In the 1971 song “American Pie,” writer Don McLean sings about the day the music died. Because he penned the lyrics in a cryptic style they’ve been loosely interpreted in many different ways. But just imagine if the music actually did die. A world without it is an unfathomable thought. Unless of course, you live in Afghanistan where every note of every song just suffered an excruciating death at the hands of the Taliban.
The Taliban believe their fictitious god is not a fan of boogying down. He much prefers quiet evenings by the fire and long silent walks on the beach, so for these reasons, it’s “Bye, Bye, Miss Afghanistan Pie,” as the music is quickly dying.
The Taliban completely banned music in the 1990s when they were in power. This time around they haven’t done it yet, but it’s coming. Some of the old-school Taliban street thugs who remember those days have already started enforcing the impending law.
Street musicians are being unmercifully harassed and music venues are barring their doors to avoid ruthless persecution when the official order does get handed down. The Taliban will waste no time when it does. They’ll be storm trooping their way in, swords-a-swingin’.
Around the capital area of Kabul, a musician said his instrument got smashed to splinters on the concrete at a Taliban checkpoint, and yet another had his $3000 keyboard destroyed. Motorists are quick to kill their car stereos as they approach any of the checkpoints, and wedding halls where music is generally loud and festive have already begun limiting what they will allow being played if anything at all.
Musicians in Kabul tend to live in the neighborhood of Kharabat where music skills are generational, having been passed down by the families who reside there. Because of Afghanistan’s crumbling economy being slathered on top of a pandemic, these families have already been struggling. Now they’re trying to figure out ways to exit the country stage right or left.
Many of them have little means of support as it is and they’ve been selling off their possessions just to eat. The Taliban’s total ban of music will finish them off, plus they know they’ll be sought out and “appropriately taken care of.”
Muzafar Bakhsh, 21, makes his living as a member of a wedding band. “The current situation is oppressive,” he said. He’s had to sell many of his family’s belongings at a local flea market.
“We keep selling them so we don’t die of starvation,” Bakhsh said. His late grandfather, Ustad Rahim Bakhas, was a famous maestro who conducted traditional Afghan symphonic music.
Over the past 20 years, with the Taliban out of town, music has flourished. Afghan music is derived from a mixture of Iranian and Indian music and has always served as a strong tradition. In addition, Western pop music has infiltrated the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s youth who are now blending traditional Afghan-style music with electric guitars and keyboards.
Most of the karaoke bars in Kabul knew better than to stay open but the few that did have since learned a hard lesson. One such club was invaded by Taliban troops who destroyed instruments and electronics, tore down signs advertising karaoke, or any music at all, and ordered all of the patrons to get out or else.
A drummer with a 35-year career who also teaches music education summed it up like this, “Musicians do not belong here anymore. We must leave. The love and affection of the last years are gone.”
Along with their freedoms and rights, Music in Afghanistan has died.