Posts tagged afghanistan

I speak to The Times about my band, White City

I speak to The Times about my band, White City

My guitarist, Travis “Travka” Beard, talks about my band, White City and Kabul Rock on BBC World News. There’s a brief appearance by me as they show the music video for Space Cadet

I filmed much of (and briefly make a cameo in) this Australia Network Newsline piece on the Kabul rock school, where I teach singing. 

Home-made spacesuit, willing video director, walk through night-time Kabul. Hilarious. 

My band, White City, finally release our first music video, filmed entirely in Kabul, Afghanistan at the bombed-out Soviet Culture Centre and in Shah-e-Nau, featuring our mate, dressed up in a home-made spaceman suit and being marched through the night-time streets. 

It seems like not a week passes without a call from a reporter or documentary making wanting “to do a feature on the Kabul music scene”. There’s been a steady flow of them since the Sound Central festival.
It’s a good story, of course, but it’s funny how often the same four bands (and our friends), White Page, Kabul Dreams, District Unknown and Morcha are interviewed and are each proclaimed - “the first rock band in Afghanistan”. 
Often my band, White City, are interviewed. In fact, I did a TV interview for Reuters the other day. But we’re usually cut - internationals doing music in Afghanistan isn’t such a story. 
This photo feature from Dawn is sprawling, lazy and clumsy. The top line orginally read “In a country where music was silenced in the name of Allah for five years” - they changed it to “religion” after publication. The photos are all agencies as is the text. 
Still, as from my last post, music is a genuine “good news” story from Afghanistan and the bands who make it truly rock. 

It seems like not a week passes without a call from a reporter or documentary making wanting “to do a feature on the Kabul music scene”. There’s been a steady flow of them since the Sound Central festival.

It’s a good story, of course, but it’s funny how often the same four bands (and our friends), White Page, Kabul Dreams, District Unknown and Morcha are interviewed and are each proclaimed - “the first rock band in Afghanistan”. 

Often my band, White City, are interviewed. In fact, I did a TV interview for Reuters the other day. But we’re usually cut - internationals doing music in Afghanistan isn’t such a story. 

This photo feature from Dawn is sprawling, lazy and clumsy. The top line orginally read “In a country where music was silenced in the name of Allah for five years” - they changed it to “religion” after publication. The photos are all agencies as is the text. 

Still, as from my last post, music is a genuine “good news” story from Afghanistan and the bands who make it truly rock. 

Last night I witnessedhistory in the making. Disclaimer – I am a musician with a deep and unquenchable love for heavy music, so many will not agree with me. That’s okay. Pop junkies and electro-heads alike, you can put your headphones back on and skip the rest of this post.

To resume. Last night I went to Kabul’s Institut Français d’Afghanistan to see a night of heavy music and experimental sounds. First, I saw Ring of Steel – a music/image art collaboration between photographer Jake Simkin and artist/District Unknown bassist Qasem Foushanji. Combining ambient sounds of Kabul’s streets, vocal soundbites from interviews, live projections and beats and even a real live theremin!

Next, stoner rock two-piece, Lap o Jap took to the stage, featuring White City’s Travka on guitar and District Unknown’s Pedram Foushanji on drums. It was like Pelican meets Dub Trio meets Lightning Bolt. Heavy as a four-piece and grooves worthy of Kyuss or Sleep.

Finally, District Unknown took to the stage (with both Foushanji brothers plus Qais on guitar and new singer, Josef). Growling vocals, brutal drums and piercing guitars thrilled the entire auditorium. A mixture of psychedelic, doom and death metal with lyrics inspired by Persian poetry. Music of despair and anger played with a gusto and joy that, conversely, inspired hope.

But the music itself wasn’t what convinced me that we were witnessing something truly special.  It was the audience of 250 Afghan young people cheering and rocking out to music that most westerners would have trouble listening to. Actually, strike that rather orientalist comparison – this is challenging music to any audience: with vocals screamed, not sung, and guitars turned up to full distortion. Yet, District Unknown were singing to a home crowd that loved what they were hearing. This is Afghan metal, something that’s NEVER been done before and they were owning it.

Anyone who calls this country backward, who says there’s no future due to some generalised perception of Afghan mentality, should have come along last night. Sure, it’s a tiny, tiny proportion of the country, but in my long experience of gig attendance, I’ve never seen such a joyous reaction to dark music.

