Girls in tune: A concerted pitch to fulfil childhood dreams

AFGHANISTAN • After nearly three decades in which it stayed shut because of the Taleban's ban on music, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (Anim) re-opened in 2010, keen to rekindle a musical teaching tradition.

Now, it teaches courses in both classical Western and Eastern music, in instruments such as the violin, viola, guitar, piano, trumpet and flute, as well as the robab, ghickak, tambour drum, qashqarcha, the three-stringed sarod, and the delroba.

Anim has around 250 students, including 75 girls. In 2014, these young women pooled their talents to form the Zohra Orchestra, the first in the country to be made up exclusively of girls. It held its first event at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul.

The original idea for the Zohra Orchestra came from a student named Mina, who, unfortunately, had to go back to her home province because of family problems, and then was forbidden by her family to return to Kabul.

The musicians in the orchestra range from 12 to 21 years of age, and have had the opportunity to play internationally, like at the Davos Forum in Switzerland.

Every year, between 300 and 400 applicants take the institute's entrance exam and only 50 of them are offered places. About half are homeless or orphaned children, referred by non-governmental organisations.

At the institute, both well-off students and orphans attend music classes under the same roof. They express their emotions - whether that means pain, hope, joy or grief - through music, so that one day, they will be able to fulfil their childhood dreams.

As director Ahmad Naser Sarmast says: "The Afghanistan National Institute of Music is like an island of hope in the dark. This institute is the symbol of the Afghanistan of tomorrow."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Girls in tune: A concerted pitch to fulfil childhood dreams'. Print Edition | Subscribe