This week I discovered “Zohra”, Afghanistan’s first all female orchestra. This is a huge deal because during the Taliban rule of Afghanistan- playing instruments was BANNED. Even today, performing music is still frowned upon by many conservative Muslims.
That’s what makes this group so exciting and inspiring. Not only are they an all female musical group formed in an extremely male supremacist society where many things are STILL restricted for women, but the orchestra is also led by a woman! And at only 19 years old, the conductor Negin Khpalwak, is an inspiration in herself.
The National Institute of Music, where the Zohra orchestra was formed, was founded by musicologist Ahmad Naser Sarmast in 2010. The school enrolls about 300 students between the ages of 14-20, most of which are female and many of whom come from underprivileged families. The institute is dedicated to promoting women’s rights and ensuring gender equality in the sector of music, as well as offering quality arts education in an area of the world that often tells their people that they can’t even play music. Giving the students outlets for self expression, creativity, and independence they wouldn’t have elsewhere in the country during a previous time.
The Zohra orchestra and Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music are making waves in the Muslim world and beyond. They began touring on January 19, 2017 in Geneva Switzerland. Keep an eye and ear out for these impressive ladies. Spread the word and encourage the involvement in music to empower women and teen girls in Afghanistan and across the world.