Check out my friends from District Unknown in this MTV special on young Afghan creatives in Kabul.
Rebel Music Afghanistan shares the real story of Afghanistan, one thatâs much more than just a war-torn media headline. Though the Taliban leadership was overthrown during the 2001 American invasion, their restrictive influence still persists throughout the country. As young students and artists risk their lives in pursuit of free speech and equality, they give audiences an inside look into a rich culture evolving under intense pressure.
As with all issues in Afghanistan, it’s more complicated than it may seem. And it already seems pretty complicated.
* The reports of SF harassing Wardak locals seem to be true. The Country Director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (who is, full disclosure, also the drummer in my band) has issued a public complaint as part of the Afghanistan Alliance of Health Organisations against SF operating in the area. The report says that ISAF helicopters have landed at night and Afghan men in military uniform have tied up their workers, smashed windows and equipment and occupied their clinics, which is, they say, in breach of the Geneva convention, which states that healthcare facilities are to be regarded as neutral crowd.
He has told me, also, that his doctors often complain of Afghans, claiming to be special forces, entering on their own, without ISAF and demanding to see patient details or forcing doctors to sign papers for “driving licences”.
* No-one seems to know who these Afghan “special forces” are. Afghan special forces, such as the Crisis Response Unit, based in Kabul, do exist and have done exemplary work in the past, responding to complex attacks in the city. They are mentored by ISAF special forces, in Kabul these are New Zealand and Norweigan forces.
However, in Wardak, it seems murkier. As no ISAF operation is permitted to happen without Afghan Security forces partnering, US special forces in Wardak would have to have Afghans working alongside them. However, there have been accusations of the US hiring Afghans to work with them to provide a credible face, rather than being bona fide special forces, accountable to the MOI or MOD.
These Afghans could also be NDS (National Directorate of Security) aka the “Afghan FBI”, who are known for not caring too much about asking permission first or the concept of human rights.
* It’s also no secret that Wardak is a cradle for Taliban and Hekmatyar’s men. Most attacks on Kabul are staged from this province. Karzai is surrounded by Hek members in his government, being as it also operates as a political party. If Karzai wants to put forward his candidate for President in the next elections, he’s going to need Hek support. If the SF operations in Wardak have been too successful, he may have received pressure to ease up operations in the province.
* There’s also speculation that ISAF isn’t behind all this at all, but it’s the work of the CIA. Of course, in a country that thrives on rumours, this is not only par for the course, but, naturally, impossible to ascertain.
ISAF promise there will be a full investigation, but where they might start and what they might dig up remains unmistakably murky.
Hey Ruth, I am just dropping a quick hello from Canada. You interviewed me in Kandahar and your Cpl Tuck piece on Christmas Sweaters is a cult classic in our unit. I just checked out your site. It is awesome. Hope all is well. Major Steve MacBeth
Steve! Great to hear from you. Just dropping you an email on your hotmail adress.
In short: yes. Stay within cultural boundaries, take sensible precautions like you would in any third-world city (or first-world, in many circumstances), like not walking alone at night. Also, listen to advice from other foreigners and, more importantly, Afghan friends. You’ll be fine.
Hey there! I absolutely love your blog! There are too few blogs that look at the Middle East through a cultural lens, and yours is amazing! I'm following it now! I just posted an interview with a development worker in Afghanistan and I touched on the media misrepresentation of Kabul as well, though you might appreciate it! It's Listen Girlfriends! on wordpress, and I just tweeted you :)
Thanks for the support! There’s been so much going on recently, I haven’t had time to update. Will try and put stuff up this week. Talking about media misrepresentation, do look at all the positive stuff coming out about the Sound Central festival, which I was lucky enough to participate in. That’s Afghan-sprung, non-NGO real shit happening there!
That’s the phrase I’ve been hearing a lot this week, along with “game changer”. Having lived in Afghanistan for four years, I have a healthy cynicism when it comes to sweeping proclamations such as these, but even I must admit the events of the last few weeks are too significant to be ignored.
Only this morning, a (yet to be confirmed) female suicide bomber drove a car into a minibus carrying the South African flight crew that operates USAID flights. Hezb-i-Islami claimed it - a group that was hoped to be the most “moderate” and also willing to participate in political and peace processes.
This week ISAF announced that joint patrols with Afghan soldiers would effectively cease. What they said was that it would be up to the discretion of each commander, but which commander would put his men at any risk unless he had to?
This was in response to three separate “insider attacks” in the last week, in which 6 ISAF soldiers were killed by their Afghan partners. Partnering is the strategic backbone for the withdrawal strategy. There is no plan b.
