play music.

Cordola returned to California determined to work on making music that would give a voice to people in need, like those he’d met in the camps. And it was in this frame of mind that, in 2012, he heard about two young sisters who had been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan as they sold trinkets on the street. Cordola was deeply moved by the story and reached out to contacts from his previous trip to see if he could get in touch with the girls’ family. Upon discovering that their mother and younger sisters were living in poverty with few resources, he was determined to do what he could to help. After repeated visits to Afghanistan, during which he raised enough money to move the family into a better home, Cordola noticed how interested the girls were in his guitar. The realization that music could help heal these young lives provided the initial spark for what is now the Miraculous Love Kids.

  1. Around 60 children attend the school.

Today, Lanny Cordola and other musicians teach roughly 60 children at the Miraculous Love Kids school. As part of the program, the children receive an allowance of between 50 and 100 Afghanis every time they come; this means that the kids (and their families) don’t lose out financially because the youngsters are in class rather than selling or begging on the street. In addition to studying guitar, the school’s students learn English and receive support for additional schooling.

  1. The school is a US-registered nonprofit.

The Miraculous Love Kids is formally registered as a 501(c)(3) organization in the US. Its main sources of financial support are private donations—many of which are made via the organization’s GoFundMe page. However, it also raises money by performing benefit concerts.

  1. Students have collaborated with one of the biggest legends in music.

The young musicians at the Miraculous Love Kids have a dedicated supporter that most Western artists could only dream about: Brian Wilson. The legendary Beach Boys front man is an old friend of Lanny Cordola, and when he learned about Cordola’s work with some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children, he reached out to see how he could help the group. The result is the Miraculous Love Kids’ first-ever professional collaboration: Brian Wilson sent voice and music tracks for his song “Love and Mercy” to the school to be mixed with the students’ own playing and singing. Proceeds from the sales of the song will go to support the school. In addition, Wilson has invited some of the students to visit and work with him in the US.

  1. The school’s founder, Lanny Cordola, is a former arena rock guitarist.

There are few people better equipped than Lanny Cordola to introduce Western rock music to Afghan street children. A guitarist from Southern California, Cordola has played with musicians in some of the most important rock groups in music history, including the Beach Boys and Guns N’ Roses. As a result of his work with the Miraculous Love Kids, Cordola has also been collaborating more and more with Afghan musicians like Wahid Qasimi. Cordola now lives full-time in Kabul.

Spotlight on the Afghanistan National Institute of Music

Afghanistan’s rich and complex musical heritage—one of the world’s longest-thriving musical traditions—was nearly silenced by years of civil conflict. But today, the sounds of music are being heard throughout the country once again, due in large part to the efforts of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). Read on to learn the story of this amazing institution that is helping to revive Afghanistan’s musical legacy.

 

Mission

ANIM logoAs Afghanistan’s leading institute for music education, ANIM is dedicated to providing a learning environment that is dynamic, challenging, and safe. Welcoming students of all backgrounds—including some of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged children—ANIM aims to assure musical rights, transform the lives of Afghans through music, revive and preserve Afghanistan’s musical heritage, train future music educators and leaders, and promote cultural diplomacy efforts between Afghanistan and the international community.

 

Founder

ANIM’s founder Dr. Ahmad Sarmast is a musicologist and the son of one of Afghanistan’s best-known conductors. Having left Afghanistan to escape civil conflict in the early 1990s, he received a master’s degree in musicology from Moscow University in 1993, and then relocated with his family to Australia, where he completed a PhD at Melbourne’s Monash University in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Sarmast returned to Afghanistan to initiate the Revival of Afghan Music (ROAM) project, which focuses on preserving Afghanistan’s primarily oral music tradition by recording it using western music notation. The dream for ANIM emerged out of Dr. Sarmast’s work on the ROAM project. Today, Dr. Sarmast is widely credited with ushering in Afghanistan’s musical revolution.

 

History

Upon his return to Afghanistan, alongside the ROAM project, Dr. Sarmast began planning for ANIM with the support of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and the Deputy Ministry for Technical Vocation and Educational Training. In April 2008, after two years of preparation, Dr. Sarmast took the vision for ANIM to the donor community. After garnering support from many donors, including the World Bank, the US Embassy, and the government of Germany, the inauguration of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music took place on June 20, 2010.

Since its establishment, ANIM has become known locally and internationally as a leader not only in music education, but in promoting intercultural dialogue within and beyond Afghanistan. Today, ANIM is home to nearly 250 students.

 

Programs – General Academics and Music

guitarANIM students, who range in age from grade 4 to grade 14, receive both specialized music training and a comprehensive core academic education in line with the priorities of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education. Students’ lessons include mathematics, science, social sciences, languages (Dari, Pashto, Arabic, and English), Quaranic studies, and Islamic studies.

Upon their entry to ANIM in grade 4, students begin learning recorder. In grade 5, they make their choice of specialist instrument from the full range of instruments in both Afghan and Western classical traditions. Music education includes instrumental lessons, music theory from both Western and Hindustani traditions, ear training, ensemble playing, and music history. ANIM’s faculty use traditional teaching methods, such as learning music aurally, to teach students in both group classes and one-on-one lessons. For Western music lessons, ANIM has benefitted from the expertise of hundreds of international guest artists and teachers.

Students graduate at the grade 12 level with a high school certificate and can choose to take further associate degree courses in grades 13 and 14.

Ensembles

The heart of music education at ANIM is ensemble playing, and the institute features a number of ensembles, large and small, that offer students the opportunity to collaborate, share, and contribute. These ensembles include:

Afghan Youth Orchestra—The first orchestra of its kind to be established in Afghanistan in more than 30 years, the AYO showcases the country’s unique and diverse musical landscape by combining Western orchestral instruments with traditional Afghan and North Indian classical instruments. The AYO has performed on numerous national and international tours, including sold-out shows in the United States at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.

Young Afghan Traditional Ensemble—Under the direction of renowned rubab teacher Ustad Khial Mohammad, the beloved Young Afghan Traditional Ensemble brings the beautiful sounds of traditional Afghan instruments to life. Particularly in demand for local performances, this ensemble has also toured extensively on the international stage, including performances in the US, the UK, Denmark, Argentina, and South Korea.

Sitar and Sarod Ensemble—This ensemble features students of North India’s traditional instruments—the sitar, the sarod, and the table—performing Afghan and Indian classical music.

Qawwali Group—This vocal-based group features two lead singers, supporting singers, and musicians playing beautiful, religious-themed music using traditional Afghan and Indo-Afghan classical instruments.

Choir—ANIM’s choir is a powerful ensemble that performs regularly at important political and social events around Kabul, including official ceremonies for Afghanistan’s president. The choir also performed at Choir Fest Middle East in Dubai in March 2015, when they took home the award for Best Regional Choir.