I woke up on Friday morning to the news that there was a complex attack ongoing at Qargha Lake resort. I had to re-read the headlines several times to make sure I was reading it right. Then when Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, was quoted saying that the bombing was due to the attacked hotel being, 
"…used by foreigners for their illicit fun and having parties. It was a special hotel for Afghan government officials and foreigners”
I really thought something was fishy. 
Qargha lake is a place of relaxing on a Friday afternoon for Afghan families or young men to kick a football around. It’s several hours drive from Kabul’s centre. They have swan-shaped pedaloes.
While foreigners do visit it on day-trips, myself included, they do not stay in the hotel that was attacked. Certainly any high-level officials find it hard to visit the restaurants and bars in Kabul itself with numerous security restrictions itself. It’s extremely unlikely they would visit, let alone stay, in Qargha. 
As for drinking alcohol, it is conceivable that some Afghans do drink alcohol in Qargha hotel. It’s even conceivable that some may take their girlfriends, mistresses or even wives to stay there. But as a target for the Taliban - purely civilian, with no high-level targets inside or nearby (there are no military bases or governmental buildings nearby), it’s very strange. 
Complex attacks like these are usually carried out by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. Commander of ISAF, John Allen, believes they were behind this attack. However, the moral nature of the attack’s justification points towards the Taliban. But, the targeting of civilians runs against their own strategic guidance, which categorically states that fighters should take careful measures NOT to hurt civilians. 
Personally, I believe that this was a case of attackers not being able to reach their desired target and making do with what they could reach on the outskirts of Kabul. When suicide bombers are sent to cities, like Kabul, they are typically given a list of several possible targets as back-ups, in case one fails. I think the moral justification for the attack was probably the best publicity spin that could be created after the event. 

I woke up on Friday morning to the news that there was a complex attack ongoing at Qargha Lake resort. I had to re-read the headlines several times to make sure I was reading it right. Then when Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, was quoted saying that the bombing was due to the attacked hotel being, 

"…used by foreigners for their illicit fun and having parties. It was a special hotel for Afghan government officials and foreigners

I really thought something was fishy. 

Qargha lake is a place of relaxing on a Friday afternoon for Afghan families or young men to kick a football around. It’s several hours drive from Kabul’s centre. They have swan-shaped pedaloes.

While foreigners do visit it on day-trips, myself included, they do not stay in the hotel that was attacked. Certainly any high-level officials find it hard to visit the restaurants and bars in Kabul itself with numerous security restrictions itself. It’s extremely unlikely they would visit, let alone stay, in Qargha. 

As for drinking alcohol, it is conceivable that some Afghans do drink alcohol in Qargha hotel. It’s even conceivable that some may take their girlfriends, mistresses or even wives to stay there. But as a target for the Taliban - purely civilian, with no high-level targets inside or nearby (there are no military bases or governmental buildings nearby), it’s very strange. 

Complex attacks like these are usually carried out by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. Commander of ISAF, John Allen, believes they were behind this attack. However, the moral nature of the attack’s justification points towards the Taliban. But, the targeting of civilians runs against their own strategic guidance, which categorically states that fighters should take careful measures NOT to hurt civilians. 

Personally, I believe that this was a case of attackers not being able to reach their desired target and making do with what they could reach on the outskirts of Kabul. When suicide bombers are sent to cities, like Kabul, they are typically given a list of several possible targets as back-ups, in case one fails. I think the moral justification for the attack was probably the best publicity spin that could be created after the event. 

The title track of White City’s debut EP, Space Cadet, was inspired by the story of Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first and only Afghan in space.
A former pilot in the air force of Soviet-backed premier Mohammad Najibullah, Mohmand found himself picked for accelerated cosmonaut training in 1988 as part of a political gesture that the USSR would continue backing the Afghan government as they withdrew from the conflict against the Mujahadeen.
Mohmand was there purely as a symbol and, beyond talking to Najibullah and taking photographs of Afghanistan, he wasn’t supposed to touch anything. However, he noticed a flaw in the computer system just before descent that saved the crew’s lives.
Following the fall of the Najibullah government, Mohamand fled Afghanistan and now lives in Stuttgart, Germany.
Cosmonauts are highly revered all over the former USSR, especially space-pioneer Yuri Gagarin, who’s mentioned in the song. On our tour through Tajjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, we would regularly get a cheer for shouting out“Yuri Gagarin – ochen haroshi parin!” (Yuri Gagarin – a really great guy!).
Read More…
The Atlantic - “A Space Oddity”
Wikipedia entry on Abdul Ahad Mohmand
Youtube - Interview with Mohmand (DARI)

The title track of White City’s debut EP, Space Cadet, was inspired by the story of Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first and only Afghan in space.

A former pilot in the air force of Soviet-backed premier Mohammad Najibullah, Mohmand found himself picked for accelerated cosmonaut training in 1988 as part of a political gesture that the USSR would continue backing the Afghan government as they withdrew from the conflict against the Mujahadeen.

Mohmand was there purely as a symbol and, beyond talking to Najibullah and taking photographs of Afghanistan, he wasn’t supposed to touch anything. However, he noticed a flaw in the computer system just before descent that saved the crew’s lives.

Following the fall of the Najibullah government, Mohamand fled Afghanistan and now lives in Stuttgart, Germany.

Cosmonauts are highly revered all over the former USSR, especially space-pioneer Yuri Gagarin, who’s mentioned in the song. On our tour through Tajjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, we would regularly get a cheer for shouting out
“Yuri Gagarin – ochen haroshi parin!”
(Yuri Gagarin – a really great guy!).

Read More…

The Atlantic - “A Space Oddity”

Wikipedia entry on Abdul Ahad Mohmand

Youtube - Interview with Mohmand (DARI)

I’m profiled in Australia’s Frankie Magazine talking about the Kabul music scene and my band, White City.

I’m profiled in Australia’s Frankie Magazine talking about the Kabul music scene and my band, White City.