Then there was the incredibly sophisticated attack on Bastion, the largest airbase in Helmand. They managed not only to penetrate the heavily fortified base in the middle of a desert, but also destroy 6 harrier jets and killed the US Marine squadron commander.
The reaction against the anti-Islam film was just a footnote with only a few protesting, although it stole the media headlines.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems worth marking this point in time.
Questions? Here are a list of commonly asked White City queries.
Are you Afghan?
No, White City consist of Ru (UK), Travka (Australia) and Andronik (Sweden). They have lived in Kabul for a combined sixteen years.
But, aren’t you claiming to be Afghan rock/from Afghanistan?
Absolutely not. In all our press releases and media (as far as we can control it), we always make clear we’re a “Kabul-based” band, not from Kabul. There are other awesome Afghan rock bands - from Afghanistan and 100% Afghan - doing their own great music - they’re our friends and our musical colleagues and we try and promote them as much as we can.
How did you meet?
Musicians always find each other, no matter where. In Kabul, the music scene is small and the rock scene even smaller. Musicians get together to jam wherever they can: gigs, parties, events. White City met after Travka and Andronik heard about a recently-arrived female bassist and singer in town, which turned out to be Ru.
How long has White City been playing?
The band originally formed in 2006 as a covers band and has had numerous members come and go. The only founding member left is drummer, Andronik.
What’s White City?
White City is a state of alert created by the UN, meaning movement is restricted for all its staff. Once the UN calls White City, however, it means that many other organisations follow suit and stop their members from going out. It was suggested to the band in June 2007 at a European Commission party, which a lot of people couldn’t attend because of a white city security status.
Are you musicians professionally?
We wish! No, we have our own day jobs to make the rent, just like musicians the world over.
Isn’t Kabul dangerous?
We understand that when people see Afghanistan on TV, an incredibly complex situation that’s been unwinding for years, is compacted into a 2 minute, Technicolor action-fest in stereo, so it’s easy for people to think it’s a warzone out here. In fact, it’s relatively easy to live a normal life. Yes, bad things do sometimes happen in Kabul, but not every day. Yes, there are bombs, there are attacks and occasionally people you know are caught up in it, but there’s also a thriving city full of bustling and vibrant life that goes ahead, no matter what.
Isn’t it dangerous to do music in Kabul?
In short, no. Although we take more precautions putting on a gig than we might do in the west, we find that there is a demand for music here. We’re not here to offend anyone - we wouldn’t be playing if Afghan fans weren’t asking us, “when’s the next concert?”
Why does Ru sometimes wear a hijab?
Although we are not Muslim, we try to respect the local culture. If you see a photo of Ru wearing a hijab, it’s probably taken outside in the street or in a public place. Ru has an extensive collection of hijabs, even ones with skulls and stars on them, and follows sites like welovehijab.com for fashion tips.
What’s the Kabul music scene like?
Small. But very committed. From psychedelic metal to ethnic rock fusion, there’s a lot going on. It’s the nature of Kabul that people come and go, bands form and fall apart, but there’s always something happening, even if it’s just an informal jam around someone’s house. Acts of note (apart from White City) are: District Unknown, Lap o Jap, White Page, Kabul Dreams, Sound Studies and Morcha.
How do you promote?
Through direct mailing lists, sms campaigns and word of mouth. Due to security reasons, we can’t post billboards or widely advertise, but this leads to a more dedicated crowd.
Where do you get your gear?
Hong Kong, Dubai, Istanbul, Melbourne, the UK, the States, everywhere but here. We also bring in gear for the Afghan bands, who can’t order online, as there are no street names here, let alone a reliable mail infrastructure. This means it’s very expensive to purchase and maintain equipment, especially as the dust and fluctuating electricity burns out amplifiers and sound gear very quickly.
Can I travel to Afghanistan and make music?
There’s not a gig scene, as such. We work hard to put on concerts every now and then - it takes a lot of effort, from wiring and doing your own sound, to getting an audience to see you in the face of security restrictions. If you’re in a band, we recommend you check out Soundcentralfestival.com.
Who comes to your gigs?
Pretty much 50-50 Afghan/ex-pat, which is incredibly rare in a city that’s usually socially split, due to foreigners going out during the evening, while Afghans tend to spend the late hours with their families. However, we have a dedicated young, Afghan following, who usually lead the mosh pit at our concerts. We’re trying to put on daytime gigs so more young Afghans can come and see us.
Can I book White City/license a release/use your song/do an interview/say hi?
Of course! We’re open to all inquiries about licensing releases, promotion, gigs and are actively looking for record labels/promotion companies to work with. We also love playing live (just check out biginthestans.com). Please get in touch!