Meet Afghanistan’s first female conductor

Meet Afghanistan’s first female conductor

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Once denied their right to music and education by the Taliban, the girls of Afghanistan are finally breaking their shackles as the country finds it’s first female conductor in a 17-year-old, reported BBC.

Negin Khpolwak, a student at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, leads a concert of an all-female ensemble in the midst of terror-struck Kabul.

The only school of its kind in the country, it boasts of boys and girls who play a variety of instruments including the piano, cello and flute as well as traditional Afghan stringed instruments such as the rubab and sarod.

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“All I want is to become an outstanding concert pianist and conductor, not only in Afghanistan, but in the world,” Negin told BBC.

The young talent comes from an underprivileged family in the conservative province of Kunar (north-east of Afghanistan with strongholds of the Taliban insurgency) and has no musical background.

“Girls in Kunar don’t go to school and many families don’t allow them to study music. So, I had to go to Kabul to fulfill my dream. My father helped me,” she said.

PHOTO: BBC

Negin revealed that her father sent her to a children’s home in Kabul at the age of nine for the sake of education.

That was the first time she listened to music and watched the performances on television. She later joined the music institute, which has more than 200 students (quarter of them being girls), and has been studying there for four years now.

Negin’s parents were really supportive of her education but her mother including her uncles weren’t happy with her learning music.

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“My uncle told us, ‘No girls in our family should learn music. It’s against tradition’,” she said.

Due to her uncle’s pressure, she had to quit the institute for six months. But her father came to her rescue and stood up for her. He told her uncle, “It’s Negin’s life. She should study music if she wants to.”

And that’s how she went back to pursuing her passion. She represented her music school in USA in February 2013. She played the sarod at Carnegie Hall, New York and the Kennedy Center, Washington DC.

“It was so amazing. I felt so good but I had always wanted to become a pianist,” she said.

Upon her return to Kabul, she started practicing the piano and conducting a mixed orchestra with male and female students from her school.

“It was my first time [conducting a performance] today. I was so happy. I cried when I got on the stage and saw all the people in the audience. I want Afghanistan to be like other countries in the world, where girls can become pianists and conductors,” said Negin.

PHOTO: BBC

Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the institute, believes that it is a common problem to face pressures of the extended family. ”A child is enrolled with the full blessing of the parents but then an uncle or aunt or grandfather or village elder starts putting pressure on the parents to pull the child out of the music programme or from education,” he said.

Apart from these traditional reservations, the institute had also been a victim of violence because there are many who still believe that music is sinful.

In an unfortunate incident last year, a suicide bomber attacked the concert organised by one of the students, resulting in one death and leaving Ahmad with impaired hearing and eleven pieces of shrapnel lodged in his head.

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On a question about whether or not the possibility of further bombings scares him, Ahmad said, ” No. We are part of this struggle. We are standing against violence and terror with our arts and culture, particularly with music. That’s one of the ways we can educate our people about the importance of living in peace and harmony, rather than killing each other.”

“Part of my inspiration is Negin and students like her, who keep coming here despite the difficulties,” he